Netflix’s latest crime drama, Young Wallander, seems straight-forward enough at first glance. It’s a prequel about the celebrated detective Kurt Wallander, tracing his rise from rookie cop to cynical, crumpled, clever detective. However, by all accounts, a Wallander prequel should be set in the past. Not in 2020, and certainly not starring a strapping young Swede as the future melancholy scruff ball of Malmo. So what gives? What exactly are Wallander fans supposed to make of this latest adaptation of Henning Mankell’s work? And how is Young Wallander connected to the larger Wallander series?
First of all, let’s get this out of the way: some Wallander fans may be immediately turned off by this latest interpretation of their anti-hero. In fact, The Telegraph has declared Young Wallander to be “the worst TV drama of the streaming era.” Their main sticking point? It’s set in modern day Sweden and its hero is hardly the middle-aged alcoholic cynic, fraying at the bits, that Kurt Wallander is typically supposed to be. Adam Pålsson‘s Kurt Wallander is a young cop, struggling to get ahead, happy with one beer as a nightcap, and terribly chivalrous when faced with a challenge.
However, according to Young Wallander producer Berna Levin, it’s a prequel/reboot/reimagining that has no intention of messing with Henning Mankell’s canonical work. Levin told The Guardian: “It’s a prequel that’s also a reimagining, I’d say. If you follow the line we’re drawing, you’ll end up with Wallander as he was with Henning. We’re not going to take him anywhere where you wouldn’t end up with Wallander as we know him.”
Levin asserts that the show, for all its seeming blasphemies, had the full support of Mankell before his death.
“He really wanted to do it,” Levin told The Guardian, explaining that Mankell had come to her production company with the idea. “When he passed away, we dropped everything out of respect….We spoke with the estate and, because he himself had wanted to do it, they were OK with it.”
The show’s stars, Adam Pålsson and Ellise Chapelle, also explained to The Guardian that the show walks a tightrope between setting up the inevitable tragic tone of the Wallander series and reimagining the core relationships for a modern audience.
“I mean, we know where he goes. It is sad and it is dark. Every time he picks up a drink, it’s sort of like, ‘No, that’s not going to end well. You don’t want to do that,’” Pålsson said. “But how Wallander met Mona is one of the things that there’s very little written about, and the fun of it is now we can imagine how that happened.”
According to Chapelle, who plays Mona, Young Wallander gives the detective’s future ex-wife a bit more agency.
“Mona is quite different in this show than she is in the books,” Chapelle told The Guardian. “For one, in the books, she’s a hairdresser. And in the show, she’s working for an organization that aims to support refugees and asylum seekers. So in that sense, I felt, I guess, a bit more freedom from expectation.”
Whether Wallander fans are okay with this bold new interpretation or desperate to maintain the Kurt Wallander they know and love will be up to them. Newcomers to Young Wallander, though, will just be able to enjoy the ride.
Season 1 of Young Wallander is now streaming on Netflix.