Not Every TV Cop Show Is A Noir Masterpiece

Sometimes a cop show is just a cop show.

This thought comes to mind whenever I graze through the latest imported procedurals that cycle in and out of “Masterpiece” on PBS.

Many people seem to enjoy them, but except for their British accents (and sometimes other accents), they are no better or worse than any number of cop shows made in America.

Simply slapping a “Masterpiece” label on them does not make them so. This goes also for the growing popularity of designating any ol’ murder mystery drama as “noir.”

For the Swedish-based subscription streaming service, Viaplay, the word takes center stage in its positioning of a made-in-Iceland cop drama called “Black Sands.” It starts streaming on Thursday.



The show is described as “showcasing Nordic noir at its very best.” “Nordic noir” is a phrase that has come into use recently to describe crime dramas from Scandinavia and other northern European countries.

“Noir” means “black” in French, of course, but the world has come to associate the word with “film noir,” the exact meaning of which is open to a variety of interpretations.

These can include aspects of atmosphere, camera angles, dialogue, and central characters such as a detective, femme fatale and “dupe,” a character who finds him- or herself drawn into a situation over which they have no control.

“Noir” cinema and in this case “noir” television can be a lot more complicated than that, but the phrase is flexible enough that it can be applied to almost any TV drama that deals with violent crime.

Where “Black Sands” is concerned, “Nordic noir” is mainly a reference to its location in Iceland, where the skies are gray and low, the air is wet and the weather is cold.

In the series’ first episode, a woman is found dead on a deserted Icelandic beach, and a trio of police detectives are called to the scene.

Apparently, the three have not worked together for a while, and lots of hugs and smiles are exchanged as this unfortunate woman lies dead nearby on windswept sands.

They then kneel over the body to conduct an intensive on-site examination that includes inserting a long thermometer up her bare rear end to read her body temperature in order to estimate the time of her death.

To prepare for this procedure, they had to roughly pull her pants down. This had me wondering how the actress playing the corpse must have felt when a director instructed her to lie perfectly still on her stomach in damp sand while these other actors yank down her pants and underpants for everyone to behold her naked ass.

Or maybe they use some sort of mannequin or dummy, to spare a real actress from this humiliation. Whatever. 

After the three are done probing the crime scene, the action, along with the corpse, shifts to the morgue for the autopsy, which was shaping up to be one of the most graphic simulated autopsies I have ever encountered in a lifetime of watching police shows.

But I didn’t wait around to see it. After the first one or two minutes of this procedure -- which was about 22 minutes into the show -- I bailed on it. Maybe “Black Sands” was too “noir” even for me. 

“Black Sands” starts streaming on Thursday (July 20) on Viaplay.

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