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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.

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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‘Black, black and more black’: Six tips on how to dress like a Dane

Danes have an international reputation for dressing well, with Scandi style a popular trend outside Denmark. The Local asked Danes and foreigners living in Denmark to help us figure out the best tips and tricks for how to dress like a Dane.

'Black, black and more black': Six tips on how to dress like a Dane

Praised for its simple, understated and classic lines, but bemoaned for a lack of colour and individuality, there’s no doubt that Danish fashion style has made a mark on our readers in Denmark.

We asked you to let us know what you thought constituted the classic Danish look and give us your tips for the quintessential items. Thank you to all who took the time to get in touch. 

Black, black and more black

“Black. Black. Black” wrote one reader, Linda, when we asked for a typical feature of Danish fashion. The sentiment is a fair reflection of how most people see Danes’ dress sense – for better or for worse.

“Danes have a wonderfully casual style. As for worst aspects, there are more colours than black and brown!”, wrote Louis.

“Black, black and more black – with a hint of grey,” were the observations of Nicholas in Copenhagen.

A Danish model in black clothing. File photo: Søren Bidstrup/Ritzau Scanpix

Really? Just black?

“Most women prefer black, grey or white. If they ‘want to wear colour’, they’ll wear a small colourful bracelet or scarf or something small,” said Samantha, a project manager who has lived in Copenhagen for over 10 years.  

“Most teenage girls will wear black leather jackets and blue jeans. In the summer is the only time when Danish women will wear some colour, usually in the form of flowery dresses which tend to be very nice,” Samantha said.

Danish fashion is sometimes criticised for lacking individual expression, but Samantha said it is there if you look closely.

“The personality is in the details. Danes like to dress alike on the surface, but like to have small details that give them personality,” she said.

“Jewellery is usually thin and lightweight. Very nice, but never large – thin necklaces, thin bracelets, small stones, very little colour here as well,” she said.

“I am a male – slim fit, tight pants or jeans, open collar button down shirts,” reader Marc Peltier, a defence manager from Copenhagen, said.

“When a tie is worn, it is a dark colour and thin. Colours are dark (black, blue, dark green), no patterns. Striped T-shirts,” he said.

Scarves and raincoats: Mix style with practical needs

Marc’s tip for an essential – or, at least, popular – Danish clothing item is a raincoat from the brand Rains, which describes itself on its website as having a “conceptual-meets-functional design approach”.

Regardless of the brand you choose, having a purpose outer layer for wet weather is certainly a choice that makes sense in Denmark.

“Beautiful long coats in beige, navy and black” were cited by reader Nico as a particularly popular choice for Danes.

Scarves were another item which many picked out as a Danish essential and a hugely popular item that can cross seasonal divides.

Photo by Karen Cantú Q on Unsplash

“A great scarf that goes with everything… everyone needs one,” Glen wrote.

Items like these don’t necessarily mean breaking the bank, although some did say the high price of Danish-made clothes put them off new purchases.

“Wear ‘quality’ items of clothing… even if recycled,” Glen wrote.

Contrasting trainers

I was once told by a Dane that you can get away with wearing almost anything, no matter how scruffy or worn, as long as you have a smart pair of shoes.

However, it may be that trainers – possibly white ones to contrast with the dark prominent in the rest of the outfit – are the key to successfully pulling off Danish style.

“Wearing trainers – no matter what the rest of the outfit is” is a typical choice, Edward Horton, an automation scientist who lives in Copenhagen, said.

“Comfortable shoes trump style choices,” Edward said.

Reader Linda (not the same Linda quoted earlier) said that footwear featured a “rejection of high heels even with evening gowns”.

A “long large dress with running shoes” is a common pick for women, Ana wrote.

Those wanting to take inspiration from this style should “find a long nice long dress, or nice jeans with a nice viscose shirt (but try find it in a non-Danish brand because it’s always too long or too broad)”, she said.

“Also try to go for the sneakers (instead of the running shoes),” she said.

Photo: Ida Guldbæk Arentsen/Ritzau Scanpix

“I am really not a fan of the Danish fashion but I like the fact that people can dress freely without too much pressure,” she added.

If you don’t want to wear trainers, Birkenstock sandals might be a strong summer alternative, having been cited by several of our readers as a typical footwear choice for Danes.

Don’t show off

“Minimal style, monochromatic clothes, oversized t-shirts, straight lines. People don’t usually show off brands,” wrote Andrea from Italy who lives in Copenhagen.

“Go for simple outfits and keep it laid back” if you want to look like a Dane, Andrea said.

“Not too many patterns, no high heels for women. Wear a nice shirt or t-shirt, cozy pants and sneakers. Don’t mix too many colours but match one or two in a pleasant way.”

“The best aspect is that Danish fashion is oriented towards coziness and effectiveness, and the fact that nobody generally shows off how expensive their clothes are contributes to convey a general feeling of equality in society,” Andrea said.

“On the other hand, this means there is little room for creativity and ‘crazy’ outfits if you like them. You can of course still wear them but you would stand out (and not necessarily in a good way).”

Get the fit right

Avoid “overly tight clothes and poorly fitted garments,” reader Nico said.

One of the weaker aspects of Danish fashion in Nico’s view is “sometimes the silhouette of the body can be lost in overly shapeless garments”, he said.

Others, such as Ann, a scientist from Copenhagen, said that using “oversized items” along with neutral colours would be the best way to mimic the Danish style.

While many praised Danish clothing for its well-cut designs, many observed the popularity of baggy items.

“Oversized blazers, muted colour pallet, New Balance sneakers, or Nike AF1 in triple white” were the best tips Vijay, an ICT Officer in Copenhagen, would give to someone who wanted to dress like a Dane.

He questioned the choice of oversized blazers: “why though? Nineties is back?”