It’s Belgian. It’s Bonkers. It’s Floodland.
The latest offering from Walter Presents/All4 is the Belgian miniseries Floodland (Grenslanders), which originally aired in it’s native country way back in 2019 and has presumably been sitting on the shelf waiting to fill a lull in some international TV buyer’s schedule ever since. It takes a similar approach to The Bridge in situating it’s story between two bordering countries – in this case it’s Belgium and the Netherlands, or more specifically, the remote coastal areas of Flander and Zeeland that bridge the busy shipping lanes which separate them. It’s an odd place, filled with even odder characters.
And well, it’s an odd show.
We’re drawn into this world by Detective Tara Dessel (Jasmine Sendar), busted down to local duties after Bad Things Happened© in Rotterdam. She’s full of big city bravado, but immediately (and literally) comes unstuck in the swampy marshlands of the Westerschelde when she’s re-assigned to a small, insular port town in Zeeland. Nobody wants her there – not least because they are racist imbeciles – but also due to the fact she’s replacing much-loved veteran officer De Wit (Marcus De Vries). Dessel is plagued by guilt from the murder of a friend she persuaded to work as an informant, and pursued by nightmarish visions, she spends most of the running time nearly nodding off as she battles insomnia. It’s an odd choice to have your lead character seem half-asleep most of the time, but it’s only one of many bizarre stylistic choices the show makes.
Which brings us to our villains, the Lorrendraaiers. Or more specifically, a group of locals cosplaying as the infamous Dutch pirates from the 18th century, who now also dabble in human trafficking. They are ruled over by ‘The Admiral’, aka Cornella Dingemanse, who inexplicably spends half her time pretending to be a pauper in a rundown shack on one side of the border, before returning to her luxury mansion on the other where she dresses up in full historical garb. It’s never really explained why she does this, but it does lead to some unintentionally comic moments when she has to repeatedly dash back over the border on her clapped-out moped to maintain the illusion of being destitute. Cornella is at war with the Chinese Triads, who are rapidly encroaching into her territory, and there is a lot of heavy weather made about protecting racial purity to keep her idiotic troops in line – even to the extent of formulating her feckless son Tommy in a test-tube from ‘pure Norse semen’ (yes, you read that right). Needless to say, she’s not a fan of Dessel.
Second in command to Cornella is local customs officer Carlos Tierenteyn (played with scenery-chewing gusto by Wim Willaert). Carlos fancies himself a direct reincarnation of the aforementioned pirate outlaws, and also wants Cornella out of the picture permanently so he can formulate a grand smuggling union with his gang and the Triads. A dastardly plan to manipulate Cornella’s son Tommy by kidnapping his teenage girlfriend Afi goes awry when the boat carrying her abroad runs aground in Belgium and she subsequently loses her memory, bringing her into eventual contact with Tara. The Lorrendraaiers network of conspirators riddles the locality – including her own police department – making Tara’s job ever more difficult to navigate as she’s stonewalled in every direction. This only serves to increase her paranoia to fever pitch – especially when new boss Biegel (Fedja van Huêt) seems to be as deeply embroiled in the gang as his former detective, De Wit.
Afi’s memory loss spurs the Belgian police to employ local psychiatrist Bert Dewulf (Koen De Bouw), who spends most of the season making excuses to remain in Zeeland investigating the teenager’s case, rather than face up to a sexual misconduct charge back home. Quite why a psychiatrist would be allowed to remain with a patient beyond the initial assessment, to the point of being her unapproved guardian who also happens to accompany the police everywhere on their own case is anybody’s guess – but it also allows for a few neat reversals to the usual gender tropes, when he is often the person in direct danger and it’s Tara that has to rescue him. It’s also a novel twist on the usual cop duos we see in these shows, although Dewulf is perhaps more of an action man than most psychiatrists would care to be.
And all this drama would normally be more than enough to fill most shows, but Floodland isn’t finished there by a long chalk. We haven’t even begun to get through the myriad second-string storylines, including drug-addicted teenage runaways, secret love affairs, paternity challenges, alien-obsessed policemen, psychic apparitions, elderly assassins, the world’s grimmest B&B or the multiple, longing shots of cooked breakfasts. Floodland packs so much into it’s run-time that it eventually has to relent on maintaining some form of cohesion, and scenes collapse into one another with little regard for continuity or exposition. Likewise, the acting is equally all over the map, with some stellar performances lost amongst some laughably bad delivery. Truth be told, it’s all a bit of a torrid mess.
And yet, I watched the whole thing. There’s something weirdly compelling about the story, which has to rank up there as one of the more stranger offerings on Walter Presents – and to its credit, it takes a different tack than most shows in this genre by exploring the plight of human trafficking rather than your usual by-the-numbers murder mystery. Instead, this grand soap opera of a conspiracy uncovered is equal parts moreish and maddening – the recipe is all there sure enough, but the resulting meal is definitely an acquired taste.
Floodland is available in the UK on All4