Although “Rubicon” proved too deliberate and cerebral for a mass audience, AMC braves that stylistic terrain again with “The Killing,” an adaptation of a Danish series that’s essentially the anti-procedural. Instead of crime-investigation-solution in an hour, this 13-part series follows a teenage girl’s brutal murder and assiduously dissects it from multiple angles, from the police to her grieving parents to the local politician whose campaign may be connected to the death. Equal parts “Twin Peaks” and “Murder One,” this grim, absorbing show restores the horror to homicide, while its cliffhangers deftly propel viewers from one hour into the next.
Produced and written by Veena Sud (“Cold Case”) based on the Danish “Forbrydelsen,” “The Killing” brings a fresh eye to the rather jaundiced world of TV crime by approaching its story in the least glamorous, most understated way possible. And while the gray skies (the show takes place in Seattle, actually shot in Vancouver) and dour tone could be a turnoff, the underlying mystery and offbeat characters ought to earn this a dedicated following, for a channel that knows a little something about cultish devotion.
Detective/single mom Sarah Linden (“Big Love’s” Mireille Enos) is just about to move to California and marry her boyfriend (Callum Keith Rennie) when she fields the case involving a missing 17-year-old girl. At first, she’s going through the motions, just showing the ropes to Stephen (Swedish actor Joel Kinnaman), the confrontational ex-narc assigned to replace her.
Before long, though, Sarah is caught up in the investigation, which connects not only the girl’s parents (Michelle Forbes, Brent Sexton) but a mayoral candidate (Billy Campbell) dealt a setback when a campaign car is linked to the body.
“Who killed Rosie Larsen?” isn’t quite the same as “Who killed Laura Palmer?” but there are simple pleasures in its old-fashioned mystery — one featuring wayward teens, perhaps slightly disengaged parents, political intrigue, and at least one rather unorthodox detective. Everything about the series, moreover, contributes to a moody, noirish atmosphere.
There are some drawbacks, admittedly, in that approach — since nobody so much as cracks a smile, much less leavens things with humor. Still, the first three installments (the series shrewdly launches with a two-hour premiere) methodically advance the story, carefully weaving together the three overlapping plots while inviting new questions with every revelation.
Ultimately, this sort of construct will be judged in large part by its payoff, but en route there’s considerable strength in the performances (Forbes and Sexton are especially good), while delivering a reminder how TV can tease out such a narrative in a way almost no other medium can.
Cops and crime ostensibly carry less risk than other recent AMC offerings (“The Walking Dead,” “The Prisoner”), the disclaimer being that this format requires deferred gratification. It’s a given that “The Killing” is unlikely to rival the crime genre’s broadest ratings appeal, but the initial episodes have a good chance of getting a discerning audience hooked, even if they don’t knock ’em dead.