By Ken Tucker
April 07, 2011 at 04:00 AM EDT
Chris Large/AMC

The Killing, a 13-part series about the death of a teenage girl, is a moody murder mystery, its foggy clues and muted emotions drizzled over the proceedings like the perpetual rain in Seattle, where the tale is set.

Actually, the location is an interesting aspect of this AMC production, an example of what might be called ”chilly noir”: Filmed in a Vancouver passing as Seattle, The Killing is a close adaptation of a hit Danish production that taps into the current literary popularity of Scandinavian thriller writers such as Stieg Larsson, Henning Mankell, Jo Nesbž, and Karin Fossum.

The series stars Mireille Enos as Sarah Linden, a homicide detective who’s about to leave to get married. She’s drawn into the case, however, along with the cop assigned to replace her, Stephen Holder (Joel Kinnaman). The Texas-born Enos, who played Big Love‘s poker-faced twin sisters Kathy and Jodean Marquart, has the look of a displaced, melancholy-Dane detective. With her pale skin, rust-colored hair, and air of cynicism, she imbues Sarah with just the right combination of sadness and doggedness.

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 could jeopardize (the victim ends up being connected to the campaign of a city councilman played by Once and Again‘s Billy Campbell).

Writer-producer Veena Sud maintains a tense contrast between the investigation and the investigators. Everything involving the murder is grimly quiet — there’s a hushed air of implied reverence, as though the constant rain were muffling almost everyone’s reactions. But Detective Holder is a disruptive, unpredictable force; sarcastic and jokey, he keeps both suspects and his partner, Sarah, off balance. It’s an interesting dynamic that makes the crime solving in The Killing distinctive: We’re meeting this guy at the same time Sarah is, and we experience him through the mixture of irritation and bafflement she feels toward him.

The show’s contemplative pace — each episode represents one day in the investigation — fits somewhere between AMC’s Mad Men and its cruelly canceled Rubicon. The acting is strikingly good: Enos and Kinnaman may be playing the heroes, but we’re just as caught up in the anguish expressed by Forbes and Sexton, and Campbell both embodies and transcends slickness as a politician who seems to know more about the death than he lets on.

Some viewers may find The Killing a little too cold and deliberate, but give it time. Its intensity builds steadily, giving the series unexpected power. B+

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