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TV IS THE NEW CINEMA: Crime Pays (VIDEO)

Thompson on Hollywood By David Chute | Thompson on Hollywood August 6, 2013 at 4:14PM

Look at almost anybody's list of TV's best and most durable recent dramas and, a large percentage of them, from "The Wire" to "Breaking Bad, are likely to be crime dramas. That means different things on different shows: "The Killing" plays by the rules of a procedural whodunit, while "Breaking Bad" follows the trajectory of classic noir as defined, if memory serves, by novelist Megan Abbott: "Starts bad, gets worse."
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Enos and Kinnaman in 'The Killing'
Enos and Kinnaman in 'The Killing'

Look at almost anybody's list of TV's best and most durable recent dramas and, a large percentage of them, from "The Wire" to "Breaking Bad, are likely to be crime dramas. That means different things on different shows: "The Killing" plays by the rules of a procedural whodunit, while "Breaking Bad" follows the trajectory of classic noir as defined, if memory serves, by novelist Megan Abbott: "Starts bad, gets worse."

As ace crime novelist turned writer-producer on "The Wire," scriptwriter George Pelecanos told IW's Alison Willmore: "Crime stories are a narrative engine. You grab the viewer with a mystery to be solved, but that's not why the viewer stays with you."

Bryan Cranston in 'Breaking Bad'
AMC Bryan Cranston in 'Breaking Bad'

"The Killing," which wrapped up its excellent third season on Sunday, seemed to offend some commentators by adhering at the end a little too closely to the conventions of generic crime fiction, with an artfully contrived least-likely-suspect reveal. It's always a tightrope act in this genre, deciding how many hints to drop, and "The Killing" may have erred slightly or the side of concealment for the sake of surprise. But what did the complainers think they were watching if not a murder mystery?

"The Killing" dispatches its Suffering Cops on a grim journey that is unashamedly existential. As Mireille Enos' Sara Linden put it a couple of episodes ago, cops go to work and "fail every day" -- and in a context in which failure means watching an innocent man twitch at the end of a rope, or finding in the trunk of a car the body of a teenage girl you promised to protect. In a lovely respite scene in the final episode, Linden and her partner, Joel Kinnaman's Stephen Holder, renewed their strained sense of partnership with a few jokes, reminding us that in some respects cops are very much like soldiers: The only person they're fighting for, day and date, is the person in the trench next to them.

Colman and Tennant in 'Broadchurch'
Colman and Tennant in 'Broadchurch'

The British crime drama "Broadchurch," which begins tomorrow, August 7 at 10, on BBC America, had England riveted when it played there in March and April. No secret that it's an attempt to create a homegrown UK equivalent of the Scandinavian crime dramas that began their march to world domination in a designated Saturday night time slot on BBC Four. The show strikes an unusually adept balance between a few questions that eventually get answered and those that never can be.

Like the original versions of "The Killing" and "The Bridge," "Broadchurch" is as much about the ripple effects of a crime through a community as it is about detective work. And in contrast to those urban dramas this is very much a small-town show, with an unusually strong sense of place and space. The writer-producer, Chris Chibnall ("Law & Order: UK"), carefully builds the story of a child murder in a small seacoast town into the village in Dorset, Clevedon, where he's lived in for a decade, and where the program was filmed. At crucial points in the story the investigators, led by 11th Doctor David Tennant and "Peep Show's" Olivia Colman, stand in a field and look all around to see where the local church, a suspect's home and the high street stand in relation to each other.

This article is related to: Breaking Bad, TV, TV Reviews, TV Features, TV Videos, Television, Television, The Killing, Broadchurch


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Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.