Playing detective

Playing detective

By Nick Edwards
December 12, 2023


The creative team behind Norwegian comedy Hva skedde med Solveig? (Whatever Happened to Solveig?) reveal how they balanced drama with laughs to send up the ever-popular true crime genre.

An hilarious send up of the hugely popular true crime genre, Norwegian comedy Hva skedde med Solveig? (Whatever Happened to Solveig?) follows an investigation into the tragic death in 2013 of social media star Solveig Lyngåsen. During what should have been an ‘insta-perfect’ moment she falls from a precarious cliff edge while live streaming vacuous self-help advice to her thousands of followers.

A decade later, the murder remains unsolved and two journalists re-open the case. They quickly discover that local petty criminal Ole-Glenn Averøy is still suspected by local residents. However, as they delve deeper they uncover a growing list of other residents who all had strong reasons to get rid of Solveig.

“We’ve seen all the best American true crime shows, like HBO’s The Jinx and Netflix’s Making A Murderer,” says Kevin Vågenes, who plays Solveig in the eight-episode series, “and there are some really good Norwegian ones too.”

Kevin Vågenes plays multiple characters in Hva skedde med Solveig?

However, rather than simply send up the genre, writer Martin Zimmer also incorporated the components that give the genre such a compelling narrative drive. Viewers are not only laughing out loud but are keen to binge the next episode.

“Red-herrings, plot-twists, reveals, and we always leave a cliffhanger at the end so you want to see what comes next,” he says of the NRK series, which was screened at France’s Festival de la Fiction de la Rochelle. This meant the biggest challenge was in the editing process.

“Because the story is based on things happening in the past with flashbacks and reconstructions of the timeline of the crime, there was unlimited possibilities in the editing room. We ended up swopping several storylines between episodes. So episode three was originally our episode five in the script. There are a lot of other storylines that were moved around,” adds producer Aleksander Herresthal.

The battle between crime and comedy was also something that had to be tonally right. “We wanted the series to not be too dark and keep the comedy feel, but at the same time be as realistic and true to the genre as possible. So, it was also a long process to find the right music and tone for the series,” says Herresthal.

Vågenes not only plays Solveig but multiple other characters who make up the small community in the village of Nesvågen. These include Solveig’s hairdresser, the main suspect Ole (who is hated by the village’s inhabitants), the more inept of the two intrepid journalists, and a cop who is convinced of the main suspect’s guilt way before any evidence has been presented.

Whatever Happened to Solveig? is a quirky take on the true crime genre

All of them share a deluded sense of self-importance that proves fertile territory for Vågenes to ridicule. He plays every comedic character while other actors play the supporting straight roles. The tone is reminiscent of Australian comic Chris Lilley’s work (such as the classic HBO Summer Heights High), and shares a similar tone lampooning contemporary life.

“We’re influenced by what’s going on in the world – social events and movements, stuff going on in society, politics, trends, and so on,” continues the actor, “but humour always comes first.”

Solveig is the main brunt of their farce. “You are good enough as you are” is her trademark mantra. She is intended to represent the kind of influencers “who perhaps are not best qualified to give out life advice,” says Zimmer. “We’ve been watching a lot of influencers for inspiration and getting very annoyed by them.”

The show is a battle between crime and comedy

Their style has evolved ever since Zimmer was sent a video reel of Vågenes playing multiple characters as part of early efforts to get his name out into the world and to find collaborators.

“We were blown away by his talent,” says Zimmer, “and we knew he was someone we wanted to work with.” That was 10 years ago. Since then, alongside Herresthal, they have made various shows including Couples Therapy that become one of Norway’s most watched TV series (and was nominated for Best Comedy at the Rose D’Or awards).

It led to a spin-off live event attended by more than 100,000 fans. Christmas in Blood Mountain (nominated for Best Short Form series at French festival Canneseries) was another. Like What Happened to Solveig?, they were made by independent production company Seefood TV,  which is co-owned by Herresthal and based in Oslo. The trio have worked together since the company was founded in 2001 and sometimes their traditional roles blur. “He knows my strengths and my weaknesses,” says Vågenes. “From his writing I can immediately tell what his thought process are, and what he thinks is funny about a particular role, so we’ve developed a trust.”

The show revolves around the murder of social media start Solveig Lyngåsen

A remake of Couples Therapy was produced in Denmark by the public service broadcaster DR but didn’t work as well and was soon cancelled. A Swedish remake met a similar fate. “Some of the uniquely Norwegian elements were directly reproduced, which didn’t work,” says Zimmer, “as comedy is so local.”

Is this because Vågenes is so integral to the original show? “He has evolved his own art form,” says Zimmer. “Playing multiple characters has become his trademark.”

Vågenes is now a huge star in Norway, and has worked in in America (taking a role in Viaplay series Swedish Dicks, which also starred Keanu Reeves).

What Happened to Solveig? debuted in August on NRK so if figures are good, hopefully a second season will be commissioned. In the meantime it was chosen from many Nordic entries to appear at the La Rochelle TV Festival that celebrated its 25th anniversary this year.

“We had a lot of crime shows from the Nordic region and we know that is an area they excel in,” says Hector Lavigne, head of acquisitions and productions at NBC Universal France and a member of the European Selection committee, “but the purpose of the selection was to demonstrate the range of experimentation and creativity across Europe. We felt this show was so original, and of course, so funny,” he says.

“Comedy doesn’t travel as easily as drama,” explains Zimmer, contrasting how Nordic Noir has become so famous while comedy from that part of the world is less well known. However, as with other rare exceptions to crime, such as the Danish political thriller Borgen, their idiosyncratic mash-up of Norwegian life and true crime means the show could be set to resonate way beyond the Nordics.

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