For some viewers, particularly parents, AMC's "The Killing" may be too much to take. A cross between "Twin Peaks" and "Murder One," the show promos ask, "Who killed Rosie Larsen?" Detectives delve into the Seattle teen's mysterious death, bringing "The Killing" to life.
American TV viewers consume murders without hesitation in weekly procedural crime dramas like the "CSI" and "Law & Order" franchises. But even on the rare occasions when those shows tell stories involving a child's death, they're almost never as raw, palpable and grim as "The Killing," an engrossing, well-made drama series that viewers should embrace despite its tough subject matter.
Tonight's two-hour premiere (7 p.m.) opens with the juxtaposition of Rosie (Katie Findlay) frantically chased through the woods and homicide detective Sarah Linden (Mireille Enos, "Big Love") on a morning jog her last day on the job before moving to Sonoma, Calif., to marry her fiance (Callum Keith Rennie). But those plans get derailed when she's called to a park to investigate a potential murder after a girl's bloodied sweater turns up.
Sarah is paired with Stephen Holder (Joel Kinnaman), a former narcotics detective who seems like a stoner. They're an odd pairing: She's quiet and steely, forever squinting into the distance as she processes a crime scene; he's loud, a bit of a creepy close-talker and sometimes asks questions that seem overly blunt and inappropriate.
The tone of dread and foreboding in the first episode makes "The Killing" a viewing experience that is more intense than usual. Given the show's title, you know going in that this isn't a lighthearted show, but it's difficult to watch the upset and frustration of Rosie's parents, who go from thinking she's merely out with friends to a far more awful outcome.
Michelle Forbes ("True Blood") play's Rosie's mother, Mitch, and in typical Forbesian fashion, her emotions are quicker to surface than those of the more serene Sarah Linden.
As Sarah, Enos creates an at-times-inscrutable character pulsing with empathy. "You know I'm not one for words," Sarah says. It's true, she opens her mouth sparingly -- more often to pop in a piece of gum than to say anything -- but Enos capably gives life to Sarah's innermost feelings, allowing them to roam freely across her face.
What saves "The Killing" from total downerdom are its multiple stories. That's obvious from the get-go in tonight's first hour (the pilot) and it continues in the second hour. Although the focus is on the murder investigation, "The Killing" also shifts to show how Rosie's family is coping and then shifts again to the mayoral campaign of Seattle city councilman Darren Richmond (Billy Campbell), who may or may not be connected to Rosie's murder.
This political story is as much a mystery as Rosie's murder because of Richmond's background -- we first glimpse him in a cemetery -- and because of leaks from his campaign, which may have come from one of his top two staffers, one of whom he's sleeping with.
"The Killing" brings to mind "Twin Peaks" because of its foggy Pacific Northwest locale and because it's the murder of a teenager, but "The Killing" lacks the 1990-91 series' dark humor. "The Killing" also conjures "Murder One," the 1995-97 Steven Bochco-produced series, because in its first season "Murder One" also followed a single case that explored the notion of power (in Hollywood, not politics) and its role in a crime.
"The Killing" makes good use of its soggy Seattle setting, which casts an appropriate pall over the proceedings.
Based on the Danish television series "Forbrydelsen," "The Killing" was developed for American television by writer Veena Sud ("Cold Case"), who wrote the first two hours. She and pilot director Patty Jenkins ("Monster") set the show on a slow but purposeful pace that helps build suspense and keeps viewers slightly ill at ease. That's not always comfortable, but it is compelling television.