If the function of art is to transcend our culturally defined commonly understood meanings, this Danish television series has achieved something amazing. While the dialogue is in Danish, it has been broadcast throughout the world, as it captures the nexus of statecraft and the human beings who are the vulnerable avatars of the most exalted of political principles, some that this liberal site reveres and others that it abhors.
The setting, Borgen is the name of medieval castle that is the seat of government of this small country with a population less than New York City, with all of the challenges and divisiveness of a world in transition that is faced by all societies.
The ostensible subject is the politics of a parliamentary democracy the alternative to our Presidential system where the head of government does not have a fixed term, but serves as long as she/he can retain a ruling coalition. As such, unlike our two party system there is more tenuous formation of alliances, sometimes among ideological opposites. Your second in command, your Foreign Minister is thus also your political rival.
The first episode opens with Birgitte Nyborg, the leader of the fictional Moderate Party, because of a series of blunders by the two leading parties before the election, finds herself the "winner" ;and after cobbling together a coalition becomes Prime Minister. Now P.M. Nyborg is also central to the second strand of this series, her own transformation from the leader of those of kindred values in a minor faction, to the head of government, with a need to become in every way one who is worthy of both respect, and of being feared by those who covet her position. Her idyllic life with with a supportive husband and two children was now challenged by her new position that demanded this new stronger persona.
The other element of this series centers on Kasper Juul, who reflects elements of a Carl Rove if he had worked for Franklin Roosevelt instead of G.W. Bush. Kasper, more than the formal title of media adviser became Birgitte's confidant and the conduit for bringing the audience into the Realpolitik of governance, where personal affection must be subordinated to doing what is politically expedient to maintain her position.
And then there is sex, tender or passionate, loving or debased. The brilliance of this dramatic presentation is that this part of life is never simply thrown in, but a natural part of the essential qualities of those whom we come to know. Even describing this is difficult, since the very descriptive words we use are mini stereotypes as they must be, while this series is the peeling away of these to expose the underlying unique humanity of such fictional "characters."
To give some idea of how this stands out so far above anything else on television, LinkTV, which had been running this weekly for the last year did a marathon of all twenty hour long episodes that we recorded, and have been watching a couple each day, not to finish it too soon. Yesterday, Dish Network had a glitch, and we found out that for episode 15, it only recorded about ten minutes. We could figure out what had happened, but to miss the interactions, the political turmoil that caused the green party to leave the coalition, to be replaced out of necessity with the small right wing anti-immigrant party, was really upsetting to us. We searched the Internet to no avail, as missing fifty minutes of this program has been a real loss.
The link to the Wikipedia article above, or this one to the Link TV site describes more of the nuts and bolts, the actors, writers and all who created this gem. For those interested in political life, it is an essential series to track down. The substantive issues were the same as ours, of most countries.....supporting military coalitions, protecting the safety net of those who are struggling, adjusting to changing values, contentious issues that are the same ones that we in the U.S. are struggling with.
And even the story of the media, as decisions are made instantaneously in live interviews whether to allow confrontations that are harmful to political civility but are also "good television" I wish I had been told how brilliant this program was when it started, so with this I have done my best to spread the word. It may be while before this series is rescheduled, and there is one more season to be produced. Be sure to look for it.
It's just been announced that N.B.C. has bought the rights for a United States adaptation. How they translate this for the American mass media audience will be another story in itself.
User Josmndson in a comment below has described placing his files of the first ten episodes on line to be downloaded for those who want to see this program. Many thanks.