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Danish TV: The best shows to watch to understand Danish society

Denmark has a long and storied history of producing many great – and some not quite so great – television shows and series.

Danish TV: The best shows to watch to understand Danish society
Actors Buster Larsen and Kurt Ravn as the characters Grisehandler Larsen and Røde in all-time classic Danish TV series Matador. Photo: Mini Wolf/Ritzau Scanpix

If you’ve got a good grasp of Danish but still feel like there are some cultural references you don’t quite ‘get’, here’s a list of programmes to help get you up to speed.

Perhaps you’re not sure what someone means when they call for “Hans Christian” in a melodramatic voice, or why artisan cakes are more popular than ever before. If so, there’s plenty of great Danish TV for you to discover.

Danes take their homes – not least interior design – very seriously. This perhaps explains the recent success of shows like Boligkøb i blinde (Viaplay), in which would-be house owners sign over all their assets to a panel of experts who buy a cheap property and renovate it for them, before handing it back.

Normally, this results in a large part of the contestants’ budget being blown on a run-down property which they initially hate, before a deft renovation leaves everyone thrilled with the result.

While the format of the show is good, easy-to-digest entertainment, it also throws up some great design tips and insight into how Danes get their homes to look so smart.

On a similar theme is public service broadcaster DR’s long-running Kender Du Typen?, which first aired in 1994.

In this show, DR’s lifestyle experts are shown around the home of a mystery celebrity and must guest the identity of their host from their design choices and inventory. It’s great for learning about obscure Danish public figures, as well as for picking up a bit of inspiration for your indretning (interior design).

Sofie Gråbøl starred as Sarah in 2007 DR series Forbrydelsen (The Killing). Photo: Søren Bidstrup/Ritzau Scanpix

Like anywhere else, Denmark has a vast back catalogue of reality TV shows, which are generally adaptations of formats shown in other countries.

X-Factor has proved hugely popular over the years and is still going strong since being picked up by channel TV2 after DR axed it in 2018. Watch it if you like X-Factor, but it sticks to the rigid formula seen elsewhere and won’t tell you much about Denmark.

The trashiest reality TV show in Denmark is probably Paradise Hotel, a US import that was first aired in Denmark by TV3 in 2005 and can now be streamed on Viaplay. It has claims to the title of Denmark’s most-discussed reality series, but probably loses out on this to DR’s altogether more wholesome Den store bagedystDenmark’s version of The Great British Bake-Off.

Now a veteran of 10 seasons, the Danish baking competition might surprise you in how different its contestants’ creations are compared to the UK version. It also shows you how traditional Danish cakes and pastries are made.

If you can’t get enough of Bagedyst, you can also watch Den store junior bagedyst in which youngsters aged 12-15 showcase their baking talents.

Danish television is best known internationally for the Nordic Noir genre – not least Swedish collaboration Broen, also known as The Bridge. The three-season detective series can be credited, along with political drama Borgen, with putting Danish television on international viewers’ radars.

I’m a fan of both these shows but as most people are probably already aware of them, here are a couple of lesser-known ones: Forbrydelsen (“The Killing”) was possibly the first in the wave of Scandinoir crime dramas to deploy muted tones, even more muted protagonists and brutal deaths. It can be viewed in Denmark via the online archive Filmstriben.

Bedrag (English title: “Follow the Money”), first released in 2016, has all the hallmarks of a Nordic Noir police show, with its focus on money laundering. After two mediocre seasons it returned for a third season with a freshened-up cast and much tighter plot: it’s this season I’d recommend as the closest thing Denmark has produced to highly-regarded US series The Wire. Don’t skip the opening credits.

If you’re going to watch Danish television to improve your knowledge of the national pop culture then you’re going to have to have a crack at the comedy at some point.

The most famous Danish comedy show is Klovn, which ran on TV2 and other channels from 2005-2018. Casper Christensen and Frank Hvam play main characters with the same first names as themselves, and the show follows their everyday lives.

Awkward silences, social faux pas and extreme cringe feature strongly in Klovn. These give it comedy elements in common with shows like The Office (UK) or Curb Your Enthusiasm (US), but Klovn is unmistakably Danish in its application of its humour.

After many years living in Denmark I’m still struggling to “get” Klovn, but I don’t know any Danes that don’t love it.

Actor Ove Sprogøe in a scene from Huset på Christianshavn. Photo: Olaf Kjelstrup/Ritzau Scanpix

If you want to watch a classic Danish television show, Huset på Christianshavn can be streamed on DR’s website. 84 episodes of this much-loved series were first broadcast in the 1970s, portraying the residents in a block of two-up, two-down flats in Christianshavn, a part of Copenhagen that has become considerably more exclusive since the series was made.

Watch Huset på Christianshavn to get a feel for Danish life in decades past, what tresser dansk (sixties Danish) sounds like and what Copenhagen looked like half a century ago.

The champion of Danish television shows is Matador.

