Saturday, May 14, 2011

FROM HILL STREET BLUES TO THE KILLING



We have had our problems with blogger, and then my internet, and television also went down. This always seems to happen at the weekend, but I was told by a reliable source that the copper covering of the cable had been stolen?
Luckily it was a nice day for a drive, and as always the other drivers on the road were so very friendly following me for miles along the narrow roads of Devon. They were so friendly that when they eventually overtook my little car they hooted, and waved; sometimes they waved with a clenched fist and sometimes they waved with one or two fingers. Probably in appreciation of the fact that I had obeyed the speed limit. ;o)

The television is back up but I am suffering from withdrawal symptoms-no The Killing and no Spiral 3 .
No Sarah Lund, no Laure Berthaud.....
Firstly I think this season of Spiral was almost spoilt by too much gore, but the outstanding acting and wonderful casting, of even the minor parts, kept this twelve episode series in the front rank of television crime dramas. Spiral 3 was not perhaps quite as good as the previous series as at times it approached a parody of itself, but it was still very good.
Although definitely not as good as the twenty part Danish series, The Killing, which has had so much attention, and quite rightly so.

What distinguished these two outstanding series was a combination of great production and a brilliant ensemble cast.
Anyone who has ever watched a few minutes of some glitzy British hospital based series when staff, who have supposedly worked a grueling night shift, look as if they have just left a hairdressers on the way to a modeling assignment will know how bad casting and production can affect the veracity of a program.
In both The Killing and Spiral it was clear even the minor parts had been cast with the utmost care.

An ensemble cast is a cast in which the principal performers are assigned roughly equal amounts of importance and screen time in a dramatic production.

In crime fiction books the Martin Beck series by Sjowall and Wahloo, and the Ed McBain 87th Precinct books are the classic examples of the ensemble cast.

The Americans excel in this form of TV drama with a story arc that is comprised of extended multiple storylines continuing over many episodes. The Screen Actors Guild specifically gives an award for outstanding cast performance in a drama series.
The original winners in 1994 were the cast of NYPD Blue [1993-2005], and it was won in 2010 by another crime series, Boardwalk Empire. Other winners of this award have included Mad Men, The Sopranos, ER, The West Wing, and CSI.

Possibly the first of these modern American ensemble crime dramas was Hill Street Blues [1981-1987] set in an unnamed American city and filmed in almost documentary style it followed the activities of the ensemble cast of cops. In the UK we had some outstanding TV police dramas almost but not quite similar in style predating Hill Street, such as Z-Cars [1962-1978] and its successors such as Softly Softly [1966-1969] and Softly Softly, Task Force [1969-1973]. But later the very successful British TV crime series such as Prime Suspect [1991-2006] with Helen Mirren, and Morse with John Thaw, concentrated on one main character.

The team of outstanding actors in The Killing were:
Sofie Grabol [Sarah Lund], Soren Malling [Jan Meyer], Lars Mikkelsen [Troels Hartmann], Bjarne Henriksen [Theis Birk Larsen], Anna Eleonora Jorgensen [Pernille Birk Larsen] and Nicolaj Kopernikus [Vagn Skaerbaek].

The parts of the victim's parents Theis and Pernille were brilliantly acted, and it was this that made the triple story line of police investigation, family reaction, political intrigue work so well.

In Spiral the six main parts are well acted: Caroline Proust [Police captain Laure Berthaud], Gregory Fitoussi [Pierre Clement], Phillipe Duclos [Judge Francois Roban], Thierry Godard [Gilou], Fred Bianconi [Tin Tin], and Audrey Fleurot [Josephine Karlsson]. But with his popping eyes Dominique Dagnier is brilliant in a cameo role as the truly frightening Prosecutor Machard, the boss from hell.

I will miss them all; Jan Meyer's ears, Sarah Lund's expensive jumpers, Josephine Karlsson's freckles, disheveled Laure Berthaud's predatory smile, and Troels Hartmann's electioneering ploys, and I am really looking forward to the next series.
I read somewhere The Killing "redefined the genre", it didn't but it did return it to a very successful formula from the past.

8 Comments:

Blogger Mack said...

Hill Street Blues is one of my favorite police dramas and still very watchable (some of the male fashion and hair styles notwithstanding). Aside from fine drama, it is notable for having David Franz play two different characters, one good (Norman Buntz) and one bad (Sal Benedetto). And Franz went on to star in NYPD Blue. You also see a young David Caruso as the leader of an Irish gang who also went on to NYPD Blue.

2:52 PM  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

Mack I am pleased there are two of us still around who remember that great Hill Street Blues series.
Dennis Franz became an unusual lead [short, overweight, balding] as Andy Sipowicz in NYPD Blue when everyone expected David Caruso or Jimmy Smits to take that role.

3:21 PM  
Blogger Margot Kinberg said...

Norman - Oh, not just two. I loved Hill Street Blues! And you are so right about the value of a well-chosen ensemble cast. You really couldn't say that just one person carried that show (or for the matter of that, The West Wing, The Killing or the other shows you've mentioned. It was the group of people, working together, who made those shows the top-notch shows they were.

4:38 PM  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

We're seeing the U.S. version of "The Killing" over here, my Sunday night staple.

I can tell that when it's over I'll have to go through withdrawal. It's good. The story line is good, although there is a different suspect every week. (Soon, I fear, every character will be a suspect.) And the acting is superb, including that done by the actors who play the victim's parents.

11:11 PM  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

Margot-Hill Street Blues was superb, and I wonder if our long running police series The Bill [now cancelled] was set in Sun Hill police station as an acknowledgement.
It was a good idea to set it in an unnamed city and while I think it was mainly filmed in LA, the weather always seemed more like Boston.

2:12 AM  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

Kathy-I am pleased you are enjoying your version of The Killing as much as we enjoyed the Danish version.
I did suspect every character at one stage, but it turned out to be my original selection............
I had decided that I wouldn't watch the US version, but your comments about the acting have probably changed my mind. Thanks.

2:16 AM  
Blogger Maxine said...

Great post, and I agree with you that The Killing did not redefine the genre, it just showed the wider audience what we keen crime fiction readers know - script (plot), character and atmosphere are what's addictive (not car crashes and tedious predictability).

I remember enjoying Hill St Blues years ago - I believe they based it on Ed McBain but set it in Chicago so they would not have to pay him royalties!

5:15 AM  
Blogger Dorte H said...

I am glad you are back among the blogging, and that you like some of our exported products.

See you soon!

7:12 AM  

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