Occupied [TV] – Review ***

Occupied 

Sky Arts 

Produced by Yellow Bird

In its heyday, Fox’s 24 was the biggest show on television, must-watch for anybody remotely interested in American politics, adrenaline-fuelled action or Kiefer Sutherland’s furrowed brow. As the show went on, its plausibility came under scrutiny as the stories became progressively outlandish and the seemingly invincible nature of its protagonist rendered most of the tension redundant. However, as far as entertainment goes, it never really lost its touch and continued to be interesting, at the very least, during most of its frantic run of 8 seasons.

Occupied feels like a blood relative of 24 at times, tinged with that same self-aware intensity and political intrigue that borders on incredulous but is nevertheless addictive television. It centers around the concept of an alternative future where the dangers of climate change have led to Norway’s newly established liberal government to cease all oil productivity. This decision pushes the rest of Europe into pressuring Russia to occupy Norway to reestablish the status quo and we follow a number of key figures as they navigate this new world order, each episode being set within a month, a structure not too far removed from 24’s groundbreaking real-time format.

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If you can see past the jumps in narrative logic and suspend your disbelief a little, there is a lot to admire about Norway’s latest television export. Firstly, it is incredibly stylish, filmed with an assurance that distinguishes it from typical television fodder. The second episode in particular makes good use of moody lighting within the Russian embassy to contrast against the bright, clinical world of modern Norway and despite the lack of action sequences, tension manages to permeate every scene. Style and aesthetic has never been a problem for Nordic media and the trend continues here.

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A lot of effort has been made to keep this a human drama as well as a political one. Most characters are given depth and the writers aren’t too tempted by cliché. Sure, there is a clear-cut hero in bodyguard Djupvik (Eldar Skar) but everybody else is flawed, unpredictable but nevertheless intriguing, a little like the show itself. The Norwegian Prime Minister, in particular, is an ever-evolving, sympathetic character caught between his morals and his reputation. Every good show needs the audience to be invested in its characters fates and Occupied achieves this through slow burn and intelligent manoeuvring of its primary protagonists.

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Despite its far-out story, Occupied does not feel too far removed from similar politically motivated television shows that have come before it. Whilst not necessarily bland, it can’t truly be described as unique either. However, what keeps the story progressing at a brisk pace is the insight into Norwegian culture and the way it views governmental procedure. Known as one of the more liberal and “happier” places on earth during these troubling times, it is refreshing to see Norway, a country not always at the forefront of the media, reacting to world issues through the medium of television, making a change from the usual American or British offerings.

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Interestingly enough, Russia have been quite vocal about their views on the show, the Russian ambassador speaking of their disappointment in the producers “scaring spectators with a nonexistent threat from the east”. Whilst he has a point, it is a testament to the authenticity and timeliness of Occupied that even with a story that remains implausible, it can still ruffle some feathers and entertain at the same time. Viewers that stick to see out the show’s end-game would certainly have as much to talk about as they did when Jack Bauer was ushering America through a political crisis on a annual basis. Now it seems to be Norway’s turn.

 

Occupied is available on Blu-ray and DVD on 21st March 2016. 

Steven Ryder is a Film and TV graduate and a quintessentially British lover of film in that he never really watches British films. Moderator of one of the internet's largest film discussion forums, TrueFilm, Steven is dedicated to lurching between trash and high art, often resulting in a cinematic whiplash of sorts.