Review: Those Who Kill (Den Som Dræber) (ITV3) 1×1

Not making a Killing

Those Who Kill

In the UK: Thursdays, 10pm, ITV3. Available on the ITV Player
In Denmark: Aired last March. Cancelled after the first series

Foreign TV is a funny old thing. What you get to see of another country’s TV is usually the cream of the crop, some nice purchasing person at your local TV network having viewed it all and decided what’s good and what isn’t. So it’s easy to think as a result, based just on what you see on TV of it, that another country’s television output must be great.

French TV looks good thanks to Engrenages. Canadian TV looks good thanks to Being Erica and The Border. Danish TV looks awesome thanks to The Killing and Borgen. UK TV looks good because of Downton Abbey and Doctor Who. US TV just looks good all round. Israeli TV looks amazing thanks to all the adaptations like In Treatment and Homeland.

Italian TV, thanks to Inspector Montalbano, just looks silly. Some things I guess you just can’t polish.

But if you have to wade through it and start delving into the lower reaches of TF1, CTV, Sky Living, TBS, et al, you soon start to realise that not all foreign TV is good. Equally, you start to realise that other countries watch other countries’ TV and try to emulate that.

Now, here in the UK, we’ve had something of a Scandinavian TV love-in thanks to BBC4 and the rise of the ‘Nordic noir’ genre of books and movies. The Killing, Wallander and Borgen have convinced people that Scandinavian TV is universally brilliant. So ITV3, the home of old crime shows, has been trying to get in on that action and has bought in Danish TV network TV2’s Den Som Dræber aka Those Who Kill.

On paper, this should be cracking. It’s written by bestselling crime-author Elsebeth Egholm and Stefan Jaworsk, the writer of several award-winning and critically acclaimed features and TV series. The show stars, among others, Lars Mikkelsen from The Killing, and comes from the producers of several of the Wallander movies, and when it aired in Denmark last year, was watched by a record-breaking 50% of the adult population.

Yet, unfortunately, Those Who Kill is laughable old toss. Here’s a trailer:

Danish crime drama. The series depicts a special unit within Copenhagen Police which deals with homicide including serial murders. The series consists of ten episodes of which two episodes form a two-part story, enabling the series to also be screened as five films. A continuation of the series in the form of a film with the title Fortidens skygge will premiere in Denmark in March 2012

Episode 1: When the skeletons of four young women are found, DCI Katrine Ries Jensen and Thomas Schaeffer join the hunt for a serial killer.

Is it any good?
Ever see a serial killer movie? Ever seen an American crime show? Stick them together, imagine it in Danish and you’ve already seen Those Who Kill.

The basic story sees plucky detective Katrine Ries Jensen (Laura Bach) defy her boss (Mikkelsen) while on her first job by bringing in a notoriously unreliable serial killer expert (Jakob Cedergren) to investigate the discovery of a murdered prostitute’s body. Cedergren soon deduces that there are other bodies and after that it’s a race against the clock to stop the killer before he takes his next victim.

And you’ve seen it all before because this is a show that tries to be The Killing and any given US cop show and ends up being incredibly derivative as a result. Jensen is the archetypal female protagonist for serial killer stories – plucky and feisty, but very easily fooled, tied up, put in peril, etc, so that we can condemn the killer while simultaneously enjoying the thrill of vulnerability. Cedergren is the standard weirdo who might be too close to his subject matter. Mikkelsen is the understanding boss who still despairs at Jensen’s rule-breaking. The serial killer is one of those pleasantly weird ones with weird rituals who doesn’t sexual abuse his victims and who then offs them cleanly, rather one of those that just tortures, raping and murders them. And there’s a creepy almost-romance developing between possibly-psycho professor and Jensen.

So far so cliched. You could excuse all that to a certain extent as the nature of the TV serial-killer beast and Those Who Kill is certainly less stupid than Criminal Minds and Profiler, for example. But in terms of pedestrian plodding and massive character stupidity, Those Who Kill is up there with the best. You always know exactly what Cedergren is going to be wrong about; you always know what surprise revelation is going to appear at precisely which moment (OMG! That wasn’t the doctor after all!); you know exactly what clues are going to lead to exactly which conclusions. There are no deep insights into the mind of the serial killer that you won’t have seen before (apparently, they have rituals! Who knew?!).

And then there’s the dreadful attempts at procedure. Now, I might have gone to town on Kenneth Branagh’s Wallander for depicting a police detective who apparently does not know anything more about police procedure than we do. At the time, I thought that was just sloppiness or possibly just metaphor. But, if Those Who Kill is anything to go by, Scandinavian police have the worst procedures in the world and Ken’s Wallander is a documentary. They are the Keystone Cops of the Western policing world.

Case in point – a police officer is about to arrest someone. He has a gun. “Hands up! Put your hands behind your head!” Criminal duly obliges. So police officer then HOLSTERS HIS GUN AND COMES TOWARDS HIM TO PUT THE HANDCUFFS ON HIM.

No! Where did you learn that? I am going to send Officer Cooper from Southland round to kick you so hard, you’ll end up in Finland.

And the show is filled with these bits of ridiculousness, ranging from a police inspector opening the door to her flat and then, without looking to see who it is, turning around to leave the door wide open for whoever it is to come in, to her investigating a crime scene at night in the middle of the woods, by herself, when she could just as easily have done it the next day, to a police officer who has been asked to check the identity of a doctor not even bothering to ask for a description of him during the verification.

This is ridiculous. You feel your IQ dropping just watching.

The show is well directed and well acted for the most part. There’s some lovely set design. But The Killing this is not and we have not found a new Sarah Lund.


  • Rob Buckley

    I’m Rob Buckley, a journalist who writes for UK media magazines that most people have never heard of although you might have heard me on the podcast Lockdown Land or Radio 5 Live’s Saturday Edition or Afternoon Edition. I’ve edited Dreamwatch, Sprocket and Cambridge Film Festival Daily; been technical editor for TV producers magazine Televisual; reviewed films for the short-lived newspaper Cambridge Insider; written features for the even shorter-lived newspaper Soho Independent; and was regularly sarcastic about television on the blink-and-you-missed-it “web site for urban hedonists” The Tribe. Since going freelance, I've contributed to the likes of Broadcast, Total Content + Media, Action TV, Off The Telly, Action Network, TV Scoop and The Custard TV.

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