Forget Agatha Christie. Meet Ågnethä Christénsson. Ja, the queen of crime goes Scandi in this eight-part whodunit. The stylish Swedish production is diverting enough but a tad too meta for its own good.
Remember Ariadne Oliver, the mystery writer who pops up in the Hercule Poirot novels? Well, her fictional detective Sven Hjerson has now been brought to contemporary life in Agatha Christie’s Hjerson (More4). Christie always admitted that she based that author/character relationship on her own frustrations with dear old Poirot. This series, made with the cooperation of the Christie estate, imagines what the similarly pernickety Hjerson might be up to in the present day.
Hyper-sensitive, super-observant Inspector Hjerson (Johan Rheborg) was renowned for solving crimes “with panache” but after being accused of planting evidence a decade ago, he retired from the spotlight. Meanwhile, Klara Sandberg (Hanna Alström) is a TV producer working on a trashy reality show titled “MILF Hotel” (don’t get any ideas, ITV2).In a moment of epiphany, she impulsively pitches “something involving life and death” – namely, a primetime true-crime series starring Hjerson. It has the potential to save both their careers. Slight snag: she’s never met ”Inspector Puss-in-Boots” and doesn’t know how to find the notoriously prickly recluse. She eventually tracks him down to a luxury cruise ship. Can you see what’s coming? Yes, there’s a murder at sea, forcing the reluctant Hjerson to team up with Klara to investigate.
As a show inspired by a detective created by a novelist inside another novel, this was a postmodern puzzle box of a drama. European TV seems to have entered a self-reflexive phase, with the likes of Irma Vep and Lupin equally playful.Allusions to the Christie canon came thick and fast. Klara was constantly eating, like apple-munching Ariadne. The cruise liner sailed to Finland in a nod to Hjerson’s mixed heritage. He was vegetarian, as he is in the books-within-books, while the sleuth’s dandified dress and fastidious habits paid tribute to Poirot himself. The art deco interiors were a visual homage, while the “trapped onboard with a killer” premise recalled both Murder on the Orient Express and Death on the Nile.
Literary heritage mixed freely with contemporary pop culture references: Baby Shark, Rickrolling, Instagram, Lady Gaga. The mismatched duo explicitly compared themselves to Moonlighting’s Bruce Willis and Cybill Shepherd, which is always fine by me. However, their relationship reminded me more of Maddy and Jonathan from Jonathan Creek – her the pushy journalist, him the hesitant genius. Our heroine even had a penchant for signature knitwear, like certain Scandi-noir predecessors.
Tongues were firmly in cheeks throughout but jolly as it all was, it lacked a little substance. I found myself wanting wittier Christie nods and a weightier mystery. Stripped of the subtitles and swish interiors, this wilfully quirky case was like a maritime Midsomer Murders – especially when a second corpse was found in cartoonishly gruesome circumstances.Too technicolour for Nordic noir and not clever enough for Christie, Hjerson sailed along fine but wasn’t worthy of the top deck. Friday-night fluff, rather than Sunday-night class.