Sunday, April 3, 2011

Every parent's nightmare: Reviewing "The Killing"

Given that its subject matter includes murder, political intrigue and youthful depravity, AMC's new drama "The Killing," debuting with a two-hour episode tonight at 9, seems curiously muted.

It's set in Seattle, which has never been depicted as grayer or rainier than it is here (the show was actually shot in Vancouver). Its pace is leisurely to the point of dragginess -- though it opens with a terrified young woman fleeing through the woods, it takes a good 10 minutes to learn who she is, and another 35 or so to learn what happened to her.
"The Killing" also stars Mireille Enos ("Big Love") who, with her pale skin, hair and eyes, always looks as if life's struggle has leached her of color.
Yet, its slowness, unconventional leading lady and backdrop of clouds and rain make "The Killing" an intriguing antidote to the often-mindless police procedural dramas that are still rampant on broadcast television.
The new series (based on the Danish series "Forbrydelsen") focuses on police detective Sarah Linden (Enos) who, in the great tradition of talented fictional police detectives, is about to leave her job. She's playing to move to California with her son and fiance. But, of course, something stops her. That something is a blood-stained sweater found in the middle of a field. We eventually learn that the sweater likely belonged to a young woman named Rosie Larsen, who has gone missing. Detective Linden is pushed by her superior to stick around and find out what happened to Rosie. Of course, persuading Linden to stay isn't that hard, given that her replacement is the alarmingly cavalier Stephen Holder (Joel Kinnaman), who appears not to have a clue about the best way to work a case like this.
The two-hour pilot shifts between the police investigation, the turmoil felt by Rosie's parents (Brent Sexton and Michelle Forbes) and the political campaign of a mayoral candidate (Billy Campbell) who might be linked to Rosie's disappearance.
The first half of the pilot is rough going at times, as the show sets up all the various characters and story elements. But once all the players are in place, it clicks along well. Enos has an offbeat, but appealing, presence that served her well as the troubled Marquart twins on "Big Love" (she was convincing enough that I was mildly surprised that the twins weren't played by two different actresses), and those qualities work well for her here, too. She seems like the kind of woman who would be more comfortable tracking a missing girl through the rain and muck than playing house with her fiance and resentful son.
Kinnaman, meanwhile, has a nicely wry presence that lends some much-needed humor to this frequently grim series. A scene in which he easily bonds with Linden's son over her lack of fashion sense has a lovely humanity to it.
The rest of the cast is equally capable, particularly the always-fiery Forbes as Rosie's devastated mother, Mitch.
The series' showrunner is Veena Sud, whose credits include "Cold Case," and, indeed, "The Killing" does have the DNA of a police procedural. But it's a bit more ambitious than "Cold Case," "CSI" and the like, telling a serialized story. Given its format, I'm not sure how long "The Killing" could or should last (I'm unfamiliar with the Danish series, and don't know many seasons it ran). I'm not sure I want to see the Rosie case dragged out over several seasons, nor am I certain I want to see Linden and Holder tackle a new mystery each season. But, so far, "The Killing" is intriguing enough that I'm willing to stick with it and see what happens.

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