Stars : Vincent RottiersPaul HamyNawell Madani
Since its launch, Walter Presents has managed to offer a little bit of everything: high-concept cop shows, political nailbiters, period spy adventures, war zone comedies and even vampire thrillers. One thing it was missing, though, was a good old family drama. Enter Thicker Than Water, which fuses Bloodline and Nordic noir to absorbing effect.
The programme is very much in the traditional homecoming mould, as we see Lasse and Jonna invited back to their mother’s B&B on Sweden’s Aland archipelago for unknown reasons. It’s the kind of beginning, complete with enigmatic postcards, that could kick off an Agatha Christie mystery – and, sure enough, death is on the cards within the first two episodes. That should come as no surprise, though: that trademark Scandinavian darkness makes Crossroads look like, well, Crossroads.
As the enigmatic Anna-Lisa (Stina Ekblad) delivers her maternal ultimatums to her surprised offspring, it soon becomes clear that these three squabbling adults will have to put aside their differences and keep the B&B going. But naturally, that’s no easy matter. Failed chef Lasse (Bjorn Bengtsson) is up to his eyes in debt, while Jonna (Aliette Opheim) doesn’t want to be away from her fledgling acting career and theatre-directing boyfriend in the city. Both are unwanted by the eldest, Oskar (Joel Spira), who has been effectively running the place by himself for the last decade.
The cast are all marvellous, with Bengtsson coming up with plans and excuses for not paying off his dodgy debt collectors with a wonderfully pathetic air of desperation – even when we see him in his home environment of a kitchen, he’s either running from people chasing him or he’s burning steak and throwing a strop. Opheim’s Jonna is just as intriguing, thanks to a needy streak that undercuts both her behaviour and dialogue.
But Joel Spira (who impressed in Easy Money / Snabba Cash) steals the show, his self-centred, whiney heir to what he perceives to be a guest house empire emerging as wonderfully loathsome. A blackly funny funeral service gone wrong in the second episode brings out the lack of respect in the trio’s respective partners and families, but Oskar is the one who really oversteps the mark by breaking open an old feud with another local family; he doesn’t just resent his siblings, he resents everyone.
It’s no shock that he goes behind his mum’s back to get the property valued the moment the opportunity arises. And even less shock that his wife seems to have some kind of history with the far less despicable Lasse.
The natural comparison to be made is with The Legacy (Arvingerne), but Thicker Than Water is closer to Netflix’s series Bloodline: creator Henrik Jansson-Schweizer and writer Niklas Rockström (who also penned some episodes of Wallander) don’t peek in the family closet so much as exhume it in its entirety, piling up old skeletons one at a time with a knack for cliffhangers at the end of each episode.
After two chapters, two explosive finales have both transformed the story in unexpected ways, simultaneously tightening the noose around Lasse’s neck and chaining our main characters closer together. Combined with the beautiful Sunnanö backdrop, the result is a gripping, surprising family drama that revels in treading the line between tragic sympathy and sneering hate, without becoming too overwrought with its conflict and without skimping on the unanswered questions.
How much do each of Anna-Lisa’s children have to hide? Is their cruel (now absent) father still out there, alive, or did someone get rid of him years ago? Will Lasse ever get around to renovating the swimming pool? You won’t know whether to feel sorry for any of the people on screen, but you will want to know what happens next. Crime, politics, vampire, comedy – now Walter Presents can add “melodrama” to its impressive roster.