The Killing: Slow TV can be good – but not if it’s Midsomer Murders

Don’t ask me why I ended up watching Midsomer Murders last night. I managed about twenty minutes (to give Neil Dudgeon a fair chance) before I could bear it no longer and went off to read a book instead. But I was moved to put fingers to keyboard not by the race row that’s blown up around Midsomer’s Brian True-May, but by the startling contrast between Midsomer and my new favourite thing, The Killing.

Well, durr, you say, the two have nothing in common beyond both being crime fiction. But I’m looking beyond the subtitles, strong female lead, low body count (although it’s risen rapidly in the last few episodes). What strikes me is that both The Killing and Midsomer move at a pace so laid back they would have Jeremy Clarkson accusing them of being lentil-munching, sandal-wearing Grauniad readers, but one has all the tension of an episode of Cash in the Attic, while the other has been keeping me awake at night turning over countless theories as to whodunnit.

If you don’t know what The Killing is, I will attempt to condense 18 hours (yes, one story told in 20 hours, AMAZING, as Popjustice would say) without spoilering for those still catching up on iPlayer. Forbrydelsen (to give it its original Danish title, which actually means The Crime, fact fans) has followed the efforts of Faroe Isle jumper-wearing DI Sarah Lund as she tries to find the person responsible for raping and murdering teenager Nanna Birk-Larsen. It is set against (and within) the election campaign for mayor of Copenhagen and although it has plenty of dark warehouses for Lund to wander around in, there is no sexual tension with her partner DI Jan Meyer, car chases or sensationalism. Instead fans of The Killing are hooked on the small details that have emerged so tantalisingly over the past few weeks and wait with bated breath for the conclusion this weekend.

How can it be that two hours of subtitled Danish crime drama that reveals little of the detectives’ private lives and barely more of the unfolding story can zip past, while two hours in Midsomer drags by like some kind of cruel and unusual punishment?

You can’t blame the outrageous plots of Midsomer – Life on Mars wasn’t exactly realistic, but it was must-see in a way that  Midsomer has never been.

You can’t blame the actors. Midsomer had the glorious Samantha Bond last night, but even she couldn’t stop me turning off.

Perhaps it’s as simple as I just don’t care about the characters in Midsomer. You can’t blame the (relatively) short time-frame – it mattered to me whether Sam Tyler got the bad guys in LoM and he had half the time to do it in.

I know the argument is that Midsomer is for people who like Agatha Christie-esque murders against a pretty background, but Christie was good at what she did. She understood people. The psychology of the crime was spot-on and the plots made sense. If she was working today, she would have written something very like The Killing I bet. I also know that nothing I write here will stop fans of Midsomer loving it and ITV making it. The best we can hope for is that someone in British TV will be inspired by The Killing to make some brave, slow, intelligent drama that will be trending on Twitter every week. (Do people do water-coolers anymore? I’m not sure.)

Now, the bad news is that the first few episodes of The Killing are no longer on iPlayer (they only store 14 episodes of a series at a time), but the good news is that the DVD is out shortly, BBC4 has bought up The Killing II and will show it later in the year, AND the final (apparently) series of The Killing is in production as I type. So if you’re a Forbrydelsen newbie, stop up your ears to the climax on Saturday and pre-order the DVD from LoveFilm/Amazon etc right now. Or I’m sending you to the darkest naughty corner of the Danish warehouse that I can find… Takk!*

Posted by Jo the Hat

*That’s ‘thank you’ in Danish (and Norwegian for that matter).

6 Comments

Filed under Detective/police drama

6 responses to “The Killing: Slow TV can be good – but not if it’s Midsomer Murders

  1. James

    It was a steaming pile of shite. Such a shame because Midsomer Murders can be very good indeed when they get the right writers on board. Im not joking (though those who only saw last nights will not believe me). Try some of the earlier episodes.

    The Killing: the most astonishingly brilliant television series of all time. Fact.

    • I did quite enjoy it when it was brand new – all those deliciously innovative ways of offing people – but haven’t managed to watch more than half of hour of any episode for last few years.

  2. Peat

    I haven’t seen it but based on this I will track it down!

  3. Corumba Love

    I say Jo, you’re a bit of an expert on this sort of thing: should I be aware of any connection between Brian True-May and Brian ‘Queen’ May?

    I mean it seems clear that they’re both authorities on wielding an axe (BT-M & a bit-part in the library or woodshed; B’Q’M on stage with one of his trusty solos). Also there appears to be no room for coloured chaps in Queen (who will rock you, by the way) now that the racially exotic Freddie Mercury has passed on. Hmmm, that’s curious now that I think of it.

    Report back to me, would you?

    ps Came late to The Killing and cursed that I’d missed the first episode or two on iPlayer.

    • I missed the first episode too. It says a lot for the show that it still got us hooked, non?

      I am trying to remove images of Brian May slaughtering the denizens of Midsomer Parva with various hair-styling gadgets now. What have I done to deserve this? (As the marvellous Pet Shop Boys asked so memorably.)

  4. Paul

    “If you don’t know what The Killing is, I will attempt to condense 18 hours (yes, one story told in 20 hours, AMAZING, as Popjustice would say) without spoilering for those still catching up on iPlayer.”

    Not that I know anything about this show you’re telling us about – but that sounds to me like the storytelling model adopted by one of my own favourite shows, The Wire. Just got my complete Box Set after Christmas, and the commentary on one of the early shows compared what they did with the way an old novel used to work – he specifically cites the first chapter of Moby Dick for comparison – by the end of Chapter one, you haven’t even met Captain Ahab, or heard about the white whale – all you’ve had is an introduction to the narrator, a description of Nantucket, and you’ve been to his boarding house and met up with the strange whaler who has tattoos all over his body. So the story moves slowly, but you get interested in the characters and want to know what happens next.

    This (one story in 20 hours) sounds like a similar model – and as the Wire people said, it needs more patience to concentrate on one story for that long – but the rewards are so much greater than if you have a more normal show, where you see the murder in act one, but by act five 50 minutes later the case has been wrapped up, and the hero-detective is ready for a new case next week.