Wednesday, 13 July 2011

The Killing

TV Series, Channel 4

The Killing is Channel 4’s new big money buy-in, a US crime drama based on a Danish TV series that recently aired on BBC Four. In order to write a fair review I will just get this out of the way once – the original was a masterpiece that is still fresh in memory, it is a very hard act to follow.

You can see why, on paper, The Killing is a credible buy for Channel 4, it contains all the right ingredients of good, gripping, gritty drama. It is from excellent stock, and it comes from the company who make Mad Men. Sounds like a no-brainer.

Clearly a huge amount of money has gone into this series. Set in Seattle, the whole piece is reasonably nicely directed. The camera takes its time to amble around each scene; the city is painted with a dark pastel hue, which allows the gloom and shadows of the city to prevail. And there is so much rain. The rain is such a feature of this show that it feels like a vast amount of the production budget was spent on rain machines…but with an opening episode spilling over 90 minutes, should ‘rain’ really be one of my standout memories?

 There are extensive and impressive shots of the city from cranes, helicopters, and other additional clever angles and devices, which add to the scale of the production. But apart from making me think how much money it must have all cost, they don’t add anything to the DRAMA.

What about the story? Well, this is a very slow burner. The Killing is, in essence, a protracted who-done-it, which centres on the murder of a 17 year old girl. Where this differs from standard crime fare is that the focus is on the surrounding characters – the lead detective is a woman who is about to leave the city, the job, her life as she knows it, to pack up with her young son and marry some guy in California. She is literally due out of town at the end of day one. The victim’s family are clearly (I hope) on the verge of developing intriguing back-stories, and of course there is a politician, who just so happens to be handsome, who has a history of his own and a team member he can’t trust.

Here is where the problems come in, whereas in the Danish original you revel in the unsaid, in the stillness, and in the slow grinding tension, in this remake, you don’t. Based on the first episode, which is all I have seen so far, the characters are bland and one dimensional. Worse, they are simply the stereotype signature characters we are all too familiar with and have seen done better plenty of times before (Wallander anyone?). It is very telling that I have no emotional connection with the dead girl, even more so that at this stage I am neither guessing nor do I care who the killer is. Yes, I want justice to prevail, yes, I am expecting the lead detectives life to start falling apart as she immerses herself in the investigation, but I’m not actually that bothered.

 Despite this, I will come back for more. I know, crazy eh! I have seen just enough to lure me back for a second episode. For me the lifeline comes from the replacement detective who has come in from drug squad and has his own way of working. I also am taken by the style of the piece, even if I don’t feel the money has been spent justifiably so far. My hope is that episode 2 will take more risks, challenge us a bit more, and step away from what just feels like the ‘obvious’.

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