Release Date(s)2016-2018 (July 25, 2023)
Studio(s)ITV Studios Norway (MHz Networks/Kino Lorber)
- Film/Program Grade: B-
- Video Grade: B-
- Audio Grade: A-
- Extras Grade: F
A surprisingly routine legal drama from Norway, Aber Bergen is an ensemble show seemingly fashioned after popular American TV series like The Good Wife, albeit with a Norwegian setting. The program is okay—watchable comfort food television but instantly disposable. Alternately amusing and depressing, its oppressive, austere Scandinavian look, with its cold architecture, perpetually overcast skies, and emotionally aloof characters is hard to warm up to on any level.
MHz’s Complete Series DVD set (funneled through Kino Lorber) is also disappointing. Some discs force the viewer to sit through a long advertisement for other MHz titles, the video transfers aren’t terribly impressive, and the subtitling has a few issues as well.
Set in Bergen, a city of 285,000 along the west coast of Norway, the program revolves around separated married attorneys Elea Bergen (Ellen Dorritt Petersen) and Erik Aber (Odd-Magnus Williamson), partners in the small law firm of Aber | Bergen. The heavily-tattooed Erik is a Lothario and impulsive, she icily conservative and cautious. Also in the firm is partner Diana Drange (Line Verndal), even colder and more calculating than the others, emotionally fragile herself but ruthlessly vindictive, particularly toward young and inexperienced lawyer Unn Frøynes (Lykke Kristine Moen), the new kid on the block. Another partner is Magnus Braseth (Torgny Gerhard Aanderaa), blind but uncannily perceptive, and wise-cracking receptionist Trine-Lise (Siv Torin Knudsen Petersen). Also figuring heavily in stories, at least during the first season, is Elea and Erik’s troubled teenager son, Jørgen (Oliander Taule).
The series ran three 10-episode seasons, each episode running a bit over 40 minutes. As usual with these kinds of shows, there are season-long story arcs—in Season 1, the suspicious suicide of Erik’s closest friend—coupled with (usually) two self-contained plots, one of these often lighthearted, in each episode. The show’s scripts aren’t particularly ambitious or original.
Except for the slight differences in Norwegian law and courtroom scenes (politer and more cordial than in American shows) and the gloomy scenery inside and out, Aber Bergen is fundamentally no different from similar American legal dramas. Elea and Erik fight and make up and fight again and make up again. Diana is surly all the time and torments hard-working Unn, going to extremes like filling Unn’s office with Hello Kitty knickknacks. Magnus’s blindness is the subject of obvious jokes. The cases are not unlike those found in American shows, as are Elea and Erik’s domestic problems.
MHz’s Complete Series packs the 30 episodes in a sturdy, single case, with 3-4 episodes per disc, with nine single-sided DVDs in all. The series, shot in HD, is presented in very wide widescreen, perhaps 2.35:1, the DVDs in 16:9 enhanced widescreen. Why it was shot this way is anyone’s guess; the videography doesn’t take any particular advantage of the screen shape and the whole thing would have looked better in standard 16:9 format. The Dolby Digital 2.0 surround is fine, but the English subtitles are crammed into the already tight widescreen frame. During the opening titles of each episode, text all but obscures the image even more. Further, on my projection system, motion problems and edge enhancement were highly noticeable, as if the HD show was transferred to PAL format and then converted to NTSC. No extras.
Aber Bergen isn’t bad as it’s reasonably entertaining, but great Scandinavian TV drama it’s not.
- Stuart Galbraith IV