New AMC Drama Series “The Killing” is a TCA Stand-Out

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Cover image for  article: New AMC Drama Series “The Killing” is a TCA Stand-Out

Ed Martin Live from TCA - "Special from Jack Myers Media Business Report"

One of the great pleasures of attending the bi-annual Television Critics Association tours is the opportunity to identify truly extraordinary upcoming programs amid the hundreds that are previewed and promoted throughout these gatherings.

There have been many such seeming standouts presented during the cable and PBS days of the current tour, including (to list just a few) Starz’ upcoming Camelot (starring Joseph Finnes) and Torchwood: Miracle Day (the fourth season of this spin-off from the BBC’s Doctor Who but its first on Starz); HBO’s Cinema Verite (a scripted movie about the making and impact of the seminal 1973 PBS documentary series An American Family, featuring Diane Lane and Tim Robbins as Pat and Bill Loud, the first true stars of reality television); and a three-installment continuation of the classic PBS period drama Upstairs, Downstairs, once again centering on Jean Marsh’s unforgettable character, maid/housekeeper Rose Buck.

But the most exciting new show previewed here by far has been AMC’s mystery The Killing, set to debut in April. Based on a hit Danish series titled Forbrydelsen, it will in its first thirteen-episode season explore the circumstances surrounding the murder of a young girl named Rosie Larsen and the police investigation that follows.

Each episode of The Killing will chronicle one day in the investigation. The full story arcs may span more than one season. “At this point we’re going to organically follow the story, and whether or not it gets solved at the end of the season is a mystery,” executive producer Veena Sud told critics. (Sud is a veteran of the CBS detective series Cold Case, which stood out from that network’s stable of crime dramas because of the emotional richness of its storytelling.)

I haven’t seen the full pilot for this show, but as I watched copious clips from it I was immediately pulled in, as much by the soulful performance of series lead Mireille Enos as Sarah Linden, the lead detective on the case, as from the obvious intelligent storytelling and artistic quality of the production itself. Set in Seattle, and built around the ongoing question of Who Killed Rosie Larsen?, the show immediately evokes the emotional connections established by the cult classic Twin Peaks, which was also set in the Pacific Northwest and revolved around the increasingly mysterious circumstances surrounding the murder of a young girl. (The ongoing question in Twin Peaks was Who Killed Laura Palmer?) Of course, Twin Peaks was initially distinguished by its ever-more baffling supernatural elements, which eventually resulted in its own self-destruction. The Killing looks to be pure, realistic human drama, if perhaps somewhat more intense than the Danish series on which it is based.

Asked if there is a difference between Scandinavian sensibility and American sensibility as far as storytelling is concerned, and whether or not there were cultural concerns in making the overall story more accessible to Americans, Sud replied, “I don’t know if it was a cultural difference, but as far as the storytelling challenge, we live in a society that is incredibly violent, much more violent than Denmark. A missing teenager in a major American city never makes the news. So the biggest challenge was to make us as Americans care about this young girl over a very long course of time. I don’t know if it was a cultural sensibility, but it was more kind of a societal difference between us and Denmark.”

I feel very comfortable stating that something entirely unexpected will have to happen for The Killing to not become the television sensation of the spring. Watching the mesmerizing Mireille Enos in those clips I had the same feeling I had when I saw the first footage of Bryan Cranston in the same network’s Breaking Bad: The Emmy isn’t good enough. This is an Oscar-caliber performance. (Cranston has since won three consecutive Emmys for his work in that series.) The great AMC dramas are very much top of mind with voting members of the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, so it wouldn’t surprise me at all if the network lands the top awards in the drama category later this year: Mad Men (coming off its best season yet) for Outstanding Drama Series; Jon Hamm of Mad Men for Outstanding Performance by an Actor in a Drama Series, and Mireille Enos for Outstanding Performance by an Actress in a Drama Series (if Kyra Sedgwick doesn’t repeat for The Closer). While I’m on the subject, there was obvious Emmy enthusiasm for eleven year old Kiernan Shipka, who plays troubled tyke Sally Draper on Mad Men, when she appeared Friday at TCA to promote her work as a young girl seeking a great guy for her mother in the upcoming Hallmark Movie Channel production Smooch.

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