Since BBC4 began showing European crime and political thrillers I've been hooked. They started with Wallender, the Swedish morose detective who carried the careworn wear and tear of debilating anxiety, whose heart condition wasn't helped by his general lack of fitness.
He drinks and smokes, carries a paunch, lives by the sea, has a complicated private life but survives with his trusty dog. He can't wait for his retirement, but at the same time knows that once he takes his pension it could set him off on his long slow decline. Still, I like Wallender because he's a seasoned old miserable git, with rare displays of compassion and emotion.
Then there was Spiral (Engrenages) the hard hitting series about the sleazy underbelly of Paris and the rather suspect methods of the French police. Certainly not Midsomer Murders this one. Our anti-hero Captain Laure Berthaud is another character beset by emotional problems who walks the fine line between right and wrong in order to get to the truth. In fact modern day police methods here are not dissimilar to the Sweeney's (circa 1974). Spiral is not for the squeamish and Laure is on constant edge, always under suspicion by her superiors, and beset by colleagues who are equally loose cannons.
Later BBC4 gave us Inspector Montalbano, the Sicilian Commissario of Police, and the contrast to his northern European counterparts could not be more different.
Montalbano has a brighter laissez faire Italian disposition, in much sunnier climes, and although equally frustrated as Wallender, at least he doesn't have to tolerate the dark brooding landscape of Ystad in Southern Sweden. He too lives by the sea, but the story lines are equally as dark as both Wallander and Spiral, indicating that all is not a picture postcard. His beat may be picturesque but his subject matter involves corruption, murder, sex trafficking, and organised crime involving the mafia and even the church. He's not A Touch of Frost, and certainly not Inspector Barnaby.
By far the best without question must be The Killing (Forbrydelsen). A Danish production. BBC4 yet again took a chance and gave us the first series involving one of the most complex characters ever to grace the screen. Detective Inspector Sarah Lund has become quite a phenomenon in British Television. Noted equally for her Faroe Isle jumpers as her cold, focused, yet strangely vulnerable and intense approach. Such was the popularity of the first series, two more were made, and currently we are in the middle of the third and final series.
The Killing is without doubt one of the finest dramas on television today. I'm not a TV critic - I don't have the skills for it, and I'm happy to leave that to experts like Clive James, although I do dabble in the occasional review.
However, there is a thread which connects all of these productions. They are all European, they involve Sweden, Denmark and Italy, and they are all subtitled.
The astuteness of the BBC not to dub them enhances their worth to the British viewer. A discipline is required to read the subtitles whilst still focusing on the acting and plot, and it becomes surprisingly easy. Not only does it require focus, but it also helps to understand a language, and helps us feel the depth of expression without distraction of poorly synchronized dubbing. It is testament to the BBC that they respect the intelligence of their viewers and have not dumbed down to make it accessible.
Sadly American TV networks do not permit that level of respect to their own audiences. They believe that foreign subtitled dramas will not hold the attention of the typical viewer, and instead remake them for their perceived short attention-spanned audience. As US TV is so commercially driven, the risk of not attracting advertisers supersedes the risk of offering quality foreign drama. "The Killing" was remade for the US audience. It didn't work and was cancelled.
It's a paradox - a dichotomy - that a nation built on the diversity of ethnicity and multi-culturalism - a melting pot - is incapable of extending that diversity of global culture, because it's primary broadcasting networks believe that their audiences are incapable of appreciating foreign programmes with subtitles. To see the original dramas as they were made, in the context, in the cultural settings is surely a right for everyone in a civilised world. The cowboy in Texas can still participate in his line dancing, but at least he surely can watch a quality European drama with subtitles if he so wishes? That is freedom of choice surely?
There is no freedom if the opportunity doesn't exist. There is no freedom if the broadcasters only allow you to see what they think you want to see?
Americans have a problem with their perceived concept of European elitism. They shy away from anything which they don't understand. We don't have to be Europeans to understand and appreciate the plethora of culture, art, history and architecture which emanates from the rich diversity of the European continent. People are the same the world over, whether they live in the land of the midnight sun or the land of the rising sun.
The most popular show in the US is "The Walking Dead" - about a Zombie Apocalypse. Blood, guts, rampant unrestrained violence and there is nothing remotely subtle about it. Laden with corporate advertising, subliminal pretentious and poor dialogue, and nothing more than a popcorn gorefest pretending to be quality drama. It panders to the lowest common denominator. It's a poor diet, but if you eat junk food, then don't complain about getting fat and lazy. An alternative diet is out there!