To binge, or not to binge? That is the question you’ll face when deciding whether to gorge on all 30 hour-long episodes of Borgen, a brilliant and addictive Danish TV drama, or to stretch out your viewing pleasure. All three seasons of the series (in Danish, with English subtitles) are newly available in the U.S. in a complete DVD boxed set from MHZ Networks. (As of now, the show is unavailable for legal streaming in the U.S.)
Borgen is about a liberal politician, Birgitte Nyborg, who unexpectedly becomes Denmark’s first female prime minister. In a case of life imitating art, Helle Thorning-Schmidt became the Nordic nation’s first female prime minister in 2011, a full year after Borgen began airing.
The show’s heroine is played by Sidse Babett Knudsen, a gifted Danish actress (After the Wedding) who delivers just the right mix of warmth and flint. Over the course of the series, her character learns on the job, managing mostly to maintain her ethics and humanity even as she becomes ever tougher, pragmatic and decisive. The latter are qualities she needs at the office but which go over less well at home. It’s one thing to snap at a recalcitrant cabinet officer but another to bark at your husband and kids.
Here are three things we love about Knudsen’s portrayal of Nyborg:
1. Her hair. Knudsen has the best hair since Connie Britton. A glorious, glossy brunette mane, it becomes almost a character in itself, hanging loose and sexy when the prime minister is feeling casual, tucked up in a sleek chignon when she’s attending to affairs of state, and getting mussy when she’s agitated or emotionally stressed.
2. Her eyes. They can go from warm and caring to steely and determined in the blink of, well, an eye. They crinkle at the edges when she smiles and laughs, but also when she struggles to keep from crying.
3. Her clothes. Her wardrobe evolves as the character does, going from casual to more formal, from crumpled to elegant, but always understated. Sometimes her skirt is a little too tight or her shirt untucked and rumpled, which only adds to her appeal. And she always shucks her heels the minute she arrives home. Politicians, they’re just like us.
A hit both in Denmark and internationally (the show aired on some PBS stations in the U.S.), Borgen has been widely–and deservedly–praised for its intense look at the nitty-gritty of political maneuvering and the connections between politics and media. It’s The West Wing without the back-patting posturing, Scandal without the non-stop, desktop sex, and House of Cards without the lip-smacking malevolence. So what is it? It’s must-see TV, Danish-style.
— A former film critic at People magazine, Leah Rozen is a freelance writer in New York City.