Can AMC’s 'The Killing' Get Its Mojo Back In Season 2? And How Season 1 Caught Hollywood’s Attention

Television
by The Playlist
April 1, 2012 6:19 PM
10 Comments
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If you never watched AMC’s crime drama “The Killing” last year, but heard a lot of the buzz and noise, let’s help you out. The narrative went like this: The pilot episode of the show -- an eerie mix of David FincherSeven” rain/gloom aesthetics and the “Twin Peaks”-like ominousness found in the Pacific Northwest -- received near universal acclaim from critics.

And with good reason, it kicked off an intriguing, slow-burn jigsaw puzzle story about the murder of a high school girl in Seattle with three main, soon-to-be intersecting, storylines: the police investigation into the murder, the devastation that rocks the surviving family members and their attempts to deal with their grief and the and the fluctuating electoral fortunes of a political campaign that becomes embroiled in the case. And dare we say the holistic manner in which the show initially weaved the murder's impact on the micro (the local community, the family) and the macro (the city of Seattle and the political fallout it had), was reminiscent of the way "The Wire" approached story.

Based on the Danish television series with the same English title, the first three episodes of the TV show were rather engrossing and addictive, and as a result, while the show began to flounder (more on that in a sec), things began to take off for its principal members.

That impressive pilot episode that everyone loved? It was directed by “Monster” filmmaker Patty Jenkins, and it got noticed. She had almost not been heard of since that acclaimed 2003 film that earned Charlize Theron a Best Actress Oscar (she directed some “Entourage” episodes in the interim), but that’s all it took. She didn’t even direct another episode, and soon she almost got the gig to direct “Thor 2” (ultimately she bailed because of “creative differences” or was fired, which likely means Marvel lowballing or too-tight constraints on the creative). She ultimately went on to win a DGA Best Dramatic Series Director award for that pilot and while there’s no immediate gig in her future, assume that’s going to change asap.

Your new “RoboCop? Swedish actor Joel Kinnaman is one of the two leads in “The Killing.” Yes, he was noticed by Hollywood thanks to the Swedish drug-world crime thriller “Snabba Cash” (“Easy Money”), which will land in U.S. theaters this summer (two years after the fact, thank the slow-ass Weinstein Company). That visceral and absorbing film led filmmaker Daniel Espinosa to land the job to direct “Safe House” (one of the commercially successful films of the year so far) and got Kinnaman the job on the AMC show. And while Tinseltown noticed, “The Killing” turned even more heads with Kinnaman’s vastly-different turn as the cocky and insouciant (but deeply charming) undercover narcotics officer graduated to detective who holds a dark secret: while on the job he got in so deep he eventually got addicted to methamphetamine. Up for the lead in “Thor” at one point and even considered for parts in “Mad Max 4,” Kinnaman is definitely on the casting radar. He landed one of the co-lead roles in WB’s Camelot project, “Arthur & Lancelot,” before they decided to deep-six it and then retool it, but his buy-that-for-a-dollar fortunes are looking up. He’s been cast as the new RoboCop by MGM and by next fall 2013, you’ll likely know his name if you don’t already.

As the icy, obsessive and near-hostile Sarah Linden, actress Mireille Enos also impressed as a Seattle detective so consumed by this murder she can’t put her fiancé and son first. Post “The Killing” and its first few eps, she landed the coveted co-starring female role alongside Brad Pitt in “World War Z,” and she also nabbed a role in the upcoming period dramaThe Gangster Squad” starring Sean Penn, Ryan Gosling and Josh Brolin.

Suffice to say while further episodes of “The Killing” suffered from myriad issues, the main actors were one of the few (and only reasons) to keep watching.

So what happened and why didn’t “The Killing” fulfill its promise? Well, as the murder investigation went on the story was driven by and relied on increasingly frustrating and implausible red herrings. So predictable and agonizing would some of these narrative detours be, an entire episode would be devoted into a new, intentionally misleading clue that would naturally land in a dead end. Important character details were also withheld and then conveniently revealed at the last minute, frustrating viewers and also making it difficult to empathize with the characters whose sympathies the show was almost entirely built around.

In short, “The Killing” squandered the initial love it generated, and of the thirteen episodes of the first season, ten felt like the murder investigation -- and the social parts that satellite-ed that main story -- were hopelessly going around in circles. Obviously, in drama it’s often the journey, not the destination that matters, but the writers of this AMC show never quite understood that from a plot perspective. Where the show did shine (and survive for those that kept watching) were its characters and character development, nicely leveraged by the two aforementioned leading stars. And to insult the already-injured (mild spoiler alert for those that didn’t watch season 1), the main murder of the show was never solved in the final episode of the season, which enraged already perturbed fans of the show. The fact that the show was even green lit for a second season was a surprise in some corners of the media.

