The Killing, which premiered Sunday night on AMC, was a dream for hardcore murder-mystery fans: An investigation conducted by police detectives with contrasting personalities, its focus fixed as frequently on the family of the victim as on the solving of the case. Filled with a puzzling death, intriguing characters, and carefully measured performances, I’ll bet many of you could have watched all 13 hours of it in one or two sittings; I certainly could’ve.
The Killing is a close adaptation of a hit Danish production that taps into the current U.S. literary popularity of Scandinavian thriller writers such as Stieg Larsson, Henning Mankell, Jo Nesbo, and Karen Fossum. There are three aspects to the plot: The murder and its investigation; the grief it brings the dead girl’s family (the mom is played by True Blood’s Michelle Forbes; the dad is Life’s Brent Sexton); and the political career it threatens to jeopardize (her body is found in the trunk of a car belonging to the campaign of a city councilman played by Once & Again’s Billy Campbell).
It’s one of the pleasures of TV to witness an actor you know from a supporting role in one series step out and take command of a different show, and so it is with Mireille Enos, from Big Love. With her pale skin, rust-colored hair, and air of sad cynicism, Enos imbued police detective Sarah Linden with just the right mixture of melancholy and doggedness. You’re drawn in by her situation: a Seattle cop who’s about to take a leave to get married, a bit baffled by the cop assigned to replace her, Stephen Holder (Joel Kinnaman). Holder is a disruptive, unpredictable force – sarcastic and jokey, he keeps Sarah, suspects and us, as viewers, off-balance.
AMC’s range of programming continues to be admirable. From Mad Men to The Walking Dead to now The Killing, this is genre programming that’s a cut above the usual examples of genre TV-making. If the channel felt compelled to cancel the low-rated Rubicon, at least they took a risk with The Killing — because, no matter that it was a huge hit overseas (where its title was Forbrydelsen — The Crime), a rainy, downbeat murder investigation is still a dicey commercial proposition here.
That’s because in America, if you make first-rate TV police work downbeat, you may end up with Homicide: Life On The Street or The Wire — exceptional work that finds a smallish audience. Yet I don’t doubt for a second that anyone who prefers sunnier crime-solving — from CSI: Miami to NCIS: Los Angeles — will also be taken in by the storytelling of The Killing. Although The Killing is an adaptation of an overseas series, its American producer Veena Sud worked here on Cold Case, another gray-hued procedural that never quite fit snugly into Les Moonves’ keep-movin’, wrap-it-up CBS storytelling style, despite Case‘s successful run.
If Cold Case never quite lived up to its promise (star Kathryn Morris’ hair, initially a wild tangle signaling her character’s diffuse moods and thoughts, became more tidy, not less, as the series became more conventional), The Killing‘s Sarah Linden suggests what Morris’ Lily Rush might have become: More brooding, more open to personal relationships yet more guarded about revealing her emotions when she’s on the scene in the midst of a case.
It’s that tension between the personal and the professional that resonates throughout The Killing. Whether it’s the police work, the behavior of the murdered girl’s family, or the damage-control attempted by Billy Campbell’s campaign staff, it all builds to a suspenseful intensity.
What did you think of The Killing? Will you keep watching?