The official poster for “The Killing” is a black and white image of a teenage girl, embossed with blood-red letters that ask “Who Killed Rosie Larsen?” It’s the kind of thing you’d see outside a shopping mall theatre in mid-October – creepy in the most generic way possible, almost to the point where ‘creepy’ is just a product you buy off the shelf every now and then when you’re feeling adventurous. And that’s unfortunate, because “The Killing” isn’t really what you’d call generic at all. It’s darker than that, more intense, and much more subtle than a poster with blood-font might suggest. What that poster represents, however, is what this show could become. “The Killing” has the makings of something new and intriguing, but there’s a lingering sense that the whole production could get real damn cheesy real damn fast.
If that does happen, it won’t be on account of the show’s two protagonists. Sara Linden and Steven Holder, detectives assigned to investigate the murder of loca high school student Rosie Larsen, are one of the more satisfying cop duos to emerge from television in recent years. They’re flawed and reserved. They communicate with one another in short, terse phrases, never mincing words or overstating emotions. When we meet them, they’re strangers working together for the first time, but we immediately see a tentative bond begin to form. Watching them converse, reason, deduce things, just feels right. You could chalk it up to good chemistry, but it’s also a sign that the writing behind these two has a distinct rhythm the audience will come to know and respect.
Unfortunately, the same can’t be said of the show’s other primary characters. The parents of the murdered girl, Stan and Mitch Larsen, come to mind. Important as they are, the roles are overacted and predictable. If detectives Linden and Holder represent something new and exciting, then the Larsens are like a couple of supporting characters on an episode of “CSI: Miami.” You want them to go away, but they keep coming back and crying or having a breakdown or some other ridiculous thing, which really gets in the way of the whole “solving the mystery” objective. They’re everything you thought you might avoid by watching a long-form murder mystery instead of a 30-minute crime procedural. Less screen time for both of them, or at least less over-dramatized screen time, would be a real plus for the show.
Same goes for the third branch of this murder mystery tree: The seemingly-innocent political candidate and his posse of fast-talking election insiders. Right off the bat, problems arise with this prong of the story. First, there’s no explanation as to why this character is getting any attention. The show is supposed to switch between the three main storylines with ease – police, parents, politician – giving the audience a few more clues to mull over in each scenario. The politician, however, seems completely out of place until an all-too-convenient plot twist throws him into the midst of the investigation. It’s like the writers pulled the tarp off too early, accidentally revealing that this guy is hiding something by involving him before he ever needed to be involved. Add to that the fact that he’s a composite of every Hollywood political stereotype in the book, and you’ve got yourself an all-around lame character with obvious motivations who really doesn’t bring much to the table on his own. Hopefully his storyline will be interesting enough to prop him up, otherwise he and his cronies are going to prove to be a real drag on the show.
That said, “The Killing” has a whole mess of potential which, if adapted correctly, could make it something unique and worth coming back to. Fortunately, the show’s two greatest strengths are its most important aspects: The mystery and the cops assigned to solve it. If the show sticks to its core elements, it could represent an exciting new take on the genre. However, if it tries too hard to be something we’ve seen before, something overly-emotional that relies on tears and the same tired character molds to keep people watching, then it’s bound to fall apart before it ever gets moving. Which would suck, because that poster really makes me want to know who killed Rosie Larsen.