One night in the Norwegian city of Oslo, strange flashes of light illuminate the bay from below. And then suddenly, living, breathing, freaked-out humans pop up out of the water, gasping for air, and completely unaware of how they got there or why.
Flash-forward a few years, and these watery arrivals have become a nightly occurrence, delivering people from three distinct historical periods into the present. These one-way time travelers — Stone Age primitives, Vikings from the Middle Ages and Victorians from the late 1800s — have been mysteriously (and unwillingly) blasted into the 21st century in the Norwegian series “Beforeigners,” a production of HBO Europe that was added to the HBO Max streaming service without much fanfare last year.
Not long ago, someone on my Twitter feed mentioned the show in passing, and my curiosity was piqued; I have a soft-spot for Scandinavian dramas and was intrigued by the conceptual twist undergirding the six-episode series. (A second season has wrapped filming, with a premiere date yet to be announced.)
A sci-fi buddy cop series, the show pairs a grizzled detective named Lars (Nicolai Cleve Broch) with an eager-to-impress Viking warrior named Alfhildr (Krista Kosonen), who just graduated from the police academy. She is the department’s first “time-igrant,” aka “beforeigner,” on the force. Together, they are tasked with investigating the murder of a woman they think might be from the Stone Age, a clue tipped off by her mouthful of tooth rot and prehistoric tattoos.
Lars is your quintessential loner, still nursing the wounds of his long-ago divorce — his wife has since remarried a man from the 19th century — and he wants nothing to do with his new partner at work. Alfhildr is smart and a quick study, and she’s just hoping to prove herself, despite being undermined and dismissed by her smirking colleagues, who see her as a token hire.
Though structured as a crime drama, the show has a wonderfully dry sense of humor, and there’s something intriguing in the idea of people from different eras jostled together, some adapting better than others. The metaphors relating to racism and xenophobia and a host of other bigotries are obvious. Time-igrants are treated like displaced persons, refugees who are barely tolerated and given no real means of emotional or financial support from the state beyond their initial intake and quarantine. After that, they’re on their own. It’s not an easy assimilation for everyone. The Victorians, perhaps already accustomed to some of the architecture and the general framework of government, seem to fare the best. Either way, beforeigners are perpetual outsiders and subject to dirty looks, suspicion and much, much worse.
If the premise sounds familiar, a similar idea animates the 1988 film “Alien Nation,” about an alien race that lands on earth — aka Newcomers — who must assimilate and fit in amongst the humans. It stars James Caan as, yes, a grizzled cop recently paired with new hire, an alien detective played by Mandy Patinkin. (It was