The Killing V The Killing

The world doesn’t usually come in choices of Black or White.  I’m thankful for that because it’s the Grey parts that are by far the more interesting.

I want to say a few things about the Danish TV Series ‘Forbrydelsen’ or, as it’s better known, ‘The Killing’.  In particular, I want to compare and contrast it to the US TV Series which was a direct remake of the original.  In doing this, I’m not setting out to deliberately present any spoilers – I always try very hard not to do that.  
However, it’s hard to have this little chat without dancing pretty close to giving away some titbit that might annoy a viewer-to-be.  So if you think you might enjoy these series some fine day, you might best leave the rest of this post alone.

My initial ‘Shades of Grey’ comment is very relevant here because rarely has the general opinion on a TV Series been galvanised into such clear Blacks and Whites.  For those of us who have engaged with both the Original and the US series in some respect, the view seems crystal clear.

And the general view goes like this;

“The original Danish series is one of the best things we have ever seen on TV and the US remake is nothing more than a risible, lazy, boring, insult to the original.”

That’s the view.  Black and White… But perhaps I am in an unusual position in that I have watched both series with equal interest and attention and I have to say that this is not my view.  My view is firmly in the Grey.

I have to say that my basic view doesn’t really deviate all that far from that rather forceful ‘Wisdom of the Crowd’.  You see, the Original Series was quite wonderful and I was completely enveloped in it and very satisfied with it.  As a result, the US Version, with new actors in familiar roles and with the slightly askew world of modern-day Copenhagen shed in favour of the more televisually-familiar Seattle setting, was always going to be a challenge and difficult not to view as an insult.

Via the Internet, I know of so many people who adored the original.  Without putting people in little boxes, their reaction to the arrival of the US Version on Channel 4 was quite uniform. 

“A pointless remake for people who cannot read subtitles.”

“’Watched Episode One, it was unbelievably boring.”

“Her woolly jumper isn’t right.”

I would have been the same, I reckon.  I loved the original too much to go back around all over again with the remake.  Except I am a writer and the prospect of seeing the same material done with a different eye was too tempting for me to pass up on.  For that reason, I approached the remake positively and with some anticipation.  I watched the entire Series One remake keenly, as I watched the entire Original Series.

Shades of Grey…

So here’s what I think (deep breath)

The US version of ‘The Killing’ is a very good TV series indeed.

and (deep breath No. 2)

‘Forbrydelsen’ is, by no means, a perfect one.

The key thing with the US Version is that it has been made with great integrity and care and this shows throughout.  This is no lazy ‘cash-in’ remake, this is a thoughtful attempt to transcribe a very good story to a more familiar setting.  Yes, the story and characters are the same as before but not exclusively.  Where something hasn’t worked for the writers, they have not been afraid to cut and add as they needed to.

One of the toughest asks was always going to be the female lead.  Sofie Gråbøl, who played Sarah Lund, in the Original, was simply extraordinary.  Mireille Enos, who reprises the role, (renamed as Sarah Linden), therefore had a virtual mountain to climb with us returning viewers.  She wasn’t helped either by a tendency to portray her, at times, as a sort of Clarence Starling type – jogging through the woods in that rather iconic way.  She also does a recurring ‘slapped child’ sort of look which seems a bit monotone upon occasion.  Nobody can beat Lund. 

But, wait.  As the series progresses, you can grow into Sarah Linden.  The last-but-two episode takes time out of the investigation for a tense and revealing episode unlike anything that happened in the Original.  I thought it was exceptionally good.  If you’ve seen the Original and want a good taste of the US Version, have a look at episode 11, then come and tell me it’s not good.

Okay then. I’ve dug myself a hole, let’s dig that little bit deeper.

The Original, for me, was not nearly as perfect as people seem to want to make it out to be.  There is this ‘Pack-Idolisation’ of it which is certainly ‘Nice’ and ‘Fun to be a Part Of’ but let’s keep our critical faculties intact too, eh?

The Politics of ‘Forbrydelsen’ often seemed, to me at least, to be obvious and grindingly slow.  There were times when I cringed inwardly that we were back in Troels’ bloody office talking campaign tactics yet again.  For me, the human stories were what made ‘Forbrydelsen’ superb.  The fall-out in that little family over The Killing was beautifully done… but that Politics… please… spare me.

The actual detective-work was sometimes lacking too.  Each suspect, in turn, was pounded upon like a tonne of Danish Bricks and the case quickly pronounced closed.  For all its perception as being an in-depth study of the consequences of crime, the series often came across to me as a gung-ho locked room whodunnit with credibility occasionally chucked aside in favour of yet another glorious twist in the tale.

