February 20, 2011
PLEASE, DON'T MESS IT UP...:
Denmark’s answer to The Wire: A recipient of whispered and tweeted praise, marvellous new cop drama The Killing deserves to be more than cult viewing. (David Bowden, 2/18/11, spiked)
[A] shabby and clinically depressed Swedish detective made it on to Sunday night primetime in the shape of an unshaven Kenneth Branagh’s Wallander, which was seamlessly supplanted by the stylish, Italian-set Zen in the past few weeks. There’s evidently a bit of a trend for foreign detectives at the minute and, particularly in publishing, the more Scandinavian the better.
Even so, The Killing hardly looked like an obvious addition to this fashionable set. Unlike BBC1’s Wallander, it’s the original version with subtitles, which is a not-inconsiderable concentration test for our cult-hungry, cosmopolitan sophisticates. Furthermore, its pace is glacial: the first series is not yet even halfway through its 20-hour run, and so far we’ve only just about established that someone has been killed. And it’s set in Copenhagen. Forget Cyril Connelly’s line about the pram in the hallway being the enemy of good art: social democracy and zero-carbon energy provision don’t sound like a promising backdrop for bleak crime drama.
Yet, for all that, The Killing effortlessly achieves the skill of great drama: packing a lot in while seeming to do very little. While The Wire spent several series slowly building its way through the intertwining networks of police, civic institutions, politics and the media to build its Dickensian portrait of American society in decline, The Killing throws you right into it. In fact, while the comparisons to that critical darling have already become something of a cliché, The Killing resembles something closer to Paul Abbott’s 2003 political thriller State of Play on a grander scale, or what the similarly slow-burning US legal drama Damages could have been if it had left its environmentalist, anti-corporate prejudices at the door.
In fact, lest anyone get carried away with the slightly snooty Europhilia (ie, they wouldn’t make this in the US or the UK), which has thus far underpinned some of its rave reviews, The Killing‘s series-long focus on a single investigation of a crime pulling back to reveal the inner workings of society was pioneered on Steven Bochco’s marvellously underrated courtroom drama Murder One back in the mid-1990s. The Killing’s brilliance is that, given an unusual amount of room to breathe and to develop its story, it is able to incorporate all of the best storytelling techniques which would normally serve as individual USPs for other dramas: strong female detective (Prime Suspect), competing attitudes towards policing styles (The Shield), the impact on victims’ families (Murder), psychological realism (Cracker) and the political-social issues behind it all (everyone good, from Dashiell Hammett and Georges Simenon onwards). It may be the new The Wire, but only because all great crime genres feed off the same rich tradition.
Of course, I am in the unusual position of reviewing something before it’s even close to over, so the whole thing may turn out to be a crushing bore or disappointment by the end of next week. But don’t put off watching it because it looks difficult and bleak; and don’t watch it because it’s foreign and bleak and therefore so European. Just watch it.
Nor should one leave out a comparison to Canada's lamentably unknown DaVinci's Inquest.
Posted by Orrin Judd at February 20, 2011 8:26 AM
-The Killing: BBC4's new Scandinavian import: It's Prime Suspect meets State Of Play via Wallander and every bit as good as that sounds. Meet Inspector Sarah Lund, star of Danish cult hit Forbrydelsen (The Killing) (Michael Hogan Friday 21 January 2011, The Guardian)