Much has been said and hyped about recently in regards to AMC’s brand new series The Killing. and rightfully so. This is a cable network that has brought us Mad Men, Breaking Bad and most recently The Walking Dead. It is also derived from an exceptional 20-episode Danish original of the same name, which is one of the most gripping and fascinating foreign screen imports of the last few years. The expectation was high and it has been hyped to hell over the past few weeks.
Viewing figures for the pilot and the second episode hit 2.7 million, the 2nd biggest of AMC’s lifespan in original programming and on repeats that figure has cranked up to nearly 4.6 million. The reviews have also been glowing, universally everyone has been highly laudatory. So is it that good?
Absolutely, AMC are fulfilling my prediction as being a replacement HBO for producing high quality, challenging, brilliantly performed programming. The Killing is seriously no different, this is absolutely the kind of drama I like and many others don’t. It is an incredibly niche heightened drama which is not afraid to go to dark and emotional places, it is incredibly complex and brooding. AMC proudly boasts in its tagline that “story matters” and The Killing is if anything, a triumph in storytelling.
The story revolves around a female detective working in Seattle, who begins to go on a compulsive investigation into the death of a young girl, Rosie Larsen. While her investigation and personal turmoils continue, we examine the effects on the inhabitants of the city and how relationships begin to dissolve due the high level of suspicion among a very conspicuous bunch of characters, one of which includes a man running for Mayor.
It opens wonderfully, parallel editing between the chase of a girl who turns out to be Rosie Larsen and a woman going out for her morning exercise, who we expect to find the body. Then as she reaches a foggy lakeside she uncovers the carcass of a dead animal and by that point the tone is set. This is not going to be pretty, as at the start of Blue Velvet where underneath the lawn we see cannibal bugs, the rotting carcass on the beach almost works as a metaphor for the entire town life.
The woman who at first looks like a simple jogger, turns out to be the detective of the town, Sarah Linden, who is only days away from moving to a job in California. She has to put her plans on hold though when gets embroiled in a whole murder plot. Linden is played by Mireille Enos who is a TV actress I wasn’t aware of, despite being in Big Love as a regular guest star. Here she is absolutely brilliant. She is kind of the atypical female lead, she looks to be on set without the aid of make up, the character looks tired and carrying the weight of the world. She is dressed in slacks and waterproof nylon clothes. Linden is a recognisably human character and is surrounded by people who belong to the setting.
This is probably down to the fact the producers have cast no name actors and very much like The Wire, you get caught up in authenticity and buy it, you don’t get distracted by the appearance of a big name star or someone overtly glamourous. They look like they belong in that place and although this is more stylised and artful than The Wire, it still feels real and it still has a genuine sense of location which any great screen work does have.
The advertising, which mainly showed it as a police procedural detective thriller, almost an arty CSI, couldn’t do it more of a disservice. What makes this show one of the finest new shows I’ve seen in quite sometime is how un-procedural it actually is. There is a certain detective/investigative work going on but this is a show about the characters, about how one person’s death can impact upon numerous people and showing the break down between people. The whole thing is brooding, bleak and the tone is very heavy, but when something like this is so artfully done it becomes easy to relax into and becomes an unnerving joy.
Many will compare this to Twin Peaks, and there is a certain level of that in there. Of course the advertising again is an issue, there is a tagline scrawled across a poster of the dead Rosie which claims: “Who killed Rosie Larsen?” which is frighteningly close to “Who killed Laura Palmer?”. There is also to some extent some of that small town hick strangeness which does bare comparison with David Lynch’s uber influential series it lacks the bizarre surrealism and dwarves.
The show is closer in tone to Sean Penn’s forgotten detective movie The Pledge, which was dealing with similar tropes thematically in reinventing the role of the detective in a narrative driven story, in that you also got the detective trying to move on but keeps getting held back for personal reasons. Also the creation of tone and dour setting refer back to last year’s Winter’s Bone which also carried a strong female protagonist. The depiction of this Seattle is also far closer to Granik’s evocation of the Ozark mountains, than anything you’ll see in Frasier, there isn’t a space needle in sight. It is a show that is bound to television but is rooted in cinema.
Part of this stems from it being directed by Patty Jenkins, who started in film with Monster and then moved to TV, mostly comedy, but in returning to dramatics she has lent her cinematic eye to this, which is an absolutely great piece of drama. The pilot is a staggering set up of plot without feeling like an ordinary pilot. It feels like we have just been dropped in this fully formed world where bad stuff is now happening, it is completely engrossing and definitely one to watch.