Quality television-by-numbers: Veena Sud and AMC's failed products and faulty assumptions

Curator's Note

The season one finale of The Killing is tremendously problematic, but what most troubles me about "Orpheus Descending" are the assumptions it – and by association, its writer Veena Sud – makes about "quality" television. The finale is powered by confusing, illogical twists in narrative and character while it simultaneously delays any substantial resolution. The problem is not that we don’t learn who killed Rosie Larsen – though that is certainly an issue – it’s that the execution of the moments that are supposed to shock us enough into not caring about the murderer’s identity are sloppy and honestly, dumb.

And yet in post-finale interviews, showrunner Veena Sud consistently placed The Killing and its finale alongside well-respected television greats like Mad Men and The Sopranos, series that are known for much more than just shocking plot developments and cliffhangers. Sud wrongfully conflates Men’s purposeful ponderous pace to her series’ aimless plodding and apparently thinks fans and critics love The Sopranos solely for its controversial final moments. She, The Killing and its finale misguidedly worked from the assumption that if you say you’re quality television and invoke other, better representatives of quality television, people will believe it.

Interestingly, Sud’s desire to cover The Killing’s faults by comparing it to better programming mirrors AMC’s attempts to brand and position itself as worthy peers of cable networks like HBO, Showtime and FX without actually doing the necessary legwork to deserve placement in that echelon of modern day televisual greatness. Although AMC scored big early with Mad Men and Breaking Bad, television’s two best dramas, and reached a commercial apex with The Walking Dead, their disastrous public relations and brand management has been the story in 2011. From the too-public contract disputes with Men honcho Matt Weiner and the even-more-public battles with Dead’s Frank Darabont to the decision to eschew picking up any of their pilots and slash budgets on current productions, AMC’s decisions reflected a desire to be the new HBO but not pay the money or take the risks necessary to get there. Instead, AMC hopes the “Best Original Stories” slogan will convince enough people that those words true.

Veena Sud and AMC both want us to view their products as “quality” and “great.” However, their error is focusing too much on telling us how great they are instead of actually earning the honor. 

Comments

JP Kelly's picture

Hi Cory, great post and one

Hi Cory, great post and one that ties in nicely with Rossend’s post yesterday.

At the risk of causing controversy, I really didn’t find the finale all that bad. Let me explain. As a UK viewer, I had watched the episode after having seen the huge negative reaction that it drew from US viewers a couple of months earlier. For that reason, I went into the finale with such low expectations only to be pleasantly surprised that it wasn’t as bad as I had imagined it to be. I also wasn’t too fussed about the lack of narrative resolution, but maybe that’s just a personal preference.

Although I was aware of the poor reception of the finale in the US I had tried to avoid reading too much about it as I was concerned that it may contain spoilers (even the fact that the killer’s identity was not revealed is a spoiler!) I assumed that the negative reception might have been due to the fact that AMC decided to change the ending from the original Danish version. Having not seen the original version yet, I’m still unsure as to whether this was the case - perhaps someone can shed some light on this?

On the topic of the original Danish version, I wondered if this featured in any of AMC’s marketing of their remake, or if you thought it was important in any way. Surely alerting viewers to the critical success of the original (it won a BAFTA and was nominated for two international Emmy’s) would have been a more credible way of aligning the series with other "Quality TV" productions? 

Cory Barker's picture

The finale

 JP — 

Thanks for the comment! To be honest, I didn’t hate the finale as much as most. I think it’s still very bad, but only in those last 8-10 minutes. I thought the first 35 were perfectly fine, B-level kind of work that the show was already doing. But those twists are so odd and apparently come from a place of such ignorance and misrecognition, that it’s hard to give the show the benefit of the doubt in the aftermath. I think that’s what made people so upset: Sud’s comments. We would have been disappointed with how bad the end of the episode was no matter what, but she exacerbated the situation tenfold by going to Sepinwall and comparing herself to The Sopranos and Breaking Bad. 

In regards to your other points, yeah, this version is changed from the Danish version for sure. And no, AMC didn’t mention it being a remake at all, mostly because their slogan is TELLING THE BEST ORIGINAL STORIES. Doing a remake kind of undercuts that, no?

Feedback

No one has reviewed this post… but you need to login to submit feedback