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When "Good" TV Goes Bad: Five (Out of Many) Flaws of 'The Killing'

Markham Lee

Deep into Season 2, the problems with AMC's The Killing are rich and varied in their depth and breadth... here are five.

The Killing

Airtime: Sundays, 8pm ET
Cast: Mireille Enos, Joel Kinnaman, Jamie Anne Allman, Brent Sexton, Liam James, Kristin Lehman, Billy Campbell
Network: AMC
Creator: Veena Sud
Air date: 2012-04-01

The hardest thing about watching AMC’s The Killing is that, despite of the show’s grand potential, it seems hell bent on destroying itself. Week after week you’re left with a constant string of “WTF” moments where you wonder if the writers are putting us on, haven’t watched prior episodes, or are trying to bring down the show on purpose.

In many respects you could argue that the way The Killing is managed (by prickly show runner and writer/producer Veena Sud) runs parallel to the self-destructive traits of the main character Detective Sarah Linden, a bizarro world instance of life imitating art imitating life. Still, I wonder if it’s really just a bad show and we just think it has potential because it airs on basic cable’s prestige network (AMC) and its “supposed to be good”, i.e. more artistic, stylistic, and dramatically risky than a network show.

Would the show be as frustrating to watch if it was just another cop procedural on one of the Big Three networks, or a medical drama on TNT? I say this because I recently watched an episode of CSI Miami , and I have to admit, it made The Killing almost look good.

In any case here is a list of five of The Killing’s primary problems (among many), from poor characterizations to typical ludicrous plot points, that make it hard to take the show seriously.

1. Seattle: The city a crime drama is set in often becomes a character unto itself—where would Law & Order be without NYC? The buildings, the atmosphere, the unique characters that are only found in NYC are all well represented, and I can watch episodes and think: “that guy reminds me of Mr. So and So.”

Going in, I figured they’d present the city as “Seattle Noir”, meaning that while there would be some atmospheric differences, I would still recognize the city I’ve called home for the past eight years. Instead, the city represented in The Killing doesn’t even remotely feel or look like Seattle, aside from a couple of aerial shots (and even some of those are actually Vancouver, B.C.), not to mention the utter lack of references to the local culture and locales.

However, this is more than just someone who lives in Seattle and has spent time in Vancouver picking up on lack of familiar landmarks--the show regularly goes out of its way to show urban landscapes that simply don’t exist in Seattle. It’s as if the producers assumed the cities were so identical that they didn’t need to do any research besides showing a shot of the Space Needle.

2. Holder: Ever hear of that Tumblr blog Texts from Bennett? When I read that blog I imagine someone who looks like Holder. I’m also reminded of the guys from my high school who went out of their way to try and make friends with me because they had watched too many rap videos and wanted a “black Friend who listened to rap music”. I find it hard to believe that any suspect would take Holder seriously as a cop, let alone his colleagues, especially considering the fact that he just seems downright sketchy (on top off already being a recovering crackhead). A perfect example of this is the horrifically creepy scene the first season where he smokes weed with two high school girls, and then puts his finger to one girl’s lips and tells her to keep the smoke in. I’m sure I’m not the only one who thought that Holder was either the killer, or had killed and raped someone else at that point.

But it’s more than just the creepiness -- some of his lines make his scenes embarrassing to watch. I would imagine that when Joel Kinnaman had to say “they’re gonna love your puffy white ass in jail” to Belko when they suspected he might be the killer, the scene took dozens of takes as everyone on set burst out laughing every time.

3. ”Blood in the Basement” (red herring): The reason I rarely watch cop procedurals is because you nearly always know who the killer is ten minutes in, with the only mystery being how or why they did it. However, using improbably red herrings to create fake, pointless plot twists is even worse. The time the detectives found bloody and handprints in the school basement, and were positive it was where Rosie was murdered is perfect crystallization of the endless parade of red herrings the producers love and the fans hate. We’re supposed to believe that a) a girl kept having sex despite bleeding that much from her nose; and b) that two homicide detectives mistook the blood from a nose bleed with the amount of blood from a brutal murder?

Oh wait, hang on a second, Rosie was drowned and didn’t suffer the kind of traumatic injuries that would generate that much blood. Meaning, of course, the whole “murder in the basement” scenario that took up more than half an episode made zero sense, and was just filler.

The sad part is that there are another dozen or so red herrings I could pick from that would be just as valid as this one, like Alexi the bitter foster kid who befriends the daughter of the man who he thinks killed his father stands out as being almost as egregious as the faux basement murder. The problem has gotten so bad that I don’t even take new suspects seriously anymore, and just assume the writers will throw a cop-out reason at us why the new suspect is not the killer.

4. Chemistry: Aside from Gwen and Richmond, do any of the characters have any chemistry that would allow you to believe they’re a couple, let alone sexually involved? All the couples on the show whether it’s Stan and Mitch; Linden and her fiancé; Bennet and Amber Ahmed; et al, seem distant, forced, and if they have zero interest in being around each other, let alone lovers.

In fact Gwen and Richmond seem as if they’re only barely interested in each other, but then again neither character does much as far as displaying emotion of the romantic let alone carnal variety. The producers have such a poor concept of writing and developing chemistry between characters that they thought that it was realistic for Stand and his sister-in-law Terry -- two characters that have never shown any sexual interest in other -- to hook-up, not realizing that they had just filmed the creepiest, and least romantic, consensual kiss in TV history.

5. Mitch: For most of the first season I felt Michelle Forbes delivered the flat out best performance on the show. It was one of those cases where it didn’t matter that the show was rapidly devolving into rubbish, she still delivered an Emmy-worthy performance. The writers (of course) had to ruin this by having Mitch just run away for no good reason and abandon her surviving children, as opposed to a more organic storyline where she blames Stan for not protecting Rosie, leaves him and takes the children with her.

Not content with ruining Michelle Forbes’ performance with the abandonment storyline, they then threw in the nonsensical storyline where she runs into a dark haired teenage prostitute who reminds her of her own daughter. The scenes between Mitch and Tina were so painfully hard to watch that I imagined both actresses rehearsing their lines and screaming at the writers, “why do you hate me, do you really want me to say this? WHY DO YOU HATE ME?!”

* * *

Unfortunately for The Killing, these are just a few of the show’s most glaring problems. I didn’t even get into the Native-American casino CEO gangster who thinks she can further her empire by phoning Linden while she’s beating the bejesus out of Holder; nor the character actors that either have erratic New York or Canadian accents; Stan’s attempted murder charges for kicking the crap out of Ahmed; or all of Rosie’s stuff being in the possession of the police and her family in season one and then Sterling suddenly bringing “the rest” from her locker in season two.

The key problem though, is even if the producers started to fix these things, the show would still have a ton of problems as there would still be all of the other malformed characters, plot lines and the pile-up of season one’s numerous red herrings. Veena Sud, though, is on record as dismissing audience concerns about the integrity of show, forging ahead with her ramshackle vision of a procedure-less procedural, a mystery in which the central mystery is why the show is even still on the air.

Nonetheless, I still think The Killing great potential, it would just require a Herculean writing job, along with a similarly Herculean act of general amnesia from the audience, to rescue it from the brink. Another alternative would be to let us in on the joke that the show is meant to be a satire of a serious, well written, cable style police drama, because as satire The Killing would be quite brilliant.

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