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It more or less goes like this: A body turns up and the cops arrive to investigate (and deliver darkly amorous cop talk). Several dead-end leads are chased until the killer is finally nabbed and tossed into the slammer. All this usually happens in a tidy 60 minutes, give or take a few commercials.
Now along comes The Killing, a moody and intently deliberate murder mystery that plays havoc with the formula.
In this series, the body doesn't even surface until the end of the first hour. Then, the investigation, with its myriad subplots, plays out over 12 subsequent episodes.
Each episode represents a single day.
If you're wedded to the Law & Order or CSI play book, the leisurely pace of The Killing might have you tearing out your hair in clumps. Then again, you might find it to be a deeply satisfying blast of fresh air.
Based on a highly successful Danish series, The Killing is the latest foray into distinctive television, joining an impressive roster that includes Mad Men, Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead.
Essentially, it is concerned with the murder of Seattle teen Rosie Larsen, but it aspires to so much more.
Mireille Enos stars as Sarah Linden, a stoic homicide detective who's about to bolt town to get married and start a new life with her son. She's drawn into the grisly case, however, along with Stephen Holder (Joel Kinnaman), the cop assigned to replace her.
With a pale face and weary eyes, Sarah appears to have been emotionally drained by the horrors of the job, but her brain is still clicking and soon the case becomes a compulsion.
The Killing differentiates itself from the typical network procedural in the way it explores the profound impact Rosie's death has on people other than the cops.
We spend substantial time with the victim's parents (Michelle Forbes and Brent Sexton), who are wracked with grief and find themselves questioning whether they could have done something