‘The Killing’

Frank w. Ockenfels 3/AMC

AMC unveils a unique, absorbing and addictive serialized drama imported from Denmark.

It might be essential to the success of AMC’s newest drama, The Killing, to cut to the chase on this one point: The series is excellent, absorbing and addictive. When each episode ends, you long for the next — a hallmark of great dramas.

With that out of the way, give credit to AMC for being unafraid to greenlight a series that moves slowly, lacks a lot of flash and holds tight to the clues of a dark mystery. Translation: Apparently the channel doesn’t feel burned by the fact that Rubicon, another series in the same vein, failed to ignite with an impatient audience.

In fairness, Rubicon was probably the poster series for Slow TV. Killing’s pace is a bit more brisk. But put it next to the hyperpaced, action-packed, fast-talking American police procedurals, and it looks like Abe Vigoda in the 100-meter sprint.

Ah, but the hook it sets goes impressively deep. (And if viewers know they should exhale before watching, that’s half the battle.) Based on the phenomenally popular Danish series Forbrydelsen, which became a hit in Britain and is being reworked in other countries, Killing upends so many elements of American television that it immediately comes across as unique.

The premise is only simple in description: A teenage girl is murdered. Her death affects numerous people on numerous emotional levels.

After that, it’s all mystery and fallout — told with compelling patience.

Each episode of the Danish original took place over the course of a day, and there were 20 episodes/days in Season 1. Another successful season followed (10 episodes/days), and a third is planned for 2012. All of that means AMC has plenty of source material for executive producer Veena Sud (Cold Case), who has adapted the series for the channel. She also is writer and showrunner. Killing is scheduled for 13 episodes in Season 1.

There is certainly risk involved in AMC trying to pull off Killing on these shores, primarily based on our ADD viewing habits. Even if Killing lures savvy viewers — as it should — there’s also the notion of stiff competition in the drama arena, a competitive reality that has felled some acclaimed series before.

And yet the investment in Killing is time well spent. Set in Seattle (but shot in Vancouver), there’s a dark, damp, gray-sheen visual style to the series that, like a rainy day, slows everything down. AMC said there was an intentional “Nordic noir” feel to the location, and that’s as true as any description. As visually arresting as the greens and yellows in the yawning expanse of Breaking Bad’s Albuquerque, N.M., setting — only the opposite — Killing makes Seattle/Vancouver an essential character in the story.

The key decision in adapting the series for American television was not tampering with the quiet, stoic demeanor of the main character, Seattle homicide detective Sarah Linden (played with riveting austerity by Mireille Enos). Hewing to the original, Enos plays Sarah as uncommonly quiet, solidly professional and intuitive without being, like American crimefighters, some kind of savant. It’s not until you watch Enos play Sarah for a while that it sinks in: There hasn’t been a female American character like her, probably ever.

She’s not much for talking, as she tells her fiance (who is moving Sarah and her son down to Sonoma, Calif.; Sarah catches the murder case on her last day on the job). Sarah also does not dress provocatively. She’s barely emotional. She’s a long-distance runner. She’s short on niceties, mostly because she’s blunt (without being mean). What she is, essentially, is a man. Women are never portrayed this way on American television. Enos (best known as a dowdy polygamist on HBO’s Big Love, where she also managed to conceal her beauty) is something of a chameleon. She’s a redhead with a pale face, and as Sarah, she’s makeup-free, her face placid, her eyes wide. She does not blink when talking with suspects (or anyone, for that matter). Chewing nicotine gum while trying to kick the habit is her most expressive trait.

You can’t take your eyes off Enos, who gives Sarah a tough exterior but also a complicated emotionalism — she’s struggling as a mother, mostly because she works late hours. She hasn’t planned the wedding and, as the case moves from Day 1 to Day 2, she pushes back her flight to Northern California. Calls from her fiance, as the case moves to Day 3, reveal that he knows all too well that Sarah’s work comes first.

There are wonderful acting turns throughout the cast. Joel Kinnaman, like Enos, might have found a breakout role. The relatively unknown actor plays Stephen Holder, a former undercover narcotics cop promoted to take Sarah’s spot on homicide duty. It’s to Kinnaman’s immense credit that he makes Stephen seem sketchy and too cocky in his presentation as a street-savvy undercover cop who talks like the young teens he’s investigating. You don’t know what to make of him, nor does Sarah.

Billy Campbell (Once and Again) is Darren Richmond, Seattle’s City Council president running for mayor. Michelle Forbes (True Blood) and Brent Sexton (In the Valley of Elah) are exceptional as the parents of the murdered girl.

What Killing posits is that everybody has a secret or two — it’s just a matter of uncovering them. As a serialized drama, uncovering those secrets and connecting them to the murder will be, one would hope, the intellectually satisfying and dramatically magnetic pull at the core of the show.

Because if you’re looking for car chases, gunfights and something sexy, you’re in a foreign land with Killing.

Airdate 9-11 p.m. Sunday, April 3

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