The Shetland TV show, now on Netflix, works within a familiar mystery framework to create an entertaining series largely on the basis of interesting characters and a scenic, remote location. It’s not one of the most original foreign TV series out there, but it’s solid fare, something like a darker version of The Brokenwood Mysteries.
The Shetland Islands – part of Scotland – lie 50 miles north of the British mainland and are closer to Bergen, Norway, than Edinburgh, Scotland. The landscape includes rolling hills and rocky cliffs with nary a tree in site. It’s an area rich in history and tradition.
Into this patchwork of land, water, and villages where everyone knows everyone else, drops Detective Inspector Jimmy Perez (Douglas Henshall). He was locally raised, but left for the outside world. Now he’s back to help raise his teenage daughter. Perez – an unlikely surname in Shetland, but there is mention of a Spanish father – is in charge of a small crew of police with little experience in serious crime. They learn quickly though, because murder now happens as frequently as every episode of Shetland.
Perez is a no nonsense type of cop. He’s likable, but more interested in solving cases than making friends. Helping him out are a pair of local youngsters, DC Alison McIntosh (Alison O’Donnell) and PC Sandy Wilson (Steven Robertson). Perez mentors them with bits of bantering and impatience, the latter when he’s frustrated by the islanders’ general lack of cooperation.
The cases, at least in the early episodes, reference the history of the Shetland Islands, including connections to Norway during World War II. Some of the islands’ residents are still living in the past, and there are generational culture clashes in most of the stories.
Each case in Shetland lasts for two, hour-long episodes. The discovery of a murder victim usually opens each storyline, and a new crime scene is discovered at the end of the first hour. Shetland doesn’t break new ground, but its good looks and charm go a long way. For traditional mystery fans, the series is like a favorite entree at a favorite neighborhood restaurant.
The first season (series) of Shetland, with only two episodes, originally aired in 2013. The second (2014) and third (2016) series have six each. A fourth series is under production. The Shetland TV show is based on a series of books by Ann Cleeves. It was produced ITV for BBC Scotland and BBC One, but viewers in the US will find it on Netflix.