Screen: A&E

Is Those Who Kill Worth Hunting Down?

Its leads, yes, but the jury's still out on the rest.

What Is This Thing?

Catherine Jensen is a Pittsburgh homicide detective. Likes: white wine, secret cutting, a leather jacket she borrowed from Claire Kincaid, and painting Hopperian portraits of legendary serial killers' nondescript homes. Dislikes: procedure, enclosed spaces, and her stepfather, whom she believes killed her older brother (and, it's implied, did not stop there).

Thomas Schaeffer is a forensic-psych consultant, who is basically Hannibal's Will Graham in "see the crime through the killer's eyes, to an emotionally dangerous degree" analytic style (and is also played by a weedy Brit) but has a wife and kid.

Jensen and Schaeffer team up to catch serial killer The Poor Man's Josh Charles in the Those Who Kill pilot, and will presumably work together on other cases, including that of Jensen's stepfather, who is played by the perfect guy for the "blandly hale exterior may disguise a seething, rotted core" job, Bruce Davison.

When Is It On?

Mondays at 10 PM on A&E. If you infer from the hour and the subject matter that the show can get pretty stern, you infer correctly.

Why Was It Made Now?

A&E bought the rights to the Danish version, Den Som Draeber, a couple years ago, probably reasoning that they couldn't go wrong with 1) a police procedural about 2) serial killers 3) based on a Scandinavian property and 4) starring Chloë Sevigny as Jensen. The original was only moderately successful in Denmark but was repackaged for enough other countries that it must have seemed like a solid bet.

Sevigny is also a TV-horror hot hand at the moment thanks to American Horror Story.

What's Its Pedigree?

Those Who Kill is produced by, among others, David Petrarca (Everwood and Eli Stone) and Glen Morgan (The Others, X-Files). It's a fitting c.v. -- for every entry that's impressive, there's a project that never met its potential -- because the show is that way too.

The credits cast includes Sevigny, James D'Arcy as Schaeffer, and James "No, Not That One" Morrison as the police captain, Bisgaard, played by Lars Mikkelsen in the original.

...And?

The show opens on Jensen in her vintage car (of course), smoking angrily (duh) and glaring at what we find out later is her mother and stepfather's house…which she then breaks into to watch them sleep. Sevigny is as good as she's always been at pulling together a character who is, on paper, a grab bag of network notes, production-design tics, and plot-dependent responses and synthesizing her into a coherent person whose contradictions feel organic. Here, she has a line delivery about white wine making her drunk that makes Jensen relatable, chases the messed-up with some funny.

D'Arcy hasn't done anything I liked much prior to Those Who Kill -- the last thing I saw him in was that Madonna misfire about Prince Edward and Wallis Simpson, W.E. -- but I like what he's doing here. He's a strange bird, but not dysfunctional and twitchy.

I also like the choice of Pittsburgh as the venue, although I hope the show draws it in as a character, versus using it as a kind of "any American city at roughly the same latitude as Copenhagen will do" stand-in. And the TWK pilot is pretty un-pilot-y -- keeps things moving, not too much clonky exposition or overuse of first names.

...But?

The acting is carrying what is a verrrrry tired premise, even for a procedural buff like me, and coming on the heels of the stylish Hannibal, Those Who Kill is a muzzy photocopy in a lot of ways. (And not all the acting is carrying it, either. The killer of the week appeared on The Following earlier this season and seems to have tried to imitate Sam Underwood's performance as Mark/Luke, without understanding what makes it good.) D'Arcy is good, but not quite good enough to sell a bullshitty-sounding premise about the victims sharing a desire to improve themselves, or asking Jensen if she feels residual fear in a room.

We'll no doubt hear more about Jensen's suspicions regarding her stepfather, but once you start wondering why she's only now pressing her case in that regard, you can't stop thinking how contrived it is. Interesting idea, but the writing's going to have to work really hard to make the timing credible, and based on what I've seen so far, trying really hard is what we can expect. Between "character" "beats" like Jensen self-harming and Schaeffer, like Will Graham, teaching a class on the serial mind which he narrates in the first person in a rather dreamy tone the "monstrous forests to explore" (uch), it's kind of in that Low Winter Sun zone -- not to the same extent, but it does seem to assume the audience has come to require a certain timber of darkness, and that's not what should drive a story.

...So?

I like Sevigny; I trust her ear. I didn't love the first episode, but I can grade on a curve of the creators feeling pressure from Hannibal and Bates Motel et al. to be An Important Show And Great right away. If it learns how to tell the detective part of the story and not just the detective's story, it could turn into something.

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