This Danish Political Drama Is the Greatest Show on Netflix You Definitely Aren't Watching Yet
A few weeks ago, my parents told me they’d started watching a thrilling new show they thought I’d like. They pretty much only watch British crime series, so I was surprised when my dad described the show as a fictional political drama all about Denmark’s first female prime minister. Why my parents thought this topic deserved to be called “thrilling” or why they thought I’d be interested was unclear, but I figured since I’d already binged New Girl one-thousand times during quarantine, why not try something new? Let me tell you, Borgen is the greatest show on Netflix you definitely aren’t watching yet.
Named for Christiansborg Palace in Copenhagen, which houses Denmark’s three governing bodies—Parliament, the Supreme Court and the Prime Minister’s offices—Borgen is like a Danish version of The West Wing, and is so much more fascinating than I expected it to be. As mentioned, it follows Birgitte Nyborg, played by Sidse Babett Knudsen (who some fans may recognize as Theresa Cullen from Westworld), after she is unexpectedly elected the country’s first female prime minister. The real charm of the show comes from its stellar cast, which also includes Pilou Asbæk (Euron Greyjoy in Game of Thrones) as Nyborg’s publicist and Birgitte Hjort Sørensen as an ambitious young journalist. And much like Aaron Sorkin’s American political drama, Borgen oscillates between complex political puzzles and the personal dramas of its characters, all with dialogue that moves along at a rapid clip.
Although there is an English-dubbed version available, with much of the original cast dubbing their own lines, Borgen is really best watched in Danish. (You’ll quickly pick up on a number of fun Danish words, like ‘statsminister’ for prime minister, ‘tak’ for thanks and, my personal favorite, ‘spin doctor’ which is Asbæk’s official job title as the PM’s media handler.) And despite the fact that I started watching with zero idea of how the Danish government works, that didn’t hinder my ability to really feel the importance of Nyborg’s many meetings with the leaders of the opposing Liberal and Labour parties. (A note: all of the names of the various political parties portrayed in Borgen were made up and don’t necessarily reflect the real parties active in Denmark.) In fact, while watching a particularly intense parliamentary showdown in season three, my smart watch informed me I was experiencing “high levels of stress” and should maybe chill out a little bit.
Of course, none of the characters’s personal lives go very smoothly either. Nyborg’s husband, at first enthusiastically supportive, starts to feel the weight of their uneven division of responsibilities as parents. Asbæk’s and Sørensen’s characters used to date and struggle to navigate the boundaries between their jobs and their lingering feelings for one another. Political scandals abound and more than one character meets an untimely end throughout the series (although this isn’t a murder mystery or crime-focused show).
As it turns out, Borgen wasn’t just a surprise hit for me personally. The show first aired in Denmark in 2010 and while it was a big success locally, no one thought it would play well outside of Scandinavia—so it was a true shock when a syndicated airing in Germany absolutely blew up. It garnered new fans again after airing in the U.K., and is slowly but surely becoming a sleeper hit now in the U.S., 10 years after its premiere, thanks to Netflix. In fact, a fourth season just started filming in Denmark, although it won’t hit the small screen until 2022.
So if you have yet to add Borgen to your queue, we suggest you do so now. And maybe start brushing up on your Danish slang, just for kicks.