So what’s next and can the show overcome those mistakes? Well, the two-hour season premiere of “The Killing” airs tonight on AMC at 8pm EST. AMC has also ordered a full thirteen episodes and we assume they’re going to fulfill that quota critics and angry audiences bedamned. And note, while the Danish version of “The Killing” did go on for three seasons, the murder was solved in the first one, but that season one also had 20 episodes to work with (subsequent seasons caught up with the police officers two years later). Will “The Killing” take slow-burn procedural and turn it into another stretched-out narrative full of cul de sacs and dead ends? Will there be some sort of relief for audiences who feel that they’ve been given Agatha Christie blue balls already? Again, there’s good character writing on the show, but it remains to be seen if series creator Veena Sud and her staff can lift themselves out of the quagmire from last season. Here’s to hoping because this critic, for one, doesn’t know how much more abuse he can take.

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10 Comments

  • Mark | April 6, 2012 12:43 AMReply

    --spoilers---

    Just watched most of the S2 premiere. Painful.... So Richmond was on a suicide attempt when the murder went down? While he's running for mayor? And his attempt just happens to be when a murder went down that he was implicated in?

    Seriously? And now implications of a big police conspiracy?

    This is looking a lot like Lost. The writers don't know where it's headed, and the don't really care. The goal is to keep you watching, and the assumption is you'll forget about massive plot holes that were opened up two episodes ago.

    Yeah, maybe you can get away with that crap when you have an interesting setting like a tropical island, a few hot actors and actresses, and super weird stuff like time travel. But this is just a badly written mystery show that will almost certainly leave anybody that continues watching sorely disappointed.

    I'm cutting my losses now, 2/3 of the way into this premiere.

  • 540now | April 3, 2012 12:32 AMReply

    I agree that season 1 of The Killing was very disappointing but not because it moved slowly. The SF chronicle had an article yesterday making the same point - American audiences require action, car chases, etc. They went on to say that is the reason Rubicon (which they claim was significantly "slower" than The Killing) was cancelled and The Killing has "angered" its audience. I really liked Rubicon and was really disappointed by The Killing. It wasn't the speed of the plot development - the writing for Rubicon was high quality and the writing for The Killing is low quality. It's as simple as that.

  • Sean | April 2, 2012 10:30 AMReply

    My issue with the show is that they say it's a new spin on a detective show. How? If someone is not solving the main case (the main draw of the show), then it's someone solving meaningless small cases that serve no purpose to the main case.
    I also hate how it doesn't build to anything. Viewers don't tune into a show to see random shit happen that doesn't amount to much. Yeah, they want some twist and tricks to make them excited but what they did with this show was downright awful.
    Veena Sud ranks up there as an horrible showrunner.

  • theConundrumm | April 2, 2012 4:42 AMReply

    i don't get it. i literally gave the screen a high five in the closing minutes of the finale. it was a bold move, an utter joy, and came as no real surprise. the show was always engaging in some way or another, as this article clearly spells out, and to dismiss it without weighing all the things it brought against a tiny moment of overblown ire that it didn't take the typical, to-be-expected route is the only real 'The Killing' related disappointment...

  • jingmei | April 2, 2012 2:01 AMReply

    Cool critic article in details, I was about to check out this attractive show. And as a TV show instead of a movie, things are supposed to be not that "efficient" though Hollywood would adapt slow European versions into fast speed ones.

  • Dan Trep | April 2, 2012 1:36 AMReply

    This show should be an embarrassment to AMC and Veena Sud most certainly has earned herself the contempt of both formerly enthusiastic show viewers and thousands of writers in the industry who've been nursing and unsuccesfully pitching better series ideas for years.

    Its obvious AMC didn't want to kill a former critical darling after they declined most of the pilots in production. They feared the story would simply be too awful. "After a charmed first Act, AMC finds itself in creative tailspin...". Yet renewing there most disappointing series for another year will prove to be an extremely expense bit of PR misdirection. The audiences aren't going to come back and give them another 12 episodes to reveal the truth about Larsen's death. Why bother?

  • george | April 2, 2012 12:43 AMReply

    Maybe Americans just can't handle the slow burn proceedings of this show. I think it's engrossing, and although we all want the answers of a murder mystery, in life not all cases are solved. And, it has only been 2 weeks since Rosie was murdered. There are countless cases worldwide that remain cold for decades+. Americans need everything "now".

  • Ian Ungstad | April 1, 2012 8:47 PMReply

    This terrible show started going off the rails after three episodes. The characterization was paper thin and they dragged the plot out with a series of red herrings that made the series a tonal mess. (Especially the whole female circumcision subplot.) I stuck around having invested several hours into the program in hopes ther series would redeem itself. I don't know that I needed to know the identity of the killer but I wanted the season to go out on some kind of high note. Instead it just got worse and had one of the most cringe worthy bad season finales I've ever seen. (This episode also garnered some of the biggest backlash/worst press, I've seen for a television show in recent memory)

    I disagree with the acting being good. Joel Kinnamon was indeed good and one of the only savid graces of the series. Mireille was average at best. Billy Campbell and Michelle Forbes were awful.

  • AD | April 1, 2012 7:21 PMReply

    I don't get why they put it at 9 pm against HBO Game of Thrones. Not very smart. I know that the 10pm slot is for Mad Men but they shoudl have kept it at 10pm maybe another night!

  • Mark | April 6, 2012 12:45 AM

    Timeslots are irrelevant. Everybody has a DVR. And if you don't, you have no money and no advertiser is interested in you anyway.

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