Cordon Review: The best Belgian TV show you’ve never seen, probably

Grab a nanna rug, a whisky straight-up, an emergency snack stash, and settle in with the gang for the duration.

While you’re waiting patiently for the next season of The Bridge or the next WTF instalment of Fortitude, perhaps you’ll consider Belgian series Cordon. This gripping 10-part drama/thriller show speculates about what might happen in Antwerp should a fatal virus break out in the city and start spreading through the population.

It’s probably going to work out fine.

Episode 1 kicks off with Anwar, an Afghan refugee, being freed from a shipping container by his cousins – that all seems above board. Then it’s just another ordinary day around town, really.

Friendly police commissioner Lex turns up at his girlfriend Jana’s flat with a moving truck and pal (and fellow cop) Jokke, only to find Jana now has cold feet about moving in with him; Ine, a pregnant teen, is busted by her folks trying to run away to join her boyfriend in Spain. (Run, Ine, Run!) And Miss Katja arrives with a busload of schoolkids on an excursion, inexplicably at NIIZA, the centre for infectious diseases. Fun! Oh, and Anwar’s also at the centre, having shots for some random respiratory infection, as you do when you’re an illegal immigrant new in town. He’s probably fine.

Where things get interesting is, of course, here at NIIZA. Suddenly two doctors are sick, displaying rapidly developing flu-like symptoms. But not the good flu, the BAD FLU. The alarm is raised, Miss Katja and kids are quickly ushered out of the centre and get back on the bus – PHEW – but then are immediately taken off again as the centre attempts to avoid an outbreak.

Gryspeerts: when will it be his turn to shine?

Meanwhile, grizzled journo Gryspeerts receives a tip about the school trip incident and alerts his boss that shit is going down. No dice for Gryspeerts, his boss isn’t interested. Poor Gryspeerts.

Meanwhile meanwhile, Sabine Lommers, Minister for Public Health and all-round ball-breaker, holds an emergency briefing. The upshot? A ‘cordon sanitaire’ will be set up in the city around the infection zone – nobody goes in or out – effective immediately and in place for 48 hours. This is a 10-episode show though, called Cordon, so get comfortable, peeps!

Jokke is stuck in the cordon and not impressed one bit.

Jokke has the unhappy task of rounding up potentially infected people and returning them to NIIZA; eg. Anwar. Then when he’s about to leave NIIZA for home, uh-oh! Lock-in time. Will Jana, after a change of heart, make it over to Lex’s place and beyond the cordon zone? Will Ine be reunited with her Spanish sweetheart? How will Miss Katja put up  with those brats for 48 hours?

This show is a real nailbiter. I enjoyed it a lot, though ‘enjoyed’ is the wrong word – it’s grim stuff, let’s face it. Cordon has an ominous, unsettled feel when you realise no one is safe, and it’s rooted in reality (Ebola, anyone?) and is therefore scarier, to my mind. The cold, stark way it’s shot reminded me a bit of the movie Contagion, and the cordon becomes claustrophobic and worse pretty early on. The series is mostly plot driven but I found myself caught up in the characters’ stories and the way their story strands intersect. You want them all – OK, most – to make it, but you know deep down that’s not how it’s gonna play out.

I tried to find out more about the show, looking for Jokke heartthrob memes and whatnot, but there’s not a huge amount online. But I did read that the US have bought Cordon and are working on their own series set in Atlanta, soo . . . there’s that. They’ve cast black actors for the leads (including David Gyasi from Interstellar) so could be interesting?

I’d catch the original series while you can – all episodes are still on SBS on Demand at the time of writing [Ed: it’s now available on Stan, people, so get to it]. Grab a nanna rug, a whisky straight-up, an emergency snack stash, and settle in with the gang for the duration.

Go Team Gryspeerts.