Monday, May 2, 2011

So You Can Make a Killing

Lesson learned: Fortune does not smile on female high school seniors living in a close-knit Washington community and involving themselves in sexual relationships with the shadier inhabitants, for you will end up a waterlogged corpse. (If you live in any other state, however, go to town.)

First off, I should admit that I’ll watch whatever AMC offers me in a manner similar to how certain women will do anything Oprah Winfrey tells them to. That being said, AMC delivers more often than not. And I’m enjoying the hell out of The Killing. I waited until this quiet, stay-at-home weekend to burn through the episodes aired so far, and it paid off enough that I’ll be perfectly happy to wait as the remaining ones trickle onto iTunes week by week.

You could easily compile a list of words and phrases that every review of The Killing had included. Among them: “slow-burning,” “atmospheric,” “chilling” and, in more words or less, “Twin Peaks-y minus the goofiness, demon owls and backwards talking.” And they’re right. It’s hard not to draw parallels between the two series, especially when the dead girl makes her first posthumous appearance in a handheld video, standing beside her high school bestie in happier times.

But for me, the comparison to be made here is between The Killing and every other crime procedural on the air now. See, watching the pilot to The Killing is damn near frustrating simply because it takes the investigating officers nearly the whole hour to discover Rosie Larsen’s dead body, even though the viewer watchers her final moments in the series’s first. Hell, even people not watching the show know that Rosie’s a goner, given the “Who killed Rosie Larsen?” promotional campaign making amateur detectives of anyone passing a bus or billboard in the metropolitan U.S. But now that the investigation has begun, the show has proven how much more satisfying it is to watch a gradually building, longterm mystery than it is to plunk for a CSI or any of the other crime procedurals and get from “Shit! A dead body!” to “J’accuse!” in the span of an hour. These shows offer an interchangeable team of quirky investigators who interact with whatever suspects-of-the week and root out the murderer, with the only real difference from episode to the next being the theme. (The one I’ll give a pass to is Bones, which mixes gore and humor in a way I don’t think any other network series can, and which actually allows its cast to act and experience character growth.) Here, the producers weren’t exaggerating when they said the meat of The Killing is how Rosie’s death has affected the lives of the show’s living characters. I’d watch Brent Sexton and Michelle Forbes tear into their roles even without the payoff of Rosie’s murder getting solved. And by the way: Can Michelle Forbes get some sort of award for being the go-to actress for cult TV series? Star Trek: The Next Generation, Homicide, 24, Battlestar Galactica, Lost, True Blood, now this. The lady rules.

The other giant plus that The Killing has going for it is its status as a miniseries and not a season-to-season show. Unless I’m mistaken, The Killing will reveal who killed Rosie Larsen by the thirteenth episode, which has already been filmed, which means that even if AMC decides to spit in the faces of critics and cancel this glowingly reviewed show, fans would still get to an ending. (AMC won’t do that; I’m just speaking hypothetically.) This is how TV should be made: in complete story arcs, BBC miniseries-style, and not in the way that can lead to resolution-less cliffhangers like the one that sent off Twin Peaks. (Yeah, I’ve looped back to Twin Peaks even after trying to pull the conversation in another direction. I wonder if this is how David Lynch feels.) Hopefully, the quality of The Killing won’t nosedive in the second half — you know, like what happened with Twin Peaks — and other networks will commit to one-shot series that each have a beginning and an end. You know, like how stories are meant to be told.

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