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It was only supposed to be a short animated series, but it became a small phenomenon...
The only previous example of long-running animated series for grown-ups in Finland was Itse valtiaat, a popular weekly show that depicted members of Finnish political establishment as cartoon characters in a kind of second-rate attempt at Splitting Image-style satire of contemporary politics. Script writer Atte Järvinen was one of the main writers of Itsevaltiaat, and he brought to Pasila the same satirical take highly amplified and served it through his trademark rapid-fire dialogue.
Ostensibly dealing with the exploits of a group of police officers in a fictionalised version of Helsinki's police headquarters, Pasila actually excelled in taking the mickey out of all things from popular culture to topical issues in Finnish society. As the show points out, the crimes the Finnish police mostly encounter on daily basis are drunks brawling, domestic violence or petty theft by the marginalised. Pasila's coppers hence had to dig deeper to find the true nefarious criminal masterminds such as parents' councils, choreographers willing for others to die for their art, business consultants running sweatshops with pensioners and football clubs desperate to generate world-class talent (not an easy task in one of the few countries in the world where hockey rules the roost). Along the way, they took on subjects like prostitution, terrorism, net rage, dietary wars (after low-carb it's time for all-crap) and that eternal bone of contention (alternatively, the corner stone) of Finnish culture, alcohol. Pasila explored these themes with greater wit and verve than most Finnish cinema and television, where handling tends to be heavy-handed or wishy-washy. It also tackled head on subjects like religion that are generally tip-toed around.
And it managed to be consistently funny in the process! Some subjects, such as Birtherism or illegal downloading, will undoubtedly appear dated in a few years time, but their handling remains clever and hilarious. Only in a Finnish show could the doomsday scenario of Internet music piracy actualise as a hall full of sad senior citizens dancing only to the maudlin vocalisations of an even sadder crooner, because illegal downloading among the seniors has forced the musicians' union to lay off all instrumentalists from dance bands – and actually seem plausible! A modest cast of four voice actors handled the show's absurdities and delicious dialogue with aplomb, mostly transcending the limitations of such a small ensemble. The episodes worked almost as audio plays, and the simple but distinctive animation gave the stories appropriately expressive and absurd look. The dissonance between surface and content actually worked for the show.
For example, the main character, Inspector Kyösti Pöysti, a thirty-something cynical wanna-be intellectual, is portrayed as a big-headed midget with a piping voice, a dummy in his mouth and a wardrobe borrowed from The Pink Panther's Inspector. With his confrontational sardonic wit, his clumsy snobbery, his chronic inability to commit, his frequent attempts to bugger off to Goa and his bizarre hangovers (including the one which makes him see everyone as Phil Collins), Pöysti serves both as a delicious parody of and a sincere mouthpiece for the urbane, liberal and slightly lost segment of the Finns.
Many other Finns, especially of the older generations, frequently complain that the likes of Pöysti and their world-view are overrepresented in the media. Among the first ones to do so would be Pasila's station chief, the half-senile, wildly irrational and massively moustached Chief Inspector Rauno Repomies who summed up most episodes with jaw-dropping stream-of-consciousness monologues that somehow always managed to ramble their way into The Sound of Music territory of Nazis, nuns and singing children. His antics generally stole the show, which seems fitting in more ways than one. Media itself got what it had coming to in the shape of the hypernarcissistic television show host Juhani Kontiovaara, who is visually, though not personality-wise, an analogue of a certain real-life television personality.
For once quality and public taste agreed, and the short animated series ran for six seasons, something few Finnish shows manage. With that, one could only echo the catchphrase of Pasila's most sympathetic character Pekka Routalempi, the man who could become endlessly engrossed by even the most mundane things: "Fascinating!" Järvinen also had the sense to end the series when it was still on high, with an appropriately self-reflective and sentimentalist closing episode.
The brand was too popular to be left alone, however, and the sequel Pasila 2.5 - The Spin-Off soon followed. Some of the cast was changed and a team of writers replaced Järvinen. Surprisingly, the new show has been a bit more straightforward and predictable but has yet to succumb to banality. Its main contribution has been to flesh out the rather underused character of the macho policewoman Helga. What else Pasila's legacy may be, it has at least opened doors for animation in Finnish television. We would not have the likes of Hullu – hullumpi – yläaste without it. Whether one considers that good or bad is another thing all together.
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