Made by DR in the late seventies and early eighties but set during the period 1929-1947, Matador follows a range of characters and families spanning the class divide. It revolves around a long-term rivalry between old-money Hans Christian Varnæs and up-and-coming businessman Mads Skjern, who upsets the established order.

Its portrayal of life in a provincial town as it goes through generational change and historical upheaval is simple conceptually. But the depth of its characters, brilliance of its writing and quality of its acting gives Matador an almost unassailable position at the pinnacle of Danish television history.

Perfectly mixing melodrama, light humour and intrigue, Matador is almost part of the national subconscious. Danes often recall scenes, characters or memorable lines from the show – even if they were born decades after it was released.

Did we miss out your favourite Danish TV show? What else deserves to be mentioned? Let us know in the comments.

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Five Danish Netflix series that aren’t Borgen

It's usually the first programme people suggest when you start delving into Danish series. But there is more to Danish TV drama than Borgen. Here are our picks of some other Danish shows produced by Netflix.

Five Danish Netflix series that aren't Borgen

The ever-popular Borgen aired its fourth series on Netflix last year after a ten-year hiatus, with the global streaming giant having joined up with national broadcaster DR to give the political drama a much-anticipated comeback.

Borgen got a fourth series on an international streaming platform for a reason, as it is highly popular outside of Denmark. But if you want to explore the world of Danish series further, we have some suggestions.

Kastanjemanden (The Chestnut Man)

A Danish crime series based on the book of the same name by Søren Sveistrup, Kastanjemanden takes its title from a children’s rhyme, which is given a chilling makeover and forms a motif in the series.

Detective Naia Thulin (Danica Curcic) and her reluctant new partner, Mark Hess (Mikkel Boe Følsgaard) investigate the murders of several women involving a mysterious chestnut figure left at the crime scenes. 

The six-part series was released on Netflix in 2021, to very good reviews. Described as “gripping” and “gruesome,” it’s classic Nordic-Noir successfully released on streaming. If you like DR’s The Killing and The Bridge, you’ll probably like this. Be prepared to be sitting on the edge of the sofa.

READ ALSO: Danish TV: The best shows to watch to understand Danish society


The six-part supernatural thriller from 2020 is full of suspense and mystery but may leave you with questions at the end.

It centres around a group of students celebrating their school graduation on a party bus (studenterkørsel) – a familiar summer sight in Denmark. But that’s where the familiarity ends, as mystery ensues when most of the students on the bus disappear. 

Nine-year old Astrid’s (also played by Curcic) older sister Ida is one of the students who goes missing and the series follows Astrid’s attempts, as an adult, to investigate what happened in 1999.

Mixing folklore, imagination and reality, with a modern setting, it’s been described as “a cross between Stranger ThingsMidsommar, minus the horror, and the French series The Returned.” 

The Rain

This is a dramatic post-apocalyptic series in which most of the population in Scandinavia is mysteriously wiped out by something carried in raindrops.

Led to safety by their scientist father, two young siblings (Alba August and Lucas Lynggaard Tønnesen) shield themselves in a bunker for six years but their father doesn’t return to them. They finally emerge and join a group of other survivors (led by Følsgaard, who like Curcic is a Danish Netflix regular) to search across Denmark and Sweden for their father and a cure for the lethal rain.

It has some spectacular visuals, notably of a post-apocalyptic central Copenhagen. Fans of dystopian fiction and Denmark might therefore find it appealing.

However, viewers should be prepared to endure some Amager-sized plot holes, contrived behaviour by characters and dangerous scenarios which could have been avoided if someone had just asked what seemed like a very obvious question five minutes earlier.

Despite this, the Guardian gave it a four-star review and said, “this tale of environmental disaster is about more than survival – it questions the very nature of humanity.”

Three series ran from 2018 to 2020 and are all available on Netflix.

READ MORE: Six weird and wonderful Danish film title translations


Rita is the name of the main character in this Danish comedy-drama. She is an unconventional chain-smoking teacher and single mum of three, who fiercely protects her students and pretty much does and says as she wants. Often wearing a leather jacket and giving an air of a teacher who doesn’t have rules, her pupils love her. But she often comes up against problems of her own, particularly when it comes to adults and her own three children. 

The show is not only popular in Denmark but internationally, as it reflects progressive Scandinavian values, with gritty plot lines covered in a funny way.

Filmed in Rødøvre, Copenhagen, the series first aired on TV2 but then moved to Netflix who co-produced the last three seasons. There are 40 episodes over five seasons. It ran from 2012 to 2020. Dutch and French versions have also been produced.


A Sci-fi mystery coming-of-age series that mixes Danish crime with the sci-fi genre.

Set in the fictitious Danish town of Middelbo, the series centres on 17-year old Emma. She discovers that her town, which was known to have once been hit my a meteor, isn’t what she thought it was.

Although Middelbo isn’t real, it reflects a typical quiet rural Danish town, although most of the series was filmed in and around Copenhagen. 

The six-part series aired in January 2022 and was created by the same people behind The Rain – Christian Potalivo and Jannik Tai Mosholt.