Posted by: Ben Hopkins | 13/07/2009

Næturvaktin / Night Shift

Director: Ragnar Bragason
Year: 2007

Næturvaktin is a very pleasant surprise indeed. 99% of the world’s sitcoms seem like Xeroxed updates of shows that were pretty dull back in the Seventies or, almost as bad, are progressive thinking in concept but rely on the same base attributes of canned laughter, implausible set pieces and plain banality.

Therefore, how will a relatively low budget comedy from Iceland – a nation that seems to have its own very distinctive sense of humour – fare?

The cast of Næturvaktin

The cast of Næturvaktin

The basic premise feels like a rough hybrid of Ricky Gervais’ The Office with Clerks. It revolves around the every day (well, night) antics of a disparate collection of Shell petrol station employees. Georg (series co-writer Jon Gnarr) is the station’s dictatorial superviser whose left-leaning politics and overly pedantic management style causes much strife to colleagues and customers alike. Despite his evident education, Georg’s academia has failed to translate to efficient business management.

The bulk of Georg’s domination falls heavily on the shoulders of Olafur (Pétur Jóhann Sigfússon). Olafur isn’t the brightest or most dedicated of employees yet he has big dreams; most notably to take the local band that he “manages” to international stardom.

Completing this motley crue of minor misfits is Daniel (Jörundur Ragnarsson). Capable, personable and quick to learn, he’s the best of a dubious bunch but why exactly is he working there? An estranged girlfriend and a disapproving family suggest a bigger story…

Awesome advert for the show

Awesome advert for the show, plundered from Ragnarsson's Myspace

On first impressions, Næturvaktin is almost too uneventful to work as a comedy. Little happens and when it does it happens slowly, with the station’s lack of custom matched only by the inactively of its staff. The dull buzz of the shop’s strip lighting dominates the still atmosphere. Barely a single scene across all twelve episodes escapes the triumvirate of regular sets; the forecourt, the shop, the back office.

And yet slowly it somehow works. It’s not generic comedy by any stretch yet neither does it push conventional boundaries. The average episode starts with a philosophical quote and builds into a succession of low key scenes. Thankfully elements of the narrative gradually interweave to create that ominous, dreaded sense that something farcical is about to happen – better still, it’s usually crafted with enough skill to provoke surprise rather than ignite disdain at its sheer predictability.

As with any great comedy, the strength of the secondary characters is almost as vital as the strength of the leads. Georg’s ex-wife and son, for example, both feel like full rounded characters rather than mere tools utilised to accentuate Georg’s curmudgeonly nature. Throughout the series the sense of characterisation is acutely constructed with each role a stereotype delicately crafted into an individuality that builds a palpable feeling of reality.

Naeturvaktin issues are minor and indeed barely noticeable. The celebrity cameos are unlikely to mean anything to an international audience and Georg’s make-up isn’t entirely convincing – although admittedly Gnarr is a good ten years younger than Georg. Consequently they fail to distract from a series less like the preconception of a Clerks / Office hybrid and more like a clash between the social inadequacy of Peep Show and the master crafted narrative of Fawlty Towers.

And just like Jar City, Næturvaktin has been picked up for the American remake treatment.

Næturvaktin / Night Shift can be purchased online at Nammi.

“I have five college degrees!”


Responses

  1. Hi there, good job. Here’s a link with starting info: http://www.imdb.com/List?countries=Iceland&&tv=off&&nav=/Sections/Countries/Iceland/include-movies&&heading=8;Movie;Iceland.

    Also here: http://www.icelandicfilmcenter.is/Icelandic-Films/Features/2008

    • These are both helpful, so many thanks.

      Would you happen to know of a decent website to buy Icelandic DVDs from? I have all of those sold by Amazon bar Noi Albinoi and the selection at Nordicstore isn’t much wider.

  2. Pétur Jóhann and Jörundur are also co-writers. The writers are five; Ragnar Bragason, Jóhann Ævar Grímsson, Jón Gnarr, Jörundur Ragnarsson and Pétur Jóhann Sigfússon.

    • Many thanks for the clarification.

  3. Hi Ben, check this out: http://www.elko.is/dvd_myndir/dvd_myndir/islenskt/. Lot of titles, probably most of what is available now on DVD. In Icelandic only unfortunately, hope you can figure it out. Note that only some films are listed with english subtitles. It does not necessarily mean that the others don’t have it.

    • Excellent, I can definitely work that out thanks.

  4. […] been a long road for our disparate group of friends since the end of Naeturvaktin. Individually they haven’t fared particularly well – Georg’s Swedish utopia ended […]

  5. […] out Ben Hopkins’ review on The Night Shift here and The Day Shift […]

  6. […] friends Georg, Olafur and Daniel that was first established in a Reykjavik petrol station in The Night Shift. Georg has since earned himself an express ticket to the Litla-Hraun prison and Daniel was framed […]

  7. […] Næturvaktin / Night Shift will finally debut on UK television tomorrow night when BBC4 commence broadcasting the series as part of their Wonders of Iceland series. […]

  8. […] Næturvaktin / The Night Shift finally made it to UK television last night and it certainly seemed a little odd to see Georg, Daniel and Olafur staring back at me at a time when Family Guy, repeats of Eighties darts quiz show Bullseye (it’s an English thing) and true crime documentaries would usually dominate the screen. […]

  9. This is a hilarious programme and I watch it every night and now I’m hooked. It is such a funny programme and it is unfolding with each character revealing a bit of themselves. What a change from all those boring and unimaginative comedies that I have been watching. A breath of fresh air.

  10. […] Ævar Grímsson is one of the writers behind Næturvaktin / The Night Shift, its sequels Dagvaktin / The Day Shift and Fangavaktin / The Prison Shift, as well as the […]

  11. “Night Shift” is an absolute joy! I honestly can’t remember when I’ve enjoyed a programme so much.

    I hope that BBC4 broadcast the “Day Shift”, “Prison Shift”, and the accompanying film. Barring that, I hope that I can get DVD’s that are subtitled in English.

    • You can get them all online with English subtitles at Nammi.is. The DVD prices aren’t too bad, although the postage adds quite a bit.

  12. If you enjoyed the night shift can you please show your support by posting a comment on the BBC4 “your say” page.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/bbcfour/yoursay/

    Feedback on that page does get back to BBC4 management and having positive comments posted there could help with getting the other “shift” series shown.

    • ^ This. There’s also a link to the same page via the interview with co-writer Jóhann Ævar Grímsson.

      And a special welcome to all visitors from the Digital Spy forums!

    • Good idea, Holly. I’ll make sure that I leave feedback for BBC4.

    • Holly, I’ve left a message on the BBC Four pages!

  13. A sad day as tonight the last two episodes of The Night Shift are being shown on BBC4 and no info yet as to whether they have the rights to the other two series and the film

  14. WHERE CAN I GET THAT POSTER???

  15. No, really. I do want one.

    • I want one too. Don’t think they sell them anywhere as far as I’ve seen.

  16. This is really attention-grabbing, You are a very skilled blogger.
    I have joined your rss feed and sit up for seeking more of your fantastic post.
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    networks


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