Review by Egill M. Arnarsson, photos and trailer courtesy of Sena.
At a quiet gas station in downtown Reykjavík, surrounded only by the gleams of a few nearby lampposts and the depressing Icelandic winter darkness, three drowsy men prepare to begin their nightshift.
Slacker and hopeless loser Ólafur Ragnar (Pétur Jóhann Sigfússon from TV’s Strákarnir (2005) and The Higher Force (2008)), who desperately tries to be cool, always arrives late, much to the dismay of the super-strict shift manager, the know-it-all weirdo Georg Bjarnfredarson (Jón Gnarr from TV’s Fóstbraedur (1997) and Madur Eins og Ég (2002)). Trainee and medical school dropout Daníel (Jörundur Ragnarsson from Vedramót (2008)) gets tangled up in his workmates’ never-ending quarrels as he tries to figure out what to do with his life.
Viewers embraced Ragnar Bragason's comedy series Naeturvaktin ("The Nightshift") immediately after it premiered on Stöd 2 in fall 2007; almost the entire nation was blurting out catch phrases from the show right after the pilot premiered in every other sentence. The fever lasted a long time. At the 2007 Edda Awards (the Icelandic Oscars), Naeturvaktin received the award for Best Television Show and Most Popular Television Show of the year.
Together, Jóhann Aevar Grímsson (Astrópía (2007)), Jón Gnarr (who often borrows material from his and Sigurjón Kjartansson’s radio show Tvíhöfdi), Jörundur Ragnarsson, Pétur Jóhann Sigfússon and director Ragnar Bragason wrote the series’ fulfilling script, which they can take much pride in.
Neaturvaktin reflects a number of controversial issues within the small society of Iceland. Some episodes only take into account minor issues, but others make room for heated debates related to politics, immigration and women’s rights.
Also, a delicate balance between exaggeration and realism is brilliantly captured through only a few characters. Repeated comic details add needed depth to the script, such as the overuse of walkie-talkies, the frantic assembling of empty bottles and cans and the staff fund, which Georg Bjarnfredarson insists that the three of them will use to visit a Swedish hippie colony.
For some reason, acting in Icelandic comedy series, such as in Fóstbraedur (1997) and Stelpurnar (2005)) generally stands out compared to domestic feature-films and television dramas. Naeturvaktin is no exception. As the scenery never changes, more emphasis is naturally put on the three lead characters’ performances. So the show owes its success to the cast, including some of Iceland’s most beloved comedians, portraying each role with dedication.
Apart from the script, the acting is the strongest asset to Naeturvaktin because the characters become more and more fascinating as the story progresses. One can actually see and feel the impact of previous episodes on each character’s behavior. However, the personalities of the characters are exaggerated a bit too much at times (especially in the case of Jón Gnarr’s character Georg Bjarnfredarson) making them lose their credibility to some extent.
The isolation of working a nightshift during the darkest of nights is beautifully captured using a somber yet strong color pallet, matching the natural darkness surrounding the set (Naeturvaktin was actually shot at night). In an attempt to add to this realism, a constant, forced and totally unnecessary documentary-style camera shakes every scene. Apart from that, the series’ cinematography and postproduction work surpasses most Icelandic film productions in quality.
This coming September, the second season of Naeturvaktin will be released with high expectations from the countless first season fans. Dagvaktin ("Dayshift"), as it will be called, will most certainly become as popular and well-received as the first season, although it is possible that Naeturvaktin has raised the bar too high. At the same time Naeturvaktin will be re-released on DVD with English subtitles for fans overseas.
It is safe to say that Naeturvaktin is the best and most ambitious Icelandic television comedy series since Fóstbraedur because it reaches a broad audience by approaching serious matters in a non-restricting and entertaining way. The well-developed characters, top-notch performances, colorful extras and a rock-solid script will certainly prove challenging for both cast and crew to top, or even just match, with season two.
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Egill M. Arnarsson is a multimedia designer from The School of Multimedia in Reykjavík. He graduated with distinction from the Fine Arts Department of the Vocational School in Akureyri (VMA) in 2004 and in 2005 he studied Film and Television at the University of Wales. He is an amateur filmmaker and graphic designer currently working as a game designer; click here for Arnarsson’s online portfolio.