Tailored from Fredrik Backman’s novel of the identical identify, the Swedish-language collection examines misplaced obsessions in a small hockey city.
Early in HBO’s Swedish-language adaptation “Beartown,” two individuals are working desperately via the snow. One is carrying a rifle, and the opposite is doing their finest to keep away from getting shot. Their faces are obscured, any telling identification prevented, however the chase ends with the hunter and prey remoted on a frozen lake, the latter kneeling in entrance of the previous, earlier than the picture cuts to black simply earlier than a shot rings out.
Contemplating the viewers learns each identities earlier than the top of the second episode, this intense introductory scene isn’t meant to tease a thriller. “Beartown” is a blunt story, stocked with direct classes. Nonetheless, it’s affected person about revealing its thesis, and the life-or-death stakes arrange from the get-go assist to organize the viewers for when regular life in a small Swedish city turns very, very ugly. For some time, it might seem to be “Beartown” will likely be little greater than a clichéd sports activities story, however these usually don’t contain impromptu executions.
Flashing again to what led to such drastic measures, Peter Andersson (Ulf Stenberg) and his household return to his titular hometown in Sweden, the place he’s accepted a job to teach the native ice hockey staff. Whereas this may occasionally sound like a quite mundane life growth for a former skilled hockey participant, Beartown is obsessed with its hockey membership. Mother and father scream profanities on the refs — and younger gamers — from the stands. They do the identical at practices, which they attend religiously. They maintain conferences over the teaching choices, get drunk within the bar speaking about upcoming video games, and customarily do no matter is important to supply a successful staff.
This type of participant empowerment interprets time and time once more to entitlement. There’s a silent, haunting scene the place a bunch of younger ladies are training determine skating, when a whistle out of the blue blows and the older hockey gamers go off the bench and skate circles across the class, each as a warning to clear the ice and as a inconsiderate act, like these little ladies don’t even exist. Director Peter Grönlund and writers Anders Weidemann, Antonia Pyk, and Linn Gottfridsson take the mandatory time to indicate how sports activities tradition envelops the city. They even handle to get you caught up within the stakes of particular person video games, whereas concurrently emphasizing how a fixation on wins and losses defines the younger lives of present gamers and resulted within the man Peter, amongst others on the town, has develop into.
And Peter is not any saint. He bullies his means into getting the staff he needs to teach. He pushes gamers past cheap limits based mostly purely on his personal perception they’ll do higher. He lives by the ethos of successful in any respect prices, and “Beartown” quickly reveals precisely what it prices him.
Niklas Maupoix / HBO Nordic
Peter is the focal grownup character, and his journey is an often-uncomfortable journey of self-discovery, however his daughter, Maya (Miriam Ingrid), is certainly one of our key gateways into teen life, and her story retains us hooked into the current. The brand new woman at school, Maya latches on shortly with Ana (Sanna Niemi), a sort woman with a locker close by, however she additionally innocently flirts with the star hockey participant on her dad’s staff, Kevin (Oliver Dufåker). Not solely is Kevin already idolized because the second-coming of Peter — a once-in-a-lifetime expertise destined to signify Beartown within the NHL — however he’s the son of Peter’s previous teammate, new neighbor, and enduring nemesis, Mats (Tobias Zilliacus). Psychologically and bodily abusive, Mats applies the identical win-at-all-costs ethos Peter has, solely with a extra villainous conviction. The 2 dad and mom shortly signify two sides of the identical coin, and Kevin is the one flipping allegiances between his father and his coach.
Quickly, the 2 households discover themselves entwined in a traumatizing act of violence. Loyalties to one another, to the city, and to the staff are examined, with the ensuing decisions affecting nearly each particular person in Beartown. To say extra would verge into spoiler territory, however “Beartown” isn’t depending on surprises. The 5 episodes are sometimes bleak and onerous to look at, however the tangled cultures they’re attempting to tear down demand a sure stage of starkness. Rape tradition and sports activities tradition shouldn’t join, however they do, and much too typically. These are issues painfully acquainted to too many cities and too many households. These are obsessions inspired by too many establishments and too many dad and mom. Energy is simply too typically given to those that aren’t able to deal with it.
Maybe “Beartown” is simply too blunt in its execution, too acquainted in its narrative arcs, however it’s additionally smart sufficient to acknowledge these traits are additionally a part of its tragedy. Should you acknowledge these individuals, or your self, over the course of this story, attempt to not draw back. Admitting the issues in one thing you like isn’t as straightforward as glossing over them, however it’s typically the one method to keep away from exacerbating these errors.
“Beartown” premieres Monday, February 22 at 9 p.m. ET on HBO. The five-episode restricted collection will air new episodes weekly.