Art can take us places few other mediums can. It’s amazing that a certain painting can invoke strong feelings of despair, dread, awe or even happiness. It’s hard to describe how incredible an experience it is to walk through the Vatican, surrounded by beautiful paintings on all sides; or wandering around the Louvre and admiring the artistry on display.
Of course these classic pieces are juxtaposed and challenged by the idea of modern art. Whether it be a couple of squiggles on a piece of paper or even just a blank canvas, with the promise that what’s there have been crafted with “invisible ink”, there are some that also see these as masterpieces. But yet, there are far more that don’t agree. So what does any o this have to do with Copenhagen Cowboy? Well, everything, as it turns out.
Netflix’s latest surreal noir series is going to be a divisive watch. It’s a show designed entirely to challenge the arts and sit among other “modern art pieces” as a display of aesthetic splendor. The trouble is, Copenhagen Cowboy isn’t an art showpiece, it’s a TV show and as an actual story with a coherent narrative and strong characters, this one fails – big time.
The show is undeniably striking though and there’s a lot of beautiful imagery to behold. There’s plenty of symbolism (swords represent manhood, flowers represent innocence etc.) and some of the camera work, including the myriad of long rotating or panning shots, give this a seriously artistic feel. In fact, you’ll be hard-pressed to find another show like this. Unless you’re counting more of creator Nicolas Winding Refn’s filmography of course, a man who has made a career for himself by repeating this style throughout his previous works. The trouble is, once you see past the aesthetics there’s not much else here.
A good example to compare this to is Sam Esmail. Similar to Refn, Esmail has a very distinct visual style, with plenty of zoomed shots and interesting visual motifs. However, as he’s shown with series like Homecoming and Mr Robot, he has the creative chops to actually deliver a gripping narrative alongside that. Copenhagen Cowboy does not.
The show opens with a look at Miu, a quiet, contemplative and mysterious protagonist who says very little. Not much is known about her either, beyond some expository dialogue in episode 5, and for most of the run-time, she finds herself moving through Copenhagen’s underbelly of crime alone, moving from place to place with an emotionless expression and either helping or hindering different individuals. All of this builds up to a finale that builds up a massive conflict to come… and then just ends.
The story has very little going for it and even worse, none of the characters are defined all that well. Miu has the depth of a pancake and she’s basically a Mary Sue with little in the way of flaws. The one antagonist we get here is the menacing Nicklas and after a nice build-up after 3 episodes, the ensuing conflict peters out and then Copenhagen Cowboy gets back to slow and laborious build-up without much pay-off, running two stories parallel to one another but doing little to make us actually invest and care about these people and what their struggles are.
The structure and laborious pace are both exhausting and this is certainly not recommended for a binge-watch. Sure from an artistic perspective this one is impressive and features some interesting ideas but it all feels like a façade; a blanket to distract and disguise the fact there’s just very little here to sink your teeth into.
Ultimately, Copenhagen Cowboy is an interesting experiment that’ll be considered a masterwork by a few but largely written off as laborious and forgettable by the masses. It doesn’t have anywhere near as much depth as it thinks it does, with very little character growth and a pretty perfunctory story that feels like it’s here to simply work as a backdrop to the artistic style. It’s a shame for sure but this is one Danish show that’s probably best avoiding.
Verdict - 4/10