Screw the holidays. They are upon us whether we like it or not, they will be the worst ones we’ve had yet, and the only thing you can say in their favor is that they might free up a little time to consume loads of TV without a trace of guilt. The only present I want is hour after vegetative hour.
So what are you going to watch? Let me argue for the Nordics. They were right all along, I think, these stoic people of the snow. Staring into clouds of white, stubbornly unhappy, but somewhat fatalistic in a way that helps them survive. Of course, this description likely bears no relationship to any real-life place you’d call “Nordic” (I’ve never been to any of them … the closest I’ve come is Ireland, which has the same historic relation to Nordic peoples as tarmac does to a steamroller). But it’s my chosen stereotype, gleaned from endless hours watching Nordic Noir and Nordic Noir-adjacent shows, full of sad men and women for whom heaven and earth must be moved to wrench a weary smile from their hard visages. Oh, and they catch criminals too. Mostly weird sex fiends or child murderers. Sometimes a combination of the two. And it’s always cold, and it’s always snowing. That’s key.
These detectives usually wind up inhabiting their grim mindsets because of personal hardship, but regardless, 2020 has shown their general perspective to be the correct one. It’s the ideal we should have all been pursuing from the start: standing upright before the wall of white, expecting nothing good but soldiering on anyway.
So while you’re sitting at home this holiday season dreaming of better times, I can think of nothing better to watch than SNOW NOIR. Fight your way to that mental zone, and believe me, nothing can touch you.
Here are a few recs from around the snow globe—some might be very familiar, but hopefully there are a few new ones in the mix.
Watch on Hulu
Here be snow. Here be BIG snow. It’s also a really solid detective show out of a land where in real life people are too nice to commit crimes. Not so in the show, where John Cardinal (played with excellent world-weariness by Billy Campbell) teams up with Lisa Delorme (Karine Vanasse)—a legitimately multi-dimensional woman, which is not always a given in crime shows—to hunt down a killer and his own demons amid a frigid landscape where even the trees (birch, exclusively) are white. For solitary winter TV watching on a forgettable holiday, this is a must.
Watch on Netflix
It’s time to honor the Finns, a snow-bound people who gave the massive army of the Soviet Union fits with an army of dudes on skis. (This is basically true.) For this one, you must love subtitles, but if you can bear that (or if you speak Finnish), Sofia Karppi is a great addition to the lineage of badass Scandinavian women detectives, following the likes of Sarah Lund (The Killing) and Saga Noren (The Bridge). She’s a widow returning to work after the death of her husband, and with 12 episodes of that slow-but-compelling hard-bitten darkness the genre does so well, you can really dig our teeth into this one. And for another good Finland pick on Netflix, check out Bordertown, which is a favorite of Stephen King, America’s answer to snow noir.
Watch on Amazon Prime
Did you know that Iceland is more green than Greenland, and Greenland is way more icy than Iceland? That bit of useless trivia did not stop Trapped from going full snow-crazy in its tremendous first season, and unlike Cardinal, the snow here is not a silent, oppressive kind, but a swirling, windy, aggressive snow. The drama begins with a headless corpse, and if you like good mysteries with big bearded Icelandic dudes and shots of a boat skipping through cold water in a snowstorm, you have come to the right place. (Iceland honorable mention: The Valhalla Murders. Really the second big Icelandic breakout after Trapped, and almost as good.)
[Not currently streaming—officially—in the U.S.]
As with the next item on this list, don’t be confused by the uneven American adaptation, which sent people into fits at the end of the first season when they left the story on an unforgivable cliffhanger. This is the real deal, the OG, and one of the best Nordic Noirs ever. If you haven’t seen it, see it, because it’s a great story and Sarah Lund is just an all-time spectacular character. And there’s plenty of snow! Unfortunately, at the moment the original version appears not to be streaming anywhere in the U.S., so you’ll have to get creative or—gasp!—buy a DVD or something, if those still exist. In this case, it’s well worth it.
Watch on Amazon Prime
This is technically a Denmark/Sweden co-production, and if you want a Sweden exclusive pick, go with Wallander (but, uh, not the Swedish version, not the English version, even though the English version is better and, somehow, more Nordic Noir than the Nordic version, which actually has an ironic sensibility that seems very British…confused yet?). Again, ignore the American remake; this is the original, and there’s a reason it spread all around the world. The sad part here is it’s not on Hulu anymore, so you have to pay for it on Amazon; but it’s one of the classics, still very unknown in the U.S., and worth your money.
Watch on Hulu
This might be unpopular, and season three might not even be the best season (I can tell you that Season 4 istrash), but I’m putting this here because the performance of David Thewlis as the criminal V.M. Varga is one of the all-time skeevy/scary roles, and I’m telling you, the man gets into your marrow. Worth watching on those merits alone.
Watch on Amazon Prime via Topic
This is their version of The Bridge—it starts with a body on the border between the two countries—but it puts the American adaptation to shame, and the story itself is sufficiently different that it never seems like you’re watching a remake. As far as vibes, this one gives you a little Fargo, and a lot of True Detective in the occult nature of the killing. And is it snowy? Oh, it is SNOWY. This is eight episodes of extremely solid crime plotting that you’ll blaze through in no time flat. I honestly can’t remember watching or enjoying or even hearing about a German show before this, but this one’s a gem. (Editor’s Note: Shane has clearly forgotten about our praise of Babylon Berlin.)
Watch on Amazon Prime
Ready for this? Carrie-Anne Moss is in this show. Why? How? Who knows! It’s about a murder victim in Larvik, Norway, who is tied to an American serial killer (capitalism metaphor, anyone?), and Moss is the FBI agent who comes from across the pond to work alongside the title character, William Wisting (Sven Nordin), another widower in a genre full of them. This has the distinction of being the most expensive drama ever made in Norway, and it pays off. Plus—you’re not going to believe this—it is chock full of snow. Like a child making snow angels after the first big storm of the year, it is time to lay back and indulge.
Shane Ryan is a writer and editor. You can find more of his writing and podcasting at Apocalypse Sports, and follow him on Twitter here .
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