Murder in mind: the popular US adaptation of a Swedish drama The Killing
Some say there's no joy in murder, but The Killing gives such a buzz that watching it is fast becoming a "vice" for millions around the globe who love a crackerjack whodunit.
"Lots of homicide shows, cop shows, it's really procedural. It's the events that lead it," says Mireille Enos, who plays the Seattle Police Department detective Sarah Linden in The Killing. "It's the characters in our lives that lead the story. Every episode spans one day, so the audience gets to live with these people for a really long time".
In only her first star turn, Enos has already been recognised by a 2011 Emmy nomination for outstanding lead actress in a drama series.
"The premise of the show is a young girl, Rosie, is killed and over the course of 13 days we see the investigation proceed," says the executive producer Veena Sud. "What we're trying to do with this show is take the genre and turn it on its head."
Since its April premiere on AMC with 2.7 million US viewers, The Killing has generated rave reviews. "You will be angry every time an episode ends," said The New York Post, while Vanity Fair opined: "I kept watching … and watching …. The Killing is the best show on television."
Having achieved the second-highest premiere-season ratings for an original drama in AMC history, it's already been renewed for a second season. It launched on OSN on November 5.
Enos has certainly paid her dues. Having trod the New York boards for much of her stage career, she first popped on to the TV radar for her role as the Marquart twins on the HBO drama series Big Love. Now, at 36, thanks to The Killing, she's even been tapped to play Brad Pitt's wife in the much-anticipated zombie flick, World War Z.
Her castmates include Billy Campbell (Once and Again) as the Seattle mayoral candidate Darren Richmond; Joel Kinnaman (Snabba Cash) as the ex-narcotics officer Stephen Holder who joins the hunt for Rosie's killer; Michelle Forbes (True Blood) as Mitch, Rosie's mother and Brent Sexton (In the Valley of Elah) as Stan, Rosie's father.
"This is all about the secrets we have. The cops have secrets. The family has secrets. A marriage has secrets. Politicians have secrets," says Sud. "It's about how worlds collide. How there's very little separation in a city. How everything kind of comes together around this murder investigation."
"It just takes you into these different places of society which you totally believe," says Kinnaman, "and at the same time there's this murder mystery which is just like the heart throbbing."
Although the series is set in Seattle, it's shot in Vancouver — where Enos now lives with her actor husband Alan Ruck (Ferris Bueller's Day Off) and their one-year-old daughter, Vesper. Beyond the urban sprawl, the Pacific north-west offers oodles of rainy atmospheric bleakness, overcast skies and greyness that complement the dark, brooding scripts.
"In two words the visual style of the show is 'sad elegance'," says Peter Wunstorf, the director of photography. "We're de-saturating the image in post. We're going for a sombre, muted look."
The Killing is based on the Bafta award-winning Danish series Forbrydelsen, which premiered in 2007 across Scandinavia and remains in production. Both series have gathered a loyal following.
While the Danes were once best known for Hans Christian Andersen stories, The Killing changed all that with its cold-blooded crime drama.
"Suddenly a subtitled Scandinavian TV series became the most talked-about cop show in the world," Jenny Eden wrote in Scotland's Sunday Mail. "It won critical acclaim and quickly became a cult classic — word of mouth doing what conventional advertising campaigns could only dream of."
Says Enos: "In Denmark the streets used to empty on the nights it was on. It had such an incredible following. But I think stories like this work around the world because people have a real desire to know the truth. We slow down to look at an accident, not out of morbid fascination, but because we have a need to know what is happening.
"I think people are hungry for a series that slows down and allows you to invest in the people affected by what happens," she adds. "This is the story of what happens after death — the agonising way that life has to move forward for the people involved."
One television pundit, Jon Kelly of BBC News Magazine, watched The Killing and asked: is slow TV taking over the airwaves?
The gradual, deliberate pacing of The Killing flies in the face of the MTV generation habituated to blaring music, machine-gun jump-cuts, car chases, explosions and wild plot twists – remember Miami Vice in its heyday?
One suspects the appeal of The Killing may well lie in the fact that viewers are given unhurried time, and ample opportunity, to try to figure out the crime for themselves. For many, ultimately, this is more satisfying than being spoon-fed Hollywood denouement at the end of the hour, with all the loose ends neatly tied up into a there-you-have-it bow.
As one fan gushes on the AMC website: "It is a constant puzzle! Just when I think I have it pretty much figured out, something happens that just changes everything!!! LOVE IT!"
The Killing is broadcast on Mondays and Tuesdays on OSN First HD, OSN First and OSN First +2
Updated: November 24, 2011 04:00 AM