The mother in ‘Forbrydelsen’ - Nanna Birk Larsen’s Mum, that is.  She was a very good actor, I reckon, but she wasn’t written all that very well.  Some of the things she was asked to do did not ring true for me at all and, as a result, she did not always convince me.  On the other hand, I felt her husband Theis Birk Larsen, as played by Bjarne Henriksen, was excellent.  Maybe I just naturally identify with the male side of the grief, I’m not sure, you tell me.

The much-celebrated revelation of the killer near the end of the original series was great fun but, again, it seemed a bit stagy and contrived to me.  Whispered hints etc…

You’ll all think I hated the original series now but, as I said, I really loved it.  I just find it constructive not to love anything – or indeed hate anything – in a purely Black and White fashion.  I do my best emoting in among the Greys.

The Emmys are on tonight and The Killing has quite a few nominations.  My favourite actor is Joel Kinnaman who plays Detective Stephen Holder, Sarah Linden’s sidekick.  He was wonderful.  I just read that the guy is actually Swedish, perhaps that’s why he fits the part so very well.

Finally I am going to really do a spoiler here so be warned.

Much of the word-or-mouth about the US Killing Finale has been poor.  It’s been branded as frustrating, unsatisfying and inconclusive.  
Well that’s because it really is. 

I didn’t know they were going to do this until the moment it happened but I feel it will help you to know it.  The end of Season One does not conclude the story, instead it finishes on a cliff-hanger with (I reckon) a good four episodes of the story still left to play out.

For what it’s worth, I think this was a bad mistake and a dreadful thing to do.  One of the great things about ‘Forbrydelsen’ was its completeness.  You were always secure in the knowledge that, however twisted the pathway became, the story would ultimately run its course and end.  To add this ‘Lost - Season Finale’ conclusion on the US Version did not sit will, with me or with many others.

‘Forbrydelsen’ is a great TV series and I recommend it to you, flaws and all.  But ‘The Killing’ (US) is no slouch either.  Perhaps it might be best to ensure that Series 2 of the US Version is permitted to be made thus completing the whole story before you start into it.

And Series 2 of ‘Forbrydelsen’ hits BBC4 shortly.

So that’s it.  Come, tell me what you think. 

Fight with me, if you must.

I won’t mind.

Well… I might.


Jamie said...

Interesting and thoughtful stuff, Ken. Having not seen the US Killing I can't really comment on this particular case.

However, I think sometimes the people who laud an original series or film (especially one in a foreign language), and I would include myself in these, often do it as a reaction against those who would refuse to ever watch the original due to the presence of subtitles. If we tell ourselves that the original was far better, then we get that certain (unpleasant) smugness that those who won't bother to read subtitles are somehow missing out on something great.

Unless that's just me of course - I was probably the same with Let Me In - it was not a bad film, but "I'd" seen the Swedish original and nothing from Hollywood could possibly touch a "work of art" from Europe. So, yeah, pure snobbishness in some ways, and maybe no better than those who refuse to read the words under the screen.

I may have had a point when I started writing this comment but I can't for the life of me remember what it was. If I convert the comment to Danish though, that'll make me look clever, innit ;)

Jim Murdoch said...

We decided not to watch the remake so I have no opinion. The original was good and I couldn’t see what they might improve enough to justify the amount of hours I would have to commit to watching it. Remakes are always dodgy. Take, for example, the very faithful remake of Let the Right One In that Jaime mentions. Had I seen the American version, Let Me In I would have been quiet impressed by it but having seen the original I’m not quite so convinced. I’m looking forward to seeing the new version of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy which is being directed by the same bloke who did Let the Right One In. Of course it has to stand up to the mighty BBC version and how can Oldman possibly better Alec Guinness’ ‘Smiley’ but then one had to wonder who could possibly do the Joker justice after the mighty Jack Nicholson took on the role and yet it was done. Unusually for me I’ve read all the Smiley novels, not just the ‘Karla’ trilogy but also Call for the Dead and A Murder of Quality, the first two appearances of the character and the later ones where he basically just cameos. Going back to The Killing I can’t say that Carrie and I were over impressed by it. It was good but I think we both preferred the Swedish Wallander. If you liked the Norwegian approach you should look out for Varg Veum. We’ve watched three of the films so far and he’s an interesting character.

Ken Armstrong said...

Jamie: Let's face it mate, people who refuse to read subtitles *are* *really* missing out. Have you done 'The Secret in their Eyes' yet, for instance? I believe you have... memory is failing me.

I'm going to go back to Let The Right One In when I can find it on BluRay. I saw it on Scifi channel first (with ads) next time I want to do it right. It's a top five movie for me.

Series two of The Killing (Danish) is only 10 episodes long, apparently.

Jim: I want to go, right now, and see Tinker Tailor... I am very excited about it. Like you, I've read all Smiley fiction and the Trilogy built to a great, earth-moving read for me many years ago.

hareinthemoon said...

I'm interested by what you say. i've watched both series, loved Forbrydelsen, want to love the US remake, but only liked it, rather than loved it.
The problem for me with the remake is that it omits so much of what I loved about Forbrydelsen. Unlike you, I thought Pernilla was superbly acted, and while Mitch is fine, I think she lacks some of the best most complicated emotions of the Danish series. I was fascinated by the Copenhagen politics and find the US alternative frankly boring. I loved Sarah's complicated relationship with her mother in Forbrydelsen - but in the US version her mother is replaced by a social worker that we never really get to know. And in Forbrydelsen Nanna was so central to everything - we were constantly reminded of her in pictures, video. I don't think Rosie gestures anywhere near enough in The Killng.
But most of all what I loved about Forbrydelsen was the pace and the landscape. The Killing feels rushed when compared with it's Danish counterpart, so much so hatbI was releved the cliffhanger ending because I thought it was all being wrapped up much to fast with far too many loose ends left hanging. And Seattle just seems too miserable all the time - does it really ever stop raining there? The landscape of Copenhagen often reflected the mood of the story, but the landscape of Seattle as portrayed in the US series is endlessly dark, dank and miserable.

Ken Armstrong said...

hareinthemoon: Thanks *so* much. This is kind of what I needed to hear - a reaffirmation of the good things about the Original.

I agree on nearly everything you say, not the Politics, although Troels was a much-more engaging figure than 'that American' guy'. :)

For me, the most-excellent part of the story (in both incarnations) was the slowly rising panic of the poor parents in episode one as they realised that something was terribly wrong. That convinced me. I thought episode 11 of the US version managed to recapture a little of that slow panic, except this time for Sarah, and empathy was further increased. I don't see American Sarah as nearly as dangerous as Danish Sarah. That was her strength; her unwillingness to use her looks and charm to forward her cause and her potential to always do more damage than good.

hareinthemoon said...

I'm a political scientist by training - taught Uni politics for some years - so that's probably why the politics intrigued me so much. And I agree that the thread that gripped at the start of the Danish series was the family,and that thread ran through the whole thing. I thought the US makers did nearly as well - I was very ambivalent about the first episode until we saw their grief and then I was hooked. But I don't think they kept us hooked to the family anywhere near as well. And the scenes that worked best for me in the US version were taken directly from the Danish series, so much so that the whole scenes were virtually identical. These were early in the story - episodes 1&2 of the US version I think.
I have to confess that I was a bit irritated by the US episode you mention - I just wanted the drama to move back to the real story. Can't really say why I disliked it except that it seemed like a diversion. But the one thing I think the US version did better is Sarah's sidekick. Didn't like him at first but I think he grew as a character and by the end I was finding him really interesting - I thought he was the best thing about that Sarah episode.

Ken Armstrong said...

Me too. I thought he was very convincing indeed. The furtive phone calls a high point.

hope said...

No fighting here. Never seen either. Simply didn't interest me.

But now I understand what all the grumbling was I kept reading about in the form of, "What?! They can't do that!"

Hollywood hasn't gotten a creative bone left in it's body. Now they're looking to recycle bad t.v. series from my youth as movies. Sigh.

Ken Armstrong said...

This is good, though, Hope. If you see it getting a little repeat, give the first episode a look, it's something different.

Pierre H. Renevey said...

I am watching both at this time and I am at the middle of both. Until now, I love both!! The atmosphere is maybe a bit darker in the Danish version but the emotion of the discovery of the body of the young girl and the pain of the parents is much more intense in the US version in my opinion.

Anonymous said...

I am a late comer to this, having just finished the first season of the remake. I've never seen the original series, and I am wondering if I should scratch the remake and switch to watching the original because I became really disappointed with the remake about 2/3 through the first season. The second season of the remake is even worse. The first season at least had intelligent characters and intelligent dialogue. The second season just plays like a badly written day time soap opera. Everything is melodramatic. Miscommunication and incompetence delays the investigation, rather than an intricate cover up. Should I watch the original instead?

Ken Armstrong said...

Hi 'Anon' I think there is little doubt that the original is the best. It is certainly the one that will live in my memory. Yes, if you have the opportunity, I would seek out the original and see what you think.