Borgen + Breaking Bad : Feb 10th newsletter

Hi there,

This is the fourth of my weekly newsletter \ blogs for 2012.


There’s nothing like watching a really good drama to inspire you as a writer. And these two are both crackers.

I have to admit to catching up with both of these shows a bit late in the day but even after being bombarded with hype, I enjoyed these shows a lot – they’re exceptionally good.

I caught up with the opening episode of BORGEN on BBC iplayer earlier this week. For me, it’s an object lesson in how to kick off a drama series. It sets up an array of fascinating, complex, empathetic characters while you’re also never in any doubt as to who is the central character – the ‘moderate’ politician, Birgitte Nyborg.

Structurally this is really worth studying – it’s quite a slow burn but (SPOILER ALERT) there’s an inexorable inevitability to Birgitte’s electoral triumph at the end of the episode.

What makes this so strong is that in parallel with the superb plotting – and it’s a plot that is resoundingly character-driven – this is a drama that has some really interesting things to say about people and politics and the compromises involved in political life. Behind the really well constructed story are some strong and fascinating ideas.

It’s also a brilliant marrying of the personal and the political – there is a secondary female character who also has a very powerful story – but a story that importantly is very much connected to the main Birgitte story. And Birgitte’s family play an important role in this episode.

As well as feeling like a really satisfying episode in itself, it also powerfully sets up a host of stories for subsequent episodes. It does what the best series do – excites and entertains but hooks you for the next episode.


And I’m ashamed to say I’ve come to this even later. I’ve now watched the first series but have 4 more series to catch up on! But I watched the first 7 episodes in 2 days – that’s how compelling it was.

The opening pre-credit sequence of episode one is wonderfully bizarre – a weird visual juxtaposition, that sets up so many questions about what the hell is going on.

After the credits we then go back in time to 2 weeks earlier and as the episode plays out we gradually fit the narrative pieces together and discover how (in the opening sequence) the everyman 50-something middle class chemistry teacher at the centre of the story happens to be crashing an RV in the middle of the desert, while wearing only his underpants and a gas mask and then proceeds to pull out a handgun, as we hear approaching sirens.

Interestingly (and in contrast to BORGEN) this is more of a serial than a series. It’s a fairly linear story all focused around this one character and his extraordinary situation. I’m fascinated to see how they deal with this structural challenge over the next few series.

And tonally this is wonderfully original, veering from cosy middle-America family drama to the darkest of black comedy. It’s impossible to categorise but above all, like BORGEN, it’s dramatic story-telling at its brilliant best.


All the best


Phil Shelley

February 10th 2012

NEXT WEEK : An interview with Singapore screenwriter MARCUS GOH