How much should one give away about “Post Mortem,” this six episode Norwegian series set in a funeral home and a nursing home in Skarne, a little town where the running gag — among cops and morticians alike — is that “no one ever dies in Skarnes?”
Saying “It’s ‘Six Feet Under’ meets ‘True Blood'” is stretching things a tad. Because it’s just not as interesting or engrossing or darkly funny as either. But yes, there’s a character who turns up as a corpse in the opening scene, and then wakes up, just after a coroner has joked “We declare Live Hallangen (the undead woman’s name) open for business!”
As Live (Kathrine Thorborg Johansen) does not sputter the Norwegian word for “BRAINS!” upon awakening after that first incision, we guess “Oh, vampire,” even though the script tries ever-so-hard to hide the obvious.
Live doesn’t know how she showed up, stiff as a board, in a field outside of town. The cops (Kim Fairchild and André Sørum) do nothing to disavow the local joke that Skarnes would be “the best place to commit a murder because” of the lazy” police.
The chief, Judith, fusses over “natural causes” and dismisses every suggestion otherwise because of “budgetary” considerations involved in an autopsy. When Live turns out to not be dead, Judith offers her most heartfelt apology.
“In our defense, you looked really dead!”
Reinert, her subordinate, frets over who they call to get the body. Because this isn’t “NCIS,” Judith scolds. There’s no calling an ambulance (money). Reinert is reluctant to summon the only funeral parlor in town. Because he recognizes Live. She’s the daughter of old Arvid (Terje Strømdahl) and sister of fellow mortician Odd (Elias Holmen Sørensen). That would be an awful way to give her family this terrible news.
It’s just that the old man takes it well. Or well enough. It’s Live’s awakening on the autopsy table that chills him to the core. What does he know?
And whatever Judith says, Reinert’s sure some crime was committed that put Live out in the middle of a field, seemingly dead. As Live gets a few flashes of her memory back, the long process of piecing together what happened begins, and the series settles into her finding clues, evading detection and adjusting to her new hyper-sensitive hearing and her ability to see veins pulsing beneath the pale Norwegian skin of pale Norwegian necks.
Did I mention Live works in a nursing home? With her sister-in-law, Rose (Sara Khorami)? Who’s trying to have a baby with Odd?
Petter Holmsen’s series peaks with that first episode, and I’d go so far as to say that it peaks in the first couple of scenes in that episode. Everything that follows is about the tedium of a small town where “nobody dies,” the struggles of keeping a funeral parlor in the black when there simply aren’t enough corpses to turn to cash and Live’s efforts to either adapt to her new life cravings, or fight them off, and keep “lazy” cop Reinert from figuring out what’s really going on here.
The best moment for me with the obvious financially-strapped glee that the morose, broke Arvid lets show when he gets that first phone call from the police.
Johansen makes an affecting lead, trying to play cagey and cracking under the strain at the same time. And Sørensen has his moments as a guy wrestling with a funeral business that stretches back five generations — to 1914 — and yet has only survived due to a Trump level cooking of the books and dodging of debts.
Yes, there are political jokes (in Norwegian, with English subtitles, or dubbed into English).
The problem is that the dark humor isn’t humorous enough and the darkness too light to hold interest on its own. The series empties its clip in the opening episode, and little that follows reloads it.
Rating: TV-MA, violence, profanity
Cast: Kathrine Thorborg Johansen, Elias Holmen Sørensen, André Sørum, Kim Fairchild, Sara Khorami and Terje Strømdahl
Credits: Created by Petter Holmsen. A Netflix release.
Running time: six episodes @:44 each