Sarah Linden (Mireille Enos), right, and Stephen Holder (Joel Kinnaman)… (AMC )
Although it is based on a popular Danish series, the show that AMC's "The Killing" most quickly evokes — with its brooding skies, ominous waters and complicated murder-mystery cast — is "Twin Peaks," a fact that AMC seems more than happy to leverage. "Who Killed Rosie Larsen?" is the show's promo, a direct homage, or rip-off, of "Who Killed Laura Palmer?," a question that kept American audiences enthralled for two seasons (though in hindsight it feels like more.)
But "The Killing," which premieres Sunday, is not "Twin Peaks," nor was it meant to be; although they both revolve around the murder of a young girl under the lachrymose skies of Washington state, the similarities end there. While "The Killing" will probably not cause the stir of the David Lynch classic, it promises to become something even more valuable: a show that is visually poetic, normatively compelling and, most important, sustainable for a good long haul. Though one doesn't like to use blurb words, the first two episodes are riveting, and if the third slows down considerably, it's still pretty darn good.
Like its Danish progenitor, "The Killing" follows Sarah Linden, a talented and likable if buttoned-down police detective played by Mireille Enos (who was so astonishingly good in HBO's "Big Love" that the creators made her twins). Hours before leaving her job in Seattle for a quiet life in the hinterlands (Sonoma, Calif.) with her son and fiancé, Sarah is drawn into what at first seems a missing person case.
But it quickly becomes a full-blown investigation into a brutal and baffling murder. Reluctant, but still brilliant, she is aided by her replacement, Stephen Holder (Joel Kinnaman), a lanky and heavy-lidded cop trading up from narcotics but still so steeped in the street that you can smell the cannabis rising from his hoodie. It's a classic mismatch — Sarah tucking squares of Nicorette into her cheek like an obsessive-compulsive squirrel while he tries to get her to lighten up, man — but the performances are so quiet and understated that the tensions hum along just below the surface, where they belong. Enos, with her Andrew Wyethesque beauty and talent for silence, is one of those rare American actors who can stare into the middle distance and actually make it mean something.
As the missing Rosie Larsen becomes the murdered Rosie Larsen, a tangle of characters intertwined with the crime emerges. Michelle Forbes and Brent Sexton are astonishingly good as Rosie's parents, Mitch and Stan, moving from ignorance to concern to howling grief with powerful precision that is difficult to watch at times.
"Why are her fingernails broken?" Mitch asks in one moment of exquisite horror. Darren Richmond (Billy Campbell), a politician running for mayor, is drawn into the investigation, bringing with him all manner of political jockeying and backstabbing as well as two possibly mendacious advisors, one of whom is Richmond's lover. Rosie's friends, meanwhile, are a parent's nightmare — the BFF (Kacey Rohl) who's been covering for Rosie, the horrible son-of-local-bigwig-boyfriend (Gharrett Patrick Paon) and his drug-addict pal (Richard Harmon).
As with the original, "The Killing" covers one day of the investigation in each episode, but creator Veena Sud ("Cold Case') has said the plot will differ enough so viewers can make the transition from Copenhagen to Seattle and not fear total repeat. Although the tension over whether Sarah will ever get to Sonoma is cursory at best — what would she do with all that Gore-Tex in Sonoma? — it serves its purpose, which is to put her character at a crossroads, both professionally and emotionally. Rosie's death clearly means even more to Sarah than the senseless killing of a young girl, and Enos creates a cipher tantalizing enough that we want to know what, exactly, that is.