Over recent years we’ve written countless pieces on America’s relentless need to remake successes from other countries. Where we’ll indulge in the big hitters from Denmark or the latest US blockbuster, American networks have this infuriating habit of looking at what works and then remaking it for their audience. Of course there are some instances of this process that have proved hugely successful. Though I adore the original version of ‘The Office‘ the US version stands up pretty well on its own. Their version of the Ricky Gervais led comedy works because it stepped outside of the confines of our two series and a special. Decades ago this process had some solid successes with classic series such as Til Death Do Us Part (All in the Family), Steptoe and Son (Sanford and Son) and Man about the House (Three’s Company).
The process seems to work less well when US networks have tired to match the success of dramas. Most of the incarnations haven’t even made it to the screen, but to their credit it never quite deters the Network execs from trying to make a go of previous hits. An obvious recent example is Fox’s reworking of ITV’s crime powerhouse Broadchurch, into the less well received Gracepoint. The 10-part US adaptation which stars David Tennant is languishing on a busy Thursday night and is struggling to find a core audience. The intrigue and pandemonium that swirled around our original was palpable but the US version seems to have fallen flat. Our reviewer commented that Gracepoint’s first episode is an almost scene for scene re-enactment of its source material beginning with the image of our young victim, Danny, standing at the top of a cliff side with blood dripping from his fingertips as the waves crash ominously below. Of course this is perfectly understandable since the original and its American offspring were both written by Chris Chibnall. Broadchurch struck a chord with viewers so it stands to reason its creator would want to duplicate that success in the States by setting up the premise properly.
However, I do have a problem when I hear some of the exact same lines being regurgitated by the new cast. It seems more like mimicry than acting. Hopefully as time goes on, the Gracepoint scripts will cling a bit less closely to the British ones and take on a life of their own.
With such a poor track record when it comes to remakes you can imagine fans were a little more than sceptical when AMC announced plans to translate Denmark’s well received crime drama ‘The Killing‘ presumably to save Americans reading those pesky subtitles. The first series of the original centred around Detective Chief Inspector Sarah Lund. When we first meet her on a dreary day in Copenhagen she is looking forward to her last day with the police force, planning to move to Sweden with her fiancé and transfer to the Swedish police. However, everything changes when a 19-year old woman, Nanna Birk Larsen, disappears only to be found raped and brutally murdered. Along with her colleague, Detective Inspector Jan Meyer, Sarah is forced to head the investigation as it soon becomes clear that she and Meyer are chasing a very intelligent and dangerous murderer. Meanwhile, local politician Troels Hartmann is in the middle of a hard-fought mayoral campaign when evidence links him to the murder, adding a political thread and further intrigue to the storyline. At the same time, the girl’s family and friends struggle to cope with their loss.
Received warmly by fans of the crime genre, critics and with nominations spewing from every orifice, it’s not surprising network execs at AMC were keen to see if their interpretation to garner the same attention.
Swapping rainy Copenhagen for downright miserable Seattle the producers matched the show’s backdrop successfully. Where fans of the original connected with Sarah Lund, the American remake introduced Michelle Enos as Sarah Linden, and Nanna Larsen became schoolgirl Rosie Larsen. Although the plot seemed familiar executive producer Veena Sud explained, “We’re creating our own world. We are using the Danish series as a blueprint, but we are kind of diverging and creating our own world, our world of suspects and, potentially, ultimately who killed Rosie Larsen.” Sud describes the series as “slow-burn storytelling in a sense that every moment that we don’t have to prettify or gloss over or make something necessarily easy to digest, that we’re able to go to all sorts of places that are honest, and dark, and beautiful and tragic, in a way that is how a story should be told.”
The original was such a hit you almost get the sense that the American team felt instantly like they’d bitten off more than they could chew. Much like the shot by shot first episode of Gracepoint, the first episode of The Killing stays very faithful to the original. It’s almost too faithful at times with characters dressed identically, behaving identically and in some cases quoting familiar dialogue word for word. However, if you can separate your feelings for this American attempt you might find yourself slowly sucked in. I’m aware the next sentence is probably sacrilege, but I wasn’t a huge fan of the original. I found elements of it hard going and AMC’s remake seemed to flow slightly better in places. I’ll admit it took time for me to warm to Enos as Linden as I, like most had grown attached to Sarah Lund, but actually I found this remake one of the best I’ve seen.
Channel 4 only aired the first two of the three series that aired on AMC in the States and I think that’s a shame. Perhaps it was a combination of BBC4 viewers deciding the remake wasn’t as highbrow for them, or perhaps they were watching the reviewers in the states too closely. It would seem the majority of American critics were frustrated by the ending of its first season, and the show has had a hard time finding its place. It now lives forever on Netflix who have seen the same potential in the series I was able to find. They gave the show a fourth season to bring everything to close following AMC’s decision to wield the axe.
To enjoy this series (you can now buy Series 1-3 on DVD in the UK) you need to sit down and forget about the original. It’s enjoyable, well put together drama that we have been rooting for more if we hadn’t seen the Danish version first. At times there’s a lot going on, and you wonder whether all the plots scattered about will ever interconnect, but in the end it’s a fairly satisfying piece of crime drama, and a good example of a remake that finally works!
The Killing US Series 1-3 is now available on DVD.