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CULTURE

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.

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 a period spanning the years 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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CULTURE

Six weird and wonderful Danish film title translations

English films generally aren't dubbed in Denmark but that doesn't stop Danes taking liberties when translating the titles. We've collected some of the strangest examples of when film titles have really been lost in translation.

Six weird and wonderful Danish film title translations

If you’re watching an English film in Denmark from the 80s and 90s, you may notice a similarity in the titles. Certain words such as iskold (ice cold) and ondskaben (evil) were very popular choices to translate a whole range of films. 

‘Basic Instinct’, became ‘Iskoldt begær’ (Ice cold desire); ‘Murder by Numbers’, became ‘Iskoldt mord‘ (ice cold murder).

‘The Shining’, became ‘Ondskabens hotel’ (Hotel of Evil), ‘Pet Sematary’, was translated as ‘Ondskabens kirkegård‘ (Cemetery of Evil) and ‘Silence of the Lambs’ became ‘Ondskabens øjne‘ (The Eyes of Evil).

But there are other film title translations that range from random to ridiculous. Here are our top six:

The Shawshank Redemption: En verden udenfor

The 1994 prison film starring Morgan Freeman and Tim Robbins as inmates in Shawshank State Prison has a confusing title in English, which is blamed as one of the factors behind its initial box office flop.

The Danish title isn’t much better, though. It’s called ‘En verden udenfor’ (A world outside) which is about as descriptive as the English version.

Die Hard: With a Vengeance: Die Hard – Mega Hard

The action film from 1995 is the third in the series of ‘Die Hard’ films with Bruce Willis in the lead role as the policeman John McClane, who is constantly thrown into action-packed and life-threatening situations.

The title ‘Die Hard’ means that the main character is hard to kill. Instead of just calling the film ‘Die Hard 3’, as most fans call it, in Denmark it was decided ‘Die Hard – Mega Hard’ was better.

It’s thought the title was changed because the word ‘vengeance’ is difficult for Danes to pronounce but it resulted in a slightly embarrassing attempt to place contemporary slang in a film title.

It’s not the only film that Denmark has changed from English to another version of English: ‘Cruel Intentions’ became ‘Sex Games”; ‘Joyride’ became ‘Roadkill’; ‘The Help’ became ‘Niceville’ and ‘Everything Must Go’ became ‘Neighbour For Sale’.

Why not.

Friends with Benefits: Bollevenner

The romantic comedy ‘Friends with Benefits’ from 2011 stars Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis as two ambitious career people who are too busy and jaded to find a partner and therefore decide to have casual sex with each other.

The situation becomes complicated when the guy falls for the girl, who has meanwhile started dating someone else.

While the Danish title ‘Bollevenner‘ (‘Fuck buddies’) is not inaccurate, it is in true Danish style, very direct and portrays the film to be more explicit than it is.

Another romantic comedy was made in 2011 called ‘No Strings Attached’ starring Natalie Portman and Ashton Kutcher, which has roughly the same plot. This film was given the more appropriate Danish title ‘Venskab med fryns‘ (‘Friendship with benefits’).

Music and Lyrics: Et sikkert hit

The Hugh Grant and Drew Barrymore film is about an 80s washed-up singer who is given the chance to revive his career by writing a song for a teenage pop star. He enlists the help of the woman who waters his plants and together they write a song and fall in love.

The Danish translation doesn’t really add anything, nor is it necessary, given the borrowed word ‘hit.’ Altogether quite random.

Raw Deal: Sagen er bank

Arnold Schwarzenegger’s action film from 1986 tells the story of an elderly and embittered FBI chief who wants to get revenge against a Mafia organisation and sends a former FBI agent and now small-town sheriff to destroy the organisation from the inside.

Directly translated, the Danish title means ‘A case of a beating’, or ‘A proper beating’ could be derived from it – slightly harsh and direct but gets to the point. A similar variation was used on another Arnold Schwarzenegger film, the 1977 documentary ‘Pumping Iron’, which was translated as ‘Sagen er bøf’ (‘Pumping a beating’).

Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging: Hormoner, hængerøve og hårde bananer

The British youth comedy ‘Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging’ is about 14-year-old Georgia, who dreams of dating handsome Robbie. But unfortunately, Robbie is already paired with the popular Lindsey. It’s basically about all the problems that very young teenagers struggle with, and the main character Georgia can be described as a 14-year-old version of Bridget Jones, who keeps getting things wrong.

The title, ‘Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging’ refers to Angus who is Georgia’s cat, the type of underwear teenage girls start to wear and snogging. The Danish version, ‘Hormoner, hængerøve og hårde bananer‘ literally means ‘Hormones, hanging arses and hard bananas’, which doesn’t quite get the tone of the young romantic comedy but definitely has a ring to it.

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