Beartown | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
Monday, March 8th, 2021  

Beartown

HBO, February 22nd, 2021 @ 9:00 PM

Feb 22, 2021 Web Exclusive
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A five-part Swedish series adapted from Fredrik Backman’s hit novel of the same name, Beartown is an engaging sports and family drama from HBO Europe. The subtitled series opens with former NHL player Peter Andersson (Ulf Stenberg) returning to his dying hometown in Sweden with his wife and two children to coach the adult league’s hockey team. Upon realizing the adult team’s skill has been oversold to him, Peter decides to coach the Junior team instead. Famous only for its star player Kevin (Oliver Dufåker), Peter sets his sights on utilizing not only Kevin’s star-power and skill, but the hidden talents of the entire team, teaching them that to truly be good at hockey, they have to “own” their unique quirks.  

For a while, Peter’s tactics seem to be working. Beartown’s hockey team has never been better, quickly rising through the ranks both in fame and skill. His family feels at home in their new town, and his daughter Maya (Miriam Ingrid) has made friends, even striking up a loose friendship with Kevin. But most importantly, the Beartown hockey team keeps winning games, which helps slowly restore the pride that Beartown has long lost. Things fall apart when at an afterparty of one of the matches, a violent act is committed, changing the hockey team, Beartown itself, and the people in it, forever.

Beartown’s biggest success is its effortless ability to move between being a captivating sports drama and an intense family drama. The first half of the series is centered around the hockey aspect and the second half on the family aspect. These two themes are so reliant on each other that the series wouldn’t have the same impact if it only spent time on the ups and downs of a hockey season or on how one violent act can destroy a family and tear a town apart. Because of this interplay, Beartown is consistently entertaining, interesting, and rewarding to watch, always keeping viewers on the edge of their seats in preparation – and dread – to see what exactly is going to happen next.  

It’s the combination of the adaptation of the novel, Peter Grönlund’s well-done direction and some excellent performances, particularly from its main stars, that makes Beartown a winner. As Peter, Stenberg delivers a performance that is both loud and quiet, which keeps every scene he’s in interesting and helps sell what is happening when the series switches style. Dufåker’s chilling performance as Kevin and Ingrid’s harrowing performance as Maya are also worth noting.  

While turning Backman’s complex novel into a series rather than a film was a smart move, Beartown does run into some issues along the way. The rise of Beartown’s hockey team is important for the context of the story, but the series spends too little time showing how their skill improved. The series relies too heavily on surface-level montages to communicate how this dramatic shift actually happened. A similar issue arises in the series’ plot lines that aren’t related to Beartown’s hockey team or to the repercussions of the violent act. While there are many side storylines happening throughout the entire series, they aren’t granted nearly enough focus or time, making these aspects of the series seem rushed and underdone. 

There is a lot to take away from Beartown, most notably the idea of how someone’s superiority complex – when egged on by others – and abuse of power can have long-lasting and deeply-resonant ripple effects. Moreover, by being a sports drama that spends equal time both on the rink and off the rink, the series is able to capture the viewer’s attention – and keep it, in a variety of ways. (www.hbo.com/beartown)

 

Author rating: 7/10

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Average reader rating: 6/10



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