Unit One: Series 1, 2 & 3 now on DVD


MHz Home Entertainment new release of “Unit One: Series 1, 2 & 3” brings American lovers of Nordic Noir the first three (and best) seasons of “Unit One:” (Rejseholdet), the ground-breaking Danish crime thriller that won an International Emmy Award for Best Drama Series in 2002 and rocketed Danish television into the international spotlight.

Unit One follows an elite police force (a flying squad) sent around Denmark to help local police forces with various cases, brutal crimes drawn from the headlines

Many of the episodes were inspired by real events. Sordid cases include child abuse, pornography and pedophilia, murders, cross-border sex traffic, international organized crime and Government conspiracy. In fact, the show faced a gauntlet of Tabloid pieces decrying their insensitivity to victims of real crimes.

The show details both the criminal casework used by the mobile unit, and the lives of the detectives cracking the cases. The focus is on the team’s interaction.

Many of the tropes from “Unit I” have been so widely imitated over the ensuing decade but that doesn’t blunt the shock quality of most of the crimes.

The show ran from 2000-2004, over 3 seasons and with two film-length episodes serving the Season Four’s Series Finale.

The series has been televised in Denmark (DR1), Sweden (TV4), Iceland (Rúv), Germany (ZDF), Australia (SBS), Croatia (HRT3), and the U.S. (MHz).

The cast will be familiar to fans of Nordic Noir.

Charlotte Fich (“The Killing”, “Wallander” Season 1) stars as the ambitious detective Ingrid Dahl who’s been “temporarily” promoted to lead Unit One, the elite mobile task force created to support local law enforcement across Denmark. Mads Mikkelsen (“Hannibal”, “Casino Royale”) plays Detective Allan Fischer, the bad boy of the team whose disregard for rules and hot temper often leads to trouble. The cerebral and intuitive Thomas La Cour, played by Lars Brygmann (“The Spider”, “Borgen”) has the uncanny ability to visualize what really happened at crime scenes and veteran detective IP Sørensen is the glue that holds the team together.

Others appear in later shows like “The Killing”, “The Eagle”, “Anna Pihl” or Sweden’s “Irene Huss”, all programmed on the MHz networks as well.

Johnny Olsen (Lars Born) the former Danish national soccer star, drives Unit One’s mobile HQ and has struck up a relationship with logistics specialist Gaby Levin (Trine Pallesen-“The Killing”). As a group they tackle cases involving murder, kidnapping, human trafficking and extortion. The job challenges everything they know about the criminal mind and also takes a heavy toll on their personal lives.

Balancing forensics with backstory riddled with interpersonal issues, Unit I’s scripts focus on the issues facing police in their taxing roles. Worn down by the brutal crimes they face day in and day out, as well as the pressure from the justice system and the press, the detectives find lives with civilians hard to maintain leading to romantic entanglements within the Unit.

Ingrid Dahl has a lot to prove, her promotion wasn’t popular in the male-dominated service, in fact veteran detective IP Sørensen (Waage Sandø) was the obvious choice. The single mother, juggling family life, sexism in the workplace and the controversial traumatic cases she’s handling, is worn down by the job. As the series builds, she begins making some bad choices.

Dahl is feisty; it’s fun to watch her sidestep the rules, often buying time till she can prove her hunches. She’s also maternal, and this is an Achilles Tendon as she’s faced by one heinous crime after another.

Although hotdog Fischer takes the lead in rule breaking, most of the team are guilty of the occasional short cut.

The crack unit can’t help looking down on the local cops they are forced to work with and tensions abound in each episode.

Home lives can’t survive the Unit’s grinding 24 7 workload. Cases prove metaphors for the personal meltdowns of detectives, as if they view their lives through the cases before them

As the ghastly crimes they deal with seem to bleed over into their lives, psychic Thomas La Cour comes on strong; His visions and dreams (often at the crime scenes), what he calls ‘Intuition’, begin aiding their investigations in spooky ways.

In Season 1, the older male dominated cops won’t stop gripping about Dhal’s politically correct promotion. But world-weary Ulf Thomsen (Erik Wedersøe- “The Kingdom”, “The Idiots”), who pays lip service to the old boys club, develops a healthy respect for her work. The series has a sort of slow build, but by episode 7 we’re strongly engaged in the characters’ realistic portrayals.

Ingrid’s long-term boyfriend Søren Nørgaard (Neils Olsen) dies in the series’ sixth episode from a brain hemorrhage, influencing Ingrid’s private life for the rest of the series.

Character work is top drawer throughout. Lars Brygmann and Mads Mikkelsen dominate whenever they’re on screen.

There is also a sly brand of humor; in one episode a cop grills a talking bird at a bar about a suspect. Banter between the Unit is amusing, but never in the over the top style of American cop shows.

Niels Arden Oplev (“The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo”) directs the first three episodes with his flash, penetrating style. His sometimes fish eye lens adds a creepy atmosphere, a glimpse at the abnormal world that fills the detectives’ heads. Expressionist use of sunlight and flashlight increase the mood.

Mournful sax and moody close ups abet the single crime per episode format. The two-parters, like 8-9 in Season One, are most compelling. 

Twisted sex crimes dominate, leading to a violent, final revelatory two-parter that haunts Ingrid.

By Season Two ex-footballer cum driver Johnny Olsen emerges as a popular character. The charming laid back guy, unofficially involved in the cases, is a foil to Fischer’s chilly determination. Olsen’s mid-divorce in a custody battle and his relationship with Gaby seems bound to fail.

I.P. Jørgensen’s woes revolve around his unfaithful wife Kirsten (shades of Smiley and his straying Ann.) Kirsten Jørgensen (Lisbet Lundquist) is an actress and an alcoholic involved in a romantic triangle with I.P. boss Ulf Thomsen.

Season Two’s more grounded early episodes see at-home dramas influencing the way the detectives view their cases. While Fischer (Mikkelsen) cheats on his wife with a local police officer, and Senior DI IP” Jørgensen is cuckolded by his boss Ulf, all their cases seem to deal with adultery. Child abuse cases abound while Ingred worries about her kids, and Gaby considers aborting Olsen’s baby.

Over-determined plot points be damned, it’s all entertaining.

Another two-parter dealing with a Turkish Honor killing puts maternal Ingrid to the test as she interviews a tragic victim of twisted sexual violation. It’s a gripping performance by Charlotte Fich, a cocktail of authority and empathy that reveals the psychology of certain women’s adaptation to the workplace.

Season Two crimes include kidnapping, murder with a kinky sex background, arson and honor killings. The cliff hanging finale episode loops back to an earlier pedophile case, and Psychic La Cour has to face some tough seemingly unanswerable questions of his own

Season Three
The third season begins with a missing student cold case and Ingrid’s family members become homicide victims of a pair of robbers. A hotel arson case involves the death of Fischer’s girlfriend.  In Episode six another murderous robber seems to be manipulated by a hypnotist, a rough case to prove.

One of Ingrid’s former cases is entangled with Fischer’s Hotel Nyborg, arson trail.

The final episode about a drug dealer’s murmder delves into secrets of local prominent citizens, social workers and police officers.

Alongside the main cast we have a wealth of guest stars including, in appearance order, Thomas Levin (Ulrik Morch -“Borgen”), Nikolaj Lie Kaas (Matias Borch-“The Killing III”), Nicolas Bro (Thomas Buch-“The Killing II”), Puk Scharbau (“The Bridge”), Thure Lindhardt (“Brotherhood”), Lars Mikkelsen (“The Killing I”, “Those Who KIll”, “Borgen 3”), Benedikte Hansen (“The Killing II”, “Borgen”), Ken Vedsegaard (Jens Peter Raben-“The Killing II”, “Krøniken”), and Morten Suurballe (“The Killing”, “The Bridge”). .

Although Mads Mikkelsen had already starred in the feature films “Open Hearts”, “Green Butchers” and Pablo Berger’s hilarious sex comedy “Torremolinos 73” and appeared in “Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself”, his 32 episodes on “Unit One” put skates on his career.

Ingrid Dahl, as played by Charlotte Fich is the first of Danish TV’s beleaguered upwardly mobile female protagonists, a precursor to Sarah Lund, Saga Noren of “The Bridge” and even Birgitte Nyborg, the first Danish prime Minister in the political drama “Borgen.” There are echoes of Arne Dahl’s best selling crime books. Is her character name an homage?

The show is set all over Denmark, giving viewers a look at Denmark off the beaten tracks: towns, natural beauty. Some cases travel over the borders to Iceland, Sweden and Germany.

Ambitious production values, helmed, shot and edited by a Who’s Who of Danish filmmakers make for a consistently enjoyable ride.  Scripts owe their lineage to American crime shows and feature films of the 70’s, the golden age of crime films.

In Danish with English Subtitles
Directors: Niels Arden Oplev; Jørn Faurschou; Peter Flinth; Charlotte Sieling; Jannik Johansen; Martin Schmidt
Cast: Lars Bom; Trine Pallesen; Weege Sandø; Charlotte Fich; Erik Wedersøe; Lars Brygmann; Mads Mikkelsen
4 DVD Set / 687 minutes / 16:9 Anamorphic Widescreen / Region 1 / NR
SKU: 16818 / UPC CODE: 815047018181

In Danish with English Subtitles
Directors: Martin Schmidt; Jørn Faurschou; Charlotte Sieling
Cast: Lars Bom; Trine Pallesen; Weege Sandø; Charlotte Fich; Erik Wedersøe; Lars Brygmann; Mads Mikkelsen
4 DVD Set / 686 minutes / 16:9 Anamorphic Widescreen / Region 1 / NR
SKU: 16819 / UPC CODE: 815047018198

In Danish with English Subtitles
Directors: Ole Christian Madsen; Jannik Johansen; Charlotte Sieling
Cast: Lars Bom; Trine Pallesen; Weege Sandø; Charlotte Fich; Erik Wedersøe; Lars Brygmann; Mads Mikkelsen
3 DVD Set / 496 minutes / 16:9 Anamorphic Widescreen / Region 1 / NR
SKU: 16820 / UPC CODE: 815047018204


About Author

Robin Menken

Robin Menken Robin Menken lives in Los Angeles. She was the Artistic Director of the Second City Workshops, taught at UC Berkeley, USC, Barcelona\'s Ateneu and the Esalin Institute. She was Roberto Rossellini\'s assistant, and worked with Yevgeny Vevteshenku, Glauber Rocha and Eugene Ionesco. She sold numerous screenplays and wrote the OBIE winning The FTA SHow (touring with Jane Fonda, Donald Sutherland and Ben Vereen.) She was a programming consultant and Special Events co-ordinator for numerous film festivals, including the SF, Rio, Havana and N.Y Film Festivals. Her first news outlet was the historic East Village Other.

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