Friday 23 February 2018

Tonight’s TV: How The Killing will have viewers enthralled

Diarmuid Doyle

In a scene from the opening episode of a popular crime series, a teenage girl runs for her life from an unseen enemy. It quickly becomes clear that she has not survived her ordeal. A murder investigation begins, headed by an unkempt female detective who favours woolly jumpers.

In a different scene from a different opening episode of a different show, a teenage girl runs for her life from an unidentified foe. She does not survive. A murder investigation begins. The unkempt jumper-wearing female detective heading the case is determined that she will solve it.

Four years ago Denmark was gripped by a tv show called Forbrydelsen (The Crime), a 20-part drama following an investigation into the murder of a teenage girl. The original plan had been to show ten of the episodes in the late winter and early spring of 2007 and hold the remaining ten for another year. The public outrage in Denmark was so great that the later episodes were brought forward by several months.

A second series was commissioned and then a third. The Danes sold it to Sweden, then to Finland and then to Norway. In January of this year it was shown, subtitles and all, on BBC4, as The Killing. Only 500,000 people tuned in every week, but the reviews and word of mouth were ecstatic.

Tonight the American remake of The Killing begins a 13-part run on Channel 4. It is a remarkably similar series, down to the murdered girls’ names – both victims are called Larsen. Like Forbydelsen, each of its episodes tells the story of one day in the investigation. The characters are similar, the rain-soaked cities in which they are set (Copenhagen and Seattle) have the same atmosphere of foreboding; plot twists and red herrings are common to both.

Fans of the Danish version are protective of their show and were horrified when the US remake was announced, as though Americans hadn’t been making great television series for decades.

In fact, the channel on which it was shown in the States, AMC, is the home of The Walking Dead, Breaking Bad and Mad Men; the reviews were as ecstatic as you might expect for a show with such noble parentage.

The New York Times described The Killing as so “well told that it’s almost heartening” while Entertainment Weekly’s critic said he could happily have watched all 13 episodes in one or two sittings. The reviews got slightly cooler as the series went on, thanks to a bewildering array of plot twists which tested the patience of many viewers. But like its Danish counterpart, it’s been renewed for a further series.

The Killing has been compared to the 1990s series Twin Peaks and indeed Channel 4’s “Who Killed Rosie Larsen?” promotional teaser couldn’t be more similar to that show’s “Who Killed Laura Palmer?” promo. But it’s not as kooky or as spooky, and is as focused as much on the aftermath of the murder, and its effect on the victim’s friends and family, as it is on finding out who killed her.

Indeed, this was its appeal for many people. The Killing is “soaked in atmosphere and steeped in the stark realism of Scandinavian crime novelists Henning Mankell and Stieg Larsson”, wrote one Canadian reviewer. (Much of the series was shot in Vancouver).

“It is not as much about a young girl’s murder as it is a psychological study of what happens afterward, how a tight-knit community tries to recover and how a dead child’s mother, father and siblings learn to deal with their pain in their own private ways”.

The actors are all relatively unknown on this side of the world. There are no stars, although that’s not to say that The Killing won’t make household names of one or two of them. Mireille Enos, who plays Sarah Linden, the main detective (her Danish equivalent is called Sarah Lund) has received the most praise for her portrayal of a single-minded police officer.

“There hasn’t been a female character like her probably ever”, the Hollywood Reporter said. We shall find out in tonight’s double episode if such a claim could possibly be true.

The Killing, Channel 4, 9pm – 10.55pm

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