Monday, April 11, 2011

Killer TV

You’re probably not watching “The Killing,” but you should. The new AMC drama is good, damn good. Like cannot stop watching, bolted to my seat, riveted by the performances good. Like how did this slow-moving crime procedural without big-name stars, frenetic car chases or fancy forensics hoo-ha make it onto American television good. This show isn’t flashy. No one takes off his sunglasses dramatically before delivering a corny cadaver pun. (OK, fine, that’s also because it’s set in Seattle where the rain is major recurring character.) What it is is well crafted, thoughtful and smart.

The show is based on a popular Danish crime drama by the same (albeit Danish) name. Just because it’s not flashy doesn’t mean it’s not stylish. The cinematography is gorgeous, almost cinematic. The screen is washed in the lush greens and blues and grays of the Pacific Northwest. The soundtrack is equally cinematic – sophisticated, taut, kinda creepy. The pacing is methodical, and could even be considered glacial in this current ADHD one-and-done crime procedural culture. Nothing has been solved in three episodes, the mystery has only deepened. But just because it takes its time does not mean it is boring – in fact the exact opposite. And, kittens kittens, we haven’t even begun to talk about the acting yet.

Lead Mireille Enos, the chief detective investigating the murder of high school student Rosie Larsen, isn’t your standard gorgeous TV police detective. And, trust me, I have no problem with standard gorgeous TV police detectives (hello, Olivia Benson, Jane Rizzoli, Kate Beckett – call me). Her Det. Sarah Linden is gorgeous, but in an entirely unglossy way. She doesn’t wear makeup. She shops at Ross. She keeps her red hair in a loose, practical ponytail. She is utterly unadorned. In fact, it may take you a while to come to the conclusion that Mireille Enos is gorgeous, but you will and possibly not even for what is external.

You see, the thing about “The Killing” is how internal it is. This isn’t a show with great expository speechifying or loud gun battles. As noted by critics much smarter than me, what's so extraordinary is it allows us to see to see the character think. In particular, we get to see Sarah Linden think. She is a woman of few words, not because she is the stoic hero but because she is actually taking the time to turn things over in her head Yet she is so expressive and empathetic. All her actions feel genuine, like someone who knows what she’s doing and has done it all before. Even the simple act this past episode of her wordlessly staring at the ingredients of whatever unhealthy thing she just ate with a split-second flash of self disgust felt real. This is a person, not a character. We’re drawn to her competence and intrigued by her silence. Also, Mireille has the potential to become one of TV’s greatest scowlers. And, given my propensity for sexy, serene scowlers, this is high praise indeed.

Admittedly, this show might be hard for some to watch. There is grief and pain and inexplicable cruelty. But it doesn't wallow in them. This isn't part of the “Saw” franchise. It's about how one horrible act can ripple through so many lives. As Rosie’s parents, Michelle Forbes and Brent Sexton made me tear up not once, not twice but three times in the pilot. That may not sound like a good time, and this surely isn’t disposable fluff, but it’s mesmerizing TV. OK, there’s also a political angle that isn’t entirely as mesmerizing. But I still find it intriguingly complex and have to believe that there will be some further payoff other than an examination of political machine.

And, while we’re at it, this series fulfills the Bechdel Rule. It has a female lead. Sarah and Rosie’s mom have already talked several times, and certainly not about a man. And Sarah also has a female best friend, Reggie, who we were introduced to this last episode. p.s. I want to find out more about that dynamic, too. Plus, “The Killing” has a female creator/writer (Veena Sud of “Cold Case”) and women have directed the first three episodes (Patty Jenkins of “Monster” for the two-part pilot and Gwyneth Horder-Payton of “The Shield” for last night’s episode).

Three episodes have aired, but you still have time to catch up. The two-part pilot is available online at And the third episode re-airs on AMC at 10:30 p.m. Thursday or just before the next new episode at 9 p.m. Sunday (the series airs at 10 p.m. Sundays on AMC).

Oh, and one more little oh-isn’t-that-interesting. Mireille was four month pregnant when she shot the pilot (hence the big, bulky sweater and windbreaker). Guess who she is married to? Alan Ruck, better known as Cameron from “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.”

Look, I know we all have too many shows to watch already. I know the prospect of signing on for a slowly paced crime drama that’s unafraid to examine grief might not sound all that appealing. But you really should, because we need more shows where people are given the time to think – and that make us think.


Anonymous said...

Actually I found the opening scene in the pilot episode of: The Killing far more disturbing than anything in the movie Sucker Punch (which by the way you RAILED against).

Funny how you are selectively against violence against women in film.

I mean this program is no Millenium Series, with a Lisbeh Salander kicking the asss of her tormentors. In "The Killing" the victim was murdered in a method far too realistic (reminiscent of the recent South Hampton murders).

Sometimes you seem like a child with your cheer leading of the most inappropiate. I will pass on this series because I have principles.

Tor said...

I'm sure Sarah LINDEN wouldn't be so gorgeous if she wasn't based on the original Sarah LUND, played by the utterly gorgeous Sophie Gråbøl. The original Forbrydelsen (The Killing) was fabulous TV – I can't bring myself to watch the ripped off US version!

Big Shamu said...

I'm watching and loving the detail and time they are putting into all aspects of the show. Writing, character development, the acting, it's all good.

Anonymous said...

I am so glad I wasn't the only one who noticed the awesomeness that is The Killing. The pilot absolutely blew me away. I was glued to my seat from the first frame on and I did not even once glance at my mobile (which is high praise if you knew me) during the whole thing.

The cast was just... wow. I've been a huge fan of Michelle Forbes since ... well, practically forever (Star Trek: TNG as Ensign Ro) and she's one of the most underrated actresses around. She did an amazing job as per usual.

Mireille Enos and the guy who played her partner made a very unconventional pair that just clicked in that weird kind of way. Not exactly Mulder and Scully, but it just worked.

I absolutely LOVED the silent, moody feel to the show - creepy and yet gorgeous cinematography.

I'm most definitely hooked on the show and seriously hoping this will have better luck than AMC's other quietly powerful and awesome show Rubicon which was unfortunately cancelled.

Unconventionally captivating is what I'd say this show is.

Anonymous said...

The original series translates to "The Crime" - a reference to different types of crimes out there and committed by various characters over the course of the investigation.

I'm enjoying the AMC series - but you should watch the Danish original - if you think Mireille Enos is good, Sophie Gråbøl is in a league of her own.

Anonymous said...

oh, and I think Reggie's her mum. Or at least she was in the original.

carol cochran said...

Well, I'm hooked! I never watched "Big Love" and don't recall seeing any of Miselle Enos' work before this, but I think that she's perfectly cast. She reminds me a lot of Andrew Wyeth's model, "Helga"; same luminous beauty and allure. I've read that some fans think/wish that the roles Enos and Michelle Forbes are playing should hsve been reversed. Not I. Forbes as Linden would have had too much of an L&O-SUV echo to it.

Amy said...

LOVE this show! I too was either watching with my jaw dropped (not believing how good the acting was) or tearing up at the agony the parents were going thru.

The actress who plays the lead is SO good...just with a glance, she can communicate so much.

I'm hooked! And thanks Ms. Snarker - it was because of a tweet you sent that I even knew to watch it!

Shannon said...

I have not yet seen an episode of 'The Killing' though after reading your review and some of the other posters on here, I think I might have to check it out.

It sounds a bit reminiscent of 'Twin Peaks', although perhaps not quite as 'quirky'.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous poster #1, I really don't understand how you can compare Sucker Punch to this show. Sucker Punch was a shallow, vapid, and completely emotionless piece of tripe. It was movie that was nothing more than special effects and titties. The director failed in his attempt to create a film that empowers his female characters and included scenes of attempted rape that did nothing to further the plot of the movie.

On the other hand, "The Killing" is entirely character driven and does an amazing job of telling a powerful story. Yes, I agree the opening scene was far more disturbing than anything in Sucker Punch, but that's what murder should be. You should be disturbed and you should be horrified. TV shows all to often make murder out to be gross fest and you never really get to know the victim and the families who suffered the loss. In short, you DON'T CARE ABOUT THE VICTIM. This show makes you care. You want to know who did it and you want justice for the parents.

In my opinion the directors, writers, and actors got it right. We're presented with a grisly murder, but it's not glorified or outlandish. You feel the parents pain and want to help them.

Violence against women does not equal a bad story, which you mistakenly think Dorothy Snarker believes. I for one, got the impression that she takes issue with it when it's used simply to titilate the viewer. I don't care for that either. This show does not do that, which is why I agree with Dorothy. This is top-notch television with real emotion, and it doesn't turn the horrors of world into a giant cartoon mess.

Anonymous said...

I have been watching it and it is a great series. I don't really find it slow moving though.

Kathryn said...

I'm going to hold off on this one: I'm sick of the constant representation of young women as victims of different sorts (murder, rape, etc). It's exploitative and voyeuristic.

Anonymous said...

Not only does Sofie Gråbøl rock her jumpers, she even wears a vest (aka a tank top) in one episode. I really can't recommend checking out the original version enough.

Anonymous said...

I would happily watch Mireille Enos read the phone book. Silently. In the rain... And I'd love to check out the Danish original--anyone know where to find it?

Anonymous said...


The BBC just released a region 2 version with English subtitles.

the crustybastard said...

If you like Mireille Enos, you're gonna LOVE Hermione Norris from MI-5/Spooks.

Norris' "Ros" may be the most badass female TV character evah.

Check your PBS listings and thank me later.

Anonymous said...

God yes, *love* Ros!

Hanna said...

I just finished the Danish original (well the German dubbed version of it), and if the American version is just a blunt remake, there is no use watching since I already know who the killer is. There are so many great original US shows - and we are all thankful for that -, but why can't they just once watch a good European original and leave it at that?

Anonymous said...

They have changed the killer in the US version so you can't be spoiled by having watched the original.