Danish TV Show 'Dicte' Tracks a Reporter With a Knack for Stumbling on Crimes

'Dicte', a Danish crime series, proves that Americans have finally warmed to subtitles.

A scene from 'Dicte.'

First things first: By the end of the first week of the year, here is my resolution for 2017: definitely 1920 x 1080, which is indeed considered to be HD – high definition. The numbers refer to horizontal and vertical rows of pixels, the square dots of color that form the images we see on our TV screens. And there – as in many other matters – the more the merrier. When you see reality (on the TV or smartphone screen) as a huge number of pixels – our smartphone cameras film the world through megapixels – you can discern and define more patterns that make sense. Thus you can understand and accept more individual points of view.

My other New Year’s resolution is to stick to my tried-and-true method of choosing what I will write about each week. I switch the set on, zap through the channels until I alight on something that looks new (to me) and intriguing enough to try to understand what it’s all about and if it’s worth watching. I find it’s best to accost a TV program with no clue as to what it’s all about. Then you can enjoy, apart from the merits of the show itself, your own capacities as a plot sleuth, deducing the genre, origin and formula to which the show adheres (or not).

That is how I stumbled on “Dicte” on HOT 3. It was not in English, and had Hebrew subtitles, but it was clear to me that the title was the name of the main, female character. The language sounded Nordic, the look of the series, although in color, was decidedly gray, and the heroine – Dicte is short for Benedictine (“blessed”) – is pretty, but not beautiful; tall, blonde, troubled and determined.

You don’t have to be an astute sleuth, just your average avid TV viewer, to understand that this is yet another Danish TV series making waves on the global TV sea. “Dicte” follows “Borgen” (the Scandinavian version of “The West Wing” meets “House of Cards,” with a female PM) and “Bron” (“The Bridge” – a police procedural with a female detective, blonde and with a deeply damaged yet marvelously functioning personality). After ages in which the Danes were famous for an undecided, melancholy prince and a writer who excelled in fairy tales, they have made a name for themselves as a TV series provider to the entire world.

Dicte Svendsen (played by Iben Hjejle) is a crime reporter for a newspaper that is trying, like all newspapers nowadays, to make ends meet. At the start of the series, she moves with her teenage daughter from Copenhagen to her hometown of Aarhus. (The Danish press was very critical of the Copenhagen accents spoken by the Aarhus characters, but this didn’t bother me in the slightest.)

Dicte has a knack of stumbling on crimes, and then the tenacity and ability to track down clues and suspects, playing hide-and-seek with the police, and dealing with her own messed-up life: estranged parents who are Jehovah’s Witnesses, a baby given up for adoption, an ex-husband and some female friends.

Worth the effort

It premiered in Denmark in 2013, and just finished its third season there. Following the series’ success on Netflix in the U.S. (all three seasons are available for streaming) and on More4 in the U.K. (the first season), it will soon be available in Israel (exact time still unknown) on HOT Xtra VOD.

American culture – if one is allowed to make such a sweeping generalization – does not look kindly on strangers. For years the U.S. book market lagged behind the world in translating novels, and for any successful foreign movie or TV series to make it there, it had to have an English-language “remake.” For a series to run on air in the U.S. it needed revenue from commercials; this was based on ratings, thus killing any idea of broadcasting a foreign-language series on American screens. American TV audiences didn’t like subtitles.

Netflix does not base its content decisions on commercial revenue, which allows it to offer something for niche viewers as well. But much more important, in my view, is the fact that most of us have become adept at reading subtitles – text or Whatsapp messages are subtitles, sort of – while viewing visual content on our screen. That opened the English-speaking world to the notion that stories told in languages other than English are worth the effort involved in reading subtitles. And that is why Netflix started acquiring Israeli series (“Fauda,” among others) with subtitles. Anyway, “Dicte” is a story and a character to follow. How can a viewer (mini-spoiler alert) resist staying glued to the screen when the series opens with Dicte crouching to pee behind some bins on a side street, following the stream on sloping ground with her eyes to the point downhill where she – and the viewers – see the hand of a female corpse?