Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Forbrydelsen & The Killing: the same side of two coins

In conclusion, the original is better than the remake. Glad I got that enormous surprise out of the way.

Forbrydelsen is a Danish crime drama about the murder of a teenage girl and the ripple effect of the crime. It came out a few years ago. The Killing is the American remake. I promise not to spoil either of them (so if you comment, please don't give any spoilers yourself!).

I think the only way I can emphasise how brilliant Forbrydelsen is is by telling you that it is better than the world's favourite beacon of untouchable talent: The Wire. Forbrydelsen is better than The Wire.

At first, the American remake, The Killing, just seems like nothing but a very good tribute to Forbrydelsen. The story and characters are the same, even the music is the same, and some of the scenes mirror those in Forbrydelsen, almost shot-for-shot. For instance, the lead detective staring curiously into the forest as she suspects something everyone else has missed. And the father of the victim sobbing wretchedly in the garage toilets to spare his wife the sight. Brilliant scenes written for Forbrydelsen, and (there's no other way to put it) copied in The Killing.

But after laying the foundations with tried-and-tested scenes from Forbrydelsen, The Killing does show confidence in itself and makes its own decisions as the serial progresses.

At the centre of every good detective story is a great detective, and Forbrydelsen has two. Lund and Meyer, who get on like a house with regularly-tested fire alarms.

Lund (left), played by Sofie Gråbøl, is Forbrydelsen's lead. In The Killing she's Linden (right), played by Mireille Enos.

The main difference between Forbrydelsen's Lund and The Killing's Linden is that Lund is doomed. Linden is not. The curse of Lund is that she's devoted to her job too much, and will let herself lose everything as long as she can keep solving puzzles. She consistently shows a borderline autistic failure to communicate, and when a loved one is pouring their heart out to her she'll tell them to shut up, because she's trying to concentrate on the case. Don't they know how important this case is?!

The American Linden, on the other hand, is much more empathetic, and puts serious value on her own life. She's a captive of her job, whereas Lund is a captive of herself. That said, The Killing has so far aired 13 episodes compared to Forbrydelsen's 20 episodes, so maybe Linden's wholeness means she has further to fall.

Lund/Linden has a reluctant partnership with a more aggressive detective. Forbrydelsen's Meyer (left) , played by Søren Malling; The Killing's Holder (right), played by Joel Kinnaman (the lovechild of Ioan Gruffudd and Mackenzie Crook).

The Killing's Holder is a far leap from Forbrydelsen's Meyer, to the point at which it's mildly insulting. Meyer is a bloody good character; why not whip up a tribute act for him? He's the only one who's been left behind and not ripped off. It's demeaning to the character.

Meyer's job is mainly to eat crisps in Lund's car while trying (and failing) to keep her grounded. They clash and hinder one another so much that the consequences are catastrophic, but at times there's a flickering camaraderie between them, and these moments help make the show brilliant. Meyer also injects some essential humour into the show with his almost comically unexpected extra dimensions.

To be fair, the American Holder does inherit this somewhat. Whilst crude Meyer insists upon giving out stellar parenting advice, equally-crude Holder spouts knowledge about butterfly migration.

But Holder is from the vice unit, and only looks complete when he's got a joint between his teeth, and every three seconds sprouts lines like “if you don't tell, homie, your puffy white ass is gonna be in for a long time. Know what I'm sayin'?” Doesn't really work, though. Homies are as likely to put their puffy white asses in Holder's custody as in Meyer's. His easy aggression is one of the reasons why Lund/Linden doesn't like working with Meyer/Holder.

That said, whilst Lund and Meyer have the most platonic male-female relationship since Tinky Winky and Po, it looks to me like Holder is madly in love with Linden. Either that or he feels overwhelmingly sorry for her, even though, to borrow a phrase, he's got his own shit to deal with. A part of me hopes that the writers will go down an unexpected route with them, just to stray from the path already trodden well by Forbrydelsen.

It does do that occasionally, however, with a couple of plotlines that are barely even eluded to in Forbrydelsen. They are my favourite parts in The Killing, simply because I didn't know what was going to happen. But The Killing does try to go for bigger drama, and it's fun, but flattening the subtlety kicks off a few intelligence points.

For instance, The Killing bravely has a character punching a mirror, one of the most unsubtle symbols in storytelling. There's also a muttered whisper of “el diablo” and the insistence that “no. No flowers. Flowers die”. And even though it's clear that the politician character thinks something is wrong and won't have any part in it, he exclaims "it's wrong and I won't have any part in it!"

The parents of the victim in The Killing could have also benefited from more of Forbrydelsen's subtlety.

Michelle Forbes (right) plays a mother who has lost her daughter. But Ann Eleonora Jørgensen (left) plays a mother who has lost her daughter and consequently barely knows how to continue existing.

Bjarne Henriksen (left) and Brent Sexton (right) play the victim's galumphing father in Forbrydelsen and The Killing respectively, but in Forbrydelsen he is softly-spoken and has a mysterious background solidified in The Killing. If series one of Forbrydelsen is anyone's story, it's Theis's, and for that reason the finale of Forbrydelsen is one of the best in TV history. If it goes the same way in The Killing, I think the louder, slightly boring character of Stan will make it less effective.

Its political story also suffers. Forbrydelsen (and subsequently The Killing) has a big political element, led by Copenhagen mayoral candidate Troels Hartmann, who struggles with his scruples. The Killing's Darren Richmond has nowhere near as much allure as a character. Also, for some reason, Danish politics are much more interesting.

But The Killing IS interesting in its own right, and effective, and really really good, and will be more so if it travels further off the trodden path. The two run side by side, Forbrydelsen darker and cleverer, The Killing bigger and brighter.

Series two of Forbrydelsen will be shown on BBC4, with a third series already in production, and The Killing has been picked up for a second season. Knowing American TV shows, it'll be recommissioned forever and ever – which is a good thing.

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