On the heels of the wildly entertaining 30 Coins, HBO Europe continues to deliver solid early-year dramas with Beartown, a five-part Swedish adaptation of author Fredrik Backman’s novel of the same name about a small town whose infatuation with youth hockey is put to the test when a horrific crime takes place, and everyone in the community is forced to take sides. Icy and enraged, it’s a sobering portrait of tragedy wrought from not only toxic masculinity, but from the equally noxious—and potentially more deadly—systems that nurture, amplify, and protect it.
Directed by Peter Grönlund and written by Anders Weidemann, Antonia Pyk and Linn Gottfridsson, Beartown (premiering Feb. 22 on HBO) teases a mystery from the outset, via a prologue in which an indistinct figure chases another through the snowy forest outside Beartown, culminating with the pursuer aiming a gun at the fallen-to-their-knees target. The question of who these individuals are is answered at the end of the first chapter. However, finding out why they’re in this situation isn’t revealed until the climactic moments of episode two, at which point the story comes into total focus. Yet even if clarity isn’t immediately forthcoming, the series proves instantly gripping, thanks to vivid storytelling that lays out the interpersonal dynamics of its many players.
At the forefront of the action is Peter Andersson (Ulf Stenberg), a former NHL star who returns to his frostbitten hometown to coach the local adult team. Recognizing that they’re all washed-up “geriatrics,” he swiftly opts to take the reins of the more promising youth club led by star-in-the-making Kevin Erdahl (Oliver Dufåker). This ruffles the feathers of prior coach David (Tomas Bergström), who’s relegated to working as Peter’s assistant, as well as grates on Kevin’s businessman-father Mats (Tobias Zilliacus), a former teammate of Peter’s who holds a grudge for having his own playing days cut short by an adolescent prank pulled by Peter and his friends. Complicating matters further, Peter is still grappling with alcoholism and the death of his young son, not to mention the pressure of having to win right away with his new team, since the entire future of the club—and the town—hinges on their success this season.
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