Review: AMC’s “The Killing”

4 04 2011

Mireille Enos and Joel Kinnaman in AMC's "The Killing"

AMC continues its streak in delivering great dramas with tonight’s two episode premiere of The Killing. Full review after the jump…

 

 

 

 

 

AMC is known for their dramas; Mad Men was their first and it quickly became a critically acclaimed hit and an Emmy winning machine. Then they made Breaking Bad and no one could stop Bryan Cranston and his Emmys. Rubicon and The Walking Dead soon followed, both critical successes and the latter being one of the highest rated basic cable dramas ever. All of that to say that AMC knows good television, so when I tuned in for tonight’s premiere of The Killing I have certain expectations going in.

And now, after having seen the first two hours of this drama…yeah, AMC knows what they’re doing.

The Killing has been adapted from a Danish series, it’s a crime procedural but rather than having each episode focus on a case, the entire season follows a single investigation. It centers on Sarah Linden, a detective starting her last day on the job with the Seattle PD. Soon she’ll be moving to California to get married, but before she can leave she gets sucked in by one last case. I’m not spoiling anything by saying that a teenage girl has been murdered and Sarah finds the body. It’s a pretty standard premise and a familiar format, but AMC does it right.

With AMC shows I’m used to a slower, deliberate pacing. The plots tend to move precisely and sometimes you’ll get an episode of Mad Men that seems to have nothing actually happen. The Killing follows suit with a fairly slow pilot episode. Not much seems to happen but I found myself oddly entranced. And though the plot crawl by, the episode seemed to speed along. At one point I thought I’d only been watching the show for about ten minutes, when it turned out thirty minutes had passed. I mean all of this as a compliment. The show figures out how to keep that slow storytelling while never boring viewers. I was never bored by these first two episodes. The show manages a really great serialized type of storytelling that AMC is known for while using a very familiar format in the cop procedural. This show also thinks pretty highly of its viewers. So many shows waste endless running time in long expository scenes while this show spends much more time showing rather than telling. I’m not stupid, I can connect the dots and figure things out, it doesn’t need to be explicitly laid out for me.

The season long arc allows the show to really dig into some interesting elements of a criminal investigation that  a standard police procedural never could. The first episode spent a great deal of time introducing us to the victim’s family. That kind of emotional investment is so valuable to a show like this, and its something a Law & Order never could do in the hour for a single investigation format. There is such depth to all of these characters, from the victim’s families to the mayoral candidate who is somehow connected to this crime. All of these little details and touches create a deeper experience leading up to a final ten minutes that were more affecting that most anything I’ve seen on a drama since Mad Men six months ago. That’s more affecting from a show I’ve only seen forty minutes of compared to shows that I’ve been watching for years. And then the second hour continues to deal with the victim’s family. I’ve never seen a cop show show a father telling his surviving sons that their sister has been murdered. That moved me.

Aside from the emotionally heavy stuff here, The Killing is also dealing with some really complex themes about class and status in America. It’s a complex story that’s weaving all kinds of layers together. On one end you’ve got the councilman running for mayor and on the other end you’ve got the lower class working family who have just lost their daughter. But everything’s connected with so many more threads in between. It’s a fairly ambitious pilot episode, especially considering the fairly standard format. I trust AMC and this production team. And I can’t wait to see where all of this goes.

Finally, this was a technically great piece of television. Great direction that created tension and suspense; I think of the scene towards the end when the victim was finally revealed. Though I knew where all of it was leading I was still in suspense and still riveted by what was happening. Their are so many good performances by just about everyone in this cast. And it really was a beautiful looking piece, lots of great cinematic moments that just look good.

AMC has impressed me again, and with only a single episode I’m fully on board for this ride. I can’t wait to see where it all goes, and I can’t wait for the rest of this season.

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