Monday, November 28, 2022

Agatha Christie’s Hjerson, on Topic

Sven Hjerson is to Agatha Christie’s novels what Beebo is to DC Comics. He is a fictional character within a fictional world. Several of Dame Agatha’s stories featured Ariadne Oliver, a mystery writer not completely unlike herself, whose fictional detective was the fastidious Hjerson, who is not radically different from Hercule Poirot. Rather shrewdly, Swedish television capitalizes on the sleuth’s local potential in the eight-episode Agatha Christie’s Hjerson, which premieres Thursday on Topic.

Technically, the series should probably be called
Agatha Christie’s Ariadne Oliver’s Hjerson, since it all presumably unfolds in the pages of her novels, but creator Patrik Gyllstrom (perhaps wisely) ignores the meta implications. It turns out Hjerson is actually Finnish, from the Swedish-speaking autonomous archipelago of Åland, but his professional career was spent solving crimes for the Swedish police, until his spectacular fall from grace.

However, his notoriety and brilliance are assets to freelance TV producer Klara Sandberg, who wants to escape her
MILF Hotel program, with a crime-solving show, starring Hjerson. Contacting the misanthropic recluse is tricky by design, but she knows she can corner him on an over-night ferry to Åland. There also happens to be a muck-raking journalist on-board, who meets an untimely death. Obviously, that will be their first case [sort of] together.

Each case lasts two episodes and they vary in degree of mysteriousness. The shipbound opener is about as twisty as a 1970s Quinn Martin two-parter. Fortunately, the subsequent mystery in Åland is considerably more involving. It starts with the strange disappearance of a man in chicken suit and features Bjorn Andresen (who played the teen Dirk Bogarde obsesses over in
Death in Venice) as Hjerson’s old crony Oscar (seeing the grey, wrinkly Andresen now should totally freak out anyone who saw Visconti’s film in theaters).

About the time Hjerson finally agrees to Sandberg’s proposal, at least in very general terms, they are approached by Ronda Svensson (a mystery novelist in the world created by mystery novelist Ariadne Oliver, who was created by mystery novelist Agatha Christie) to investigate a murder that was committed in a manner precisely like one in her unpublished manuscript. Thematically, it is sort of like “Captive Audience,” the James Mason episode of
The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, but Gyllstrom and co-screenwriter Bjorn Paqualin take it in an interesting direction.

Impressively, Gyllstrom isn’t afraid to riff on Alec Baldwin’s negligent shooting incident (and make reference to it) in the concluding mystery-arc. However, in this instance, it is the jerky arrogant actor who gets shot. Obviously, this is a good case for the gossip-obsessed Hjerson, even though playing it coy with Sandberg. Again, this mystery isn’t bad, considering Gyllstrom has to wrap it up in ninety minutes, give or take.

It is highly unlikely either Christie or Oliver conceived Hjerson as a gay detective. Gyllstrom did, at least partly, but it is not a dominant theme. Frankly, the prickly Hjerson is much more “likable” than the annoying Sandberg—I’ll spare you the details of her misadventures with her husband’s chastity belt. She is on the young side of Gen X, but her entitled attitude is Millennial all the way.

Hanna Alstrom just can’t humanize the gratingly self-absorbed Sandberg as successfully as Johan Rheborg invites sympathy for the prickly detective. Hjerson’s fondness for Northern Soul doesn’t hurt him either—and it certainly livens up the soundtrack. This is definitely an intriguing concept, but Gyllstrom must dramatically throttle-down on Sandberg’s shtickiness going forward. The flawed execution improves over the course of the first season, but
Hjerson is still mostly recommended as a curiosity piece for Christie fans when it starts streaming Thursday (12/1) on Topic.