Thanks to Chloe Sevigny’s interesting resume, her presence raised hopes that A&E’s latest stab at (overtly) scripted programming, “Those Who Kill,” might be more than just another serial-killer procedural — “Criminal Minds XXVII,” as it were. Alas, no such luck, and this latest dreary adaptation of a Danish series has the added burdens of being almost unforgivably shoddy in its details, with cops who stumble and bumble through their investigation, and yet another profiler with a haunted past (is there any other kind?). A&E introduces the show as a “Bates Motel” companion, but this latest crime-drenched show isn’t much fun for those who watch.
Using the drab environs of Pittsburgh as a surrogate for its European inspiration — and to be fair, for a small country, the Danes certainly have a way with brooding and outlandish murderers, dramatically speaking — the series casts Sevigny as Catherine Jensen, a detective with one of those sallow-eyed stares.
Faced with the grim discovery of bodies, she enlists the aide of Thomas Schaeffer (James D’Arcy), a brilliant academic/forensic psychologist, much to the chagrin of her boss (“24’s” James Morrison), who had a run-in with Schaeffer that ended badly.
The task of developing the show fell to “The X-Files” alum Glen Morgan and director Joe Carnahan, and while they conjure some creepy visuals, almost every aspect of the investigation is just plain silly if given more than a moment’s thought. That includes, but is not limited to, perhaps the worst securing of a suspect in the history of made-for-TV police work, which is saying something.
Indeed, while the show has an interesting look and some creepy visual flourishes, it’s hard to get past the ridiculous twists — or for that matter, a press release that refers to Pittsburgh as “picturesque.”
Sevigny certainly brings intensity to the role, and the series promises a serialized thread over its 10 episodes. Still, it’s hard to escape the sense that serial killers have become such a formulaic sop as to become TV’s version of a dramatic crutch.
Then again, “Those Who Kill” will follow “Bates Motel,” the network’s “Psycho” prequel, which returns with similar craziness, while still facing the same pitfalls about being hamstrung by where it fits into the movie’s universe.
Despite the firstrate performances by Vera Farmiga and Freddie Highmore as the mother-and-son combo Norma and Norman Bates, the show can’t delve too far into Norman’s murderous madness — although the creatives have pushed it some, compensating by creating a “Twin Peaks”-like world around the characters. Simply put, this is one of those small towns where all is not as it seems, and the per-capita murder rate is off the charts.
Because the first season performed reasonably well, “Bates Motel” remains open, and despite the considerable craft that has gone into creating a world designed to take on a life of its own, it’s difficult to see how the serialized narrative can run much longer without beginning to muck up its own Hitchcockian mythology.
As for “Those Who Kill,” the title notwithstanding, the show is mostly just guilty of a rather mundane form of petty theft — and a decided lack of imagination.