Hidden first thoughts

Today the first two episodes of Hidden aired on Viaplay. The series is the latest big budget effort in an improving Scandinavian mainstream fantasy scene. Since only two episodes have aired, we’ll leave a complete review for later, and only look at a few things in the first episodes.

“Aired” is not the correct term, of course. That is an ancient TV term; now it is streaming that counts. Viaplay is a local HBO and part of a network that includes the TV3 channels in the Nordic region. TV3 used to a third level broadcaster – after the major public broadcasters and their commecial competitors which launched in the 90s, like TV2 in Norway and TV4 in Sweden – but with streaming content now a major attraction even here, Viaplay / TV3 is ramping up its original drama efforts, and have actually managed to, if not squash its competition, at least become a relevant player in the field.

After other recent Nordic fantasy productions such as Heartless, Real Humans, The Shamer’s Daughter, The Rain and Jordskott, Viaplay’s first such TV drama is Hidden. You can read the plot and creator comments here, and now let’s look at some of the things the first two episodes suggest:

Characters
The two lead characters are Viveca Eldh (Izabella Scorupco) and Jonas Hellemyr (August Wittgenstein). We get to learn a lot about Jonas, his past, his private life and his situation. He’s got an ex-girlfriend that he cares for, he’s a hard working guy, a book lover, and his childhood is rolled up in one particular scene (not a flashback, fortunately). Viveca, on the other hand, we learn is part of a secret society of people with special powers, but beyond that, her portrayal is surprisingly thin. That has nothing to do with the actress, it’s a script flaw. However, the nature of the secret society is slowly rolled out so maybe with more time and more episodes, Viveca’s character will be fleshed out better. As of the first two episodes, we only know that she can “charge”, lives alone and that she is a very able investigor, even physically.

Special effects
Before the opening credits, there is a beautiful CGI scene where a mysterious person paints threads in the air with sometning glowing that comes out of a bucket. The series is not CGI intensive at all, it does not seem to be that kind of show, but the first few spots of digital visuals promises quality. Quality effects are defined by how seamless they are, and here they are seamless.

Set design and look
The story is not set in the future but in an alternate presence. Still, Stockholm looks dark, rainy, dirty and run-down, almost post-apocalyptic. The characters move in ruins, in underground derelict spaces and in hospitals that look as if they didn’t undergo any renovation since they were built in the 60s. Not dirty, just out of style. All this is meant in a good way. When Scandinavian TV drama go for “dark”, too often they go for literal darkness, i.e. you can’t see what’s going on, but in Hidden it’s more about late evenings, poorly lit alleys and rainy days. Each individual scene hides nothing, it’s all well lit. One can’t deny that whatever preconcieved ideas you had about the architecture of Budapest, where the show is filmed, are met.

Story and dialogue
The first two episodes are basically an origin story, but we’re not told all the details of what the secret society is, what the various powers are, why there are powers nor why things must remain a secret. Hopefully we’ll learn more on the way, but it’s a good sign that we’re not force-fed details and a backstory. One can’t really tell how this is going to end – it’s more interesting that way. Also, and this is perhaps what makes the series quite Scandinavian in terms of genre, is that if you strip away the fantasy and the supernatural, there is a still a decent crime story there. Like the now cheesy cult classic Blindpassasjer, which was a crime drama camouflaged as science fiction, an innovative concept in the 1970s, Hidden is a kind of murder mystery disquised as a superhero story.

These are the first few impressions of the 8-episode drama. A proper review will be posted when the series has ended.

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