The Telefile

Those Who Kill: It’s Dead Boring

by Ethan Alter March 4, 2014 6:00 am
<i>Those Who Kill</i>: It’s Dead Boring

Proof positive that sometimes it takes truly talented people to make something deeply mediocre, A&E's new crime drama Those Who Kill premiered last night after the network's surprise hit Bates Motel, marking the return of ex-Big Love star Chloë Sevigny and veteran scribe/producer Glen Morgan (whose credits include The X-Files and The River) to series television. If this was really the best they could come with, though, maybe they should have extended their sabbatical another season.

Derived from a Danish procedural that was, in turn, derived from a series of page-turning Nordic pulp fictions, Those Who Kill unfolds in one of the few American cities not already a regular site of ugly televised murders: Pittsburgh, once the dominion of George A. Romero's zombie hoards. It's here that homicide detective Catherine Jensen (Sevigny) peers into a series of murky factories and abandoned buildings, where dead body after dead body has apparently been hidden by the city's heretofore unexplored serial killer population. And because -- on television anyway -- you can't do this kind of work without having some kind of dark, motivating secret in your past, it eventually emerges that Cathy is bedeviled by 1) her brother, missing lo these many years and 2) her stepfather, who may have had some bloody extracurricular activities. Those issues will inevitably bubble up amidst the usual "case of the week" investigations -- like the cackling murderer she hunts in the premiere -- which frequently require her to team up with an odd, and therefore unpopular, forensic psychologist Thomas Schaeffer (James D'Arcy).

There might have been an interesting American series to be spun out of the source material (which, full disclosure, I'm unfamiliar with), but Those Who Kill most definitely ain't it. Instead what we have here is a case where a show has been made to chase after prevailing TV trends rather than influence them. Put another way, Those Who Kill is the equivalent of those "You might also like…" recommendations that Netflix's algorithms makes for you if you binge-watch a particular series and/or genre; its central elements are all stitched together out of other, better series and assembled in a manner that's both entirely professional and wholly uninspired.

Perhaps because Morgan's usual crime-solving M.O. involves the paranormal, he seems adrift and uncertain in a real-world procedural setting where the deaths can't be blamed on aliens, monsters or the Grim Reaper, that noted fan of Rube Goldberg death traps that send victims off to their final destination. (Sleepy Hollow, for instance, would be more up his alley.) And the generic material he's dishing up doesn’t serve his star at all well; Sevigny's strongest performances have a more pronounced sense of mania surrounding them, whether it's her nympho prisoner from American Horror Story: Asylum or the Type-A middle wife on Big Love. Even with all that tortured backstory, Catherine is a glum role and the actress plays it glumly -- though, to her credit, she does register more personality than anyone else onscreen; the rest of the supporting cast, from D'Arcy on down, are anonymous enough that they could be played by different actors in every episode and you'd never know the difference. It's a shame to see her stranded here when her specific talents would be better served by a featured role on Bates Motel (she could be Auntie Nora and battle Vera Farmiga for the title of craziest Ice Queen) or, better still, Hannibal, where she'd fit right in alongside Bryan Fuller's gallery of crazies. The kindest thing that the folks at A&E could do for both Morgan and Sevigny is put down Those Who Kill early and free them up for a series that's less deathly boring.




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