Written by TV

The Killing

Like many people, I’ve been obsessively watching The Killing for the last ten weeks, and Saturday saw the denouement. Fear not – no spoilers here. Because if my friends and colleagues are to be believed, there’s going to a be a significant demand for the DVDs which are released a week today.
I first learnt about The Killing when I heard the US TV (AMC to be precise) was going to remake it. Indeed, that remake starts airing in the US next weekend, and I’d be amazed if Sky Atlantic doesn’t buy the UK rights to it. But my reaction to any remake is to turn to the original. At the time, only SBS in Australia seemed to have shown the series with English language subtitles, and as I was humming and hahing over whether to fork out for the DVDs, BBC Four announced it was showing them!
Recently, Saturday nights have been Euro-cop nights. We’ve had two different Wallanders (as well as our own Kenneth Brannagh version), a few Inspector Montalbanos (although there are plenty more that have yet to be screened), and Spiral. The latter starts its third series next weekend with the first two episodes in a twelve part serial.
But what was it about The Killing that kept me on the edge of my seat week after week? It was the depth of characterisation you’re able to get when a single case lasts twenty episodes. In Sarah Lund, we have a really interesting police inspector, who, as the case unwinds, becomes obsessed almost to the point of madness. Her pairing with Meyer is delightful, with Meyer only ever just about putting up with the person he’s actually supposed to be replacing.
The oily machinations of Danish politics are believable, with everyone being essentially untrustworthy to a greater or lesser extent.
And most of all, the utterly convincing characterisation of the victim’s family. At first, I was a little disappointed that we kept cutting back to the grief stricken parents of Nanna (the victim). But they all became incredibly real people, and were beautifully portrayed.
Overall the series was terrifically put together, with a care and pacing that’s not really achievable in a standard police procedural (Irrelevant side note: In Holborn yesterday, they were filming an episode of Law & Order: UK. Either that’s for the next series, or ITV is really working on tight production deadlines for its dramas these days). Even Morse’s relatively leisurely two-hour episodes, feel rushed and unbelievable by comparison. We’re more used to the characterisation coming from watching multiple stories rather than a single event. The only remotely similar series I can think of is perhaps Five Days, in which we dip and out of an ongoing case in a still short five episodes.
In format, the real comparison that needs to be made is with 24. While the real-time aspect is only partially similar – each epsiode of The Killing being roughly over twenty-four hours – The Killing maintains the same brooding cutaways of characters, and usually manages to find a plot twist at the end of each episode to make us groan as we realise we have to wait another week.
But it also reminds me a little of the first series of Steven Bochco’s Murder One, where over twenty-three episodes, a single murder case was examined, with the requisite reveals and red herrings along the way.
Some have been disappointed that there are perhaps plot holes and things that don’t make sense. There’s a great list of them over here on Marie’s site (warning – plot spoilers ahoy). But I’m not sure that this matters. There are always loose ends in real cases. And I don’t necessarily want everything neatly tidied up.
Anyway, if you’ve not seen it, I suggest you get yourself your DVDs as fast as your fingers can click the Amazon link above. While the US version will undoubtedly be good – and in Michelle Forbes, they have cast one of my favourite actresses – in the end a remake is unnecessary. Roll on series 2, for which we got a bit of a trailer at the end of the series 1 credits!

On a related note, thank goodness that we have a channel in BBC Four that shows non-English language European dramas on TV. It seems an incredible shame that we don’t get to see more of it. Aside from BBC Four’s sterling work in this arena, no other channel at all shows any television drama from Europe. I simply don’t believe it’s all dreadful – and while we’re undoubtedly getting the creme de la creme in the series mentioned above, there’s undoubtedly more where that comes from.
The BBC is essentially under instructions to buy less imported drama, yet that absolutely should not include non-English language drama.
What is clear is that if you want to watch programmes like The Killing or Spiral, you can’t do it idly. With the whole “dual screen” approach whereby we can graze on our laptops or tablets, perhaps commenting on Twitter or Facebook during a live programme, we’re just not concentrating properly. You can’t pay attention to demanding drama and be sending an email at the same time. Well that’s certainly the case for something that’s in a language you don’t speak. You have to read those subtitles. But that’s no bad thing.
Anyway, I’d like to see a little more experimentation of channels in broadening out what they acquire (and that doesn’t mean Sky simply outbidding the BBC for series 3 of The Killing – which isn’t due until 2012 in Denmark anyway).