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CHICAGO – With echoes of “Twin Peaks” and the film “Insomnia,” AMC’s “The Killing” joins the lineup of one of the more respected networks on cable. It’s not quite as instantly captivating as “Mad Men,” “Breaking Bad,” or “The Walking Dead” but that’s a tough standard to live up to and if the show continues to develop and expand upon what works on the first night, it could eventually join that esteemed group of critical darlings.

The advertising for “The Killing” has understandably focused on the question at the core of the show — “Who Killed Rosie Larsen?” The two-part series premiere, airing on AMC on April 3rd, 2011, lays out the suspects in atmospheric style. In fact, the first hour/episode details the discovery of the titular event. At first, poor Rosie Larsen is merely missing. A good student with little reason to give her parents concern, the teenager doesn’t come home one night and a bloody piece of clothing is found in a field. The end of the first episode leads to her discovery (which is not really a spoiler considering the title of the show) as the field of suspects continues to grow.

Based on the Danish show “Forbrydelsen,” “The Killing” is more than just a murder mystery. Like the best procedurals, it’s about the ripple effect of a brutal crime from the devastating effect on her immediate family to the political turmoil caused within a local race for mayor to even the way the men and women trying to solve the crime end up taking it home. The hook of who killed Rosie Larsen and the way the mystery is expertly unveiled will get people talking around the water cooler (if offices still have water coolers) but it’s the depth of character within the ensemble that makes the program emotionally rewarding.

Detective Sarah Linden (a subtle-and-perfect performance from Mireille Enos) is about to move from Seattle to Sonoma with her fiance (Callum Keith Rennie) when she gets one last case — Rosie Larsen is missing. Sarah heads out with the rough-around-the-edges Detective Stephen Holder (Joel Kinnaman), her replacement with a very different style, and the two begin to work the case. Don’t worry — this is not a typical oil-and-water buddy cop show. Sarah and Stephen may be different but it’s in pursuit of character, not a gimmick, and both characters feel genuine.

Naturally, the ensemble, also serves as the list of suspects. Billy Campbell (“Once and Again”) plays a suspicious City Councilman running for Mayor who gets entangled in the case in an unusual way. Michelle Forbes (“True Blood”) and Brent Sexton (“In the Valley of Elah”) play Rosie’s parents and the writers and producers don’t once dismiss the human toll of a murdered goal. Unlike so many “CSI” and “Law & Order” rip-offs, you never forget that Rosie Larsen was someone’s daughter. Rosie’s suspicious boyfriend, her secret-hiding best friend, her teacher — “The Killing” lays out suspects in a very natural way, never feeling false.

Another thing that elevates “The Killing” and separates it from other modern mystery shows is a sense of atmosphere. The program takes its time, stretching out the mystery over an entire season instead of rushing from clue to clue. We get to know Sarah, a woman who one can tell begins to feel an intense obligation to solve the case without underlining said motivation. Enos is spectacular, crafting a character who already lingers in the memory after only one night of television. One hopes she’ll be around on the TV landscape for years to come. And she’s matched by nearly every supporting player. The entire ensemble works.

“The Killing” works with cliches of the murder mystery genre but it makes them feel fresh again. Not everything needs to be as unique as “The Walking Dead” or “Mad Men.” Sometimes an interesting story well-executed can be just as rewarding. AMC has done it again with “The Killing.”

“The Killing” stars Mireille Enos, Joel Kinnaman, Billy Campbell, Michelle Forbes, and Brent Sexton. It premieres on AMC on Sunday, April 3rd, 2011 at 8pm CST.

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