Created by: Peter Thorsboe.
Starring: Mads Mikkelsen, Charlotte Fich, Lars Brygmann, Waage Sandø, Erik Wedersøe, Trine Pallesen and Lars Bom.
Synopsis: Based on actual, real-life crimes, Unit One follows an elite mobile police force as they are dispatched to assist local police in solving some of the most complex and high profile cases Denmark has ever seen.
Due to the popularity of recent "Nordic Noir", re-releases of Danish television series are cropping up habitually. One such re-release is Unit One ("Rejseholdet"), a police thriller that ran from 2000 until 2004. It follows an elite police force that are sent to help with various cases. Its cast, as advertised, appear in a number of Scandinavian shows including Borgen, The Killing and Wallander. The notable star is Bond villain Mads Mikkelsen, with top billing despite him only being a supporting character. The star of this show, even with it seeming an ensemble piece, is Charlotte Fich.
Unit One is based on real cases that happened around Denmark over 20 years, bringing a bleak, gritty edge to the programme. It's not always so dark and the lighter moments (such as quips between the team) play out equally well. It's tone will appear perfectly common thanks to our own ITV drama The Bill and US imports such as 24 and CSI. The theme tune, one of the first memorable elements, has a similarly frustrating jingle to The Bill and could put you right off, as pathetic at that seems. Get past the laughable music (theme tune and poor soundtrack) along with some quite boring episodes and it may have you hooked.
With 9 episodes, each just under an hour long, Unit One's first season is not a grade-A piece of drama though by episode 7 it begins to grip you, as the cases become more intense and the characters start to seem familiar. Each character gets the detail they need in order for you to feeler obliged to follow and care about them, some more than others. Fich as the team leader, Ingrid, gets the most screen time but understandably so; a woman high up in the ranks with a quaint home life sounds dull but is magnified and altered from time to time in interesting ways.
Mikkelsen as Fischer and his best friend/partner La Cour are the next best inclusions to the group, with the latter regarded highly for his "sensitivity" and someone you always want to learn more about. Mikkelsen is a fantastic screen presence but has only the basic story-lines to play with (bar one in which the case becomes warped with his domestic life). The rest are merely standard extras to the team, yet Johnny Olsen stands out as a refreshingly abnormal crew member.
Most episodes revolve around a stand-alone case and these are not always so thrilling. The two-parters, notably 8 and 9, give reason for your attention and, more so, your willingness to continue on with seasons 2 to 4.
It's a distinctly average first season, although it matures into something more special in the final three hours of collective runtime. Give it that time and you may earn yourself a new foreign favourite. For those not especially enamoured by the first 2 or 3 episodes, save your time for more deserving titles (perhaps the other Nordic Noirs or maybe the seminal HBO series The Wire).
By Piers McCarthy. Also posted on Flickering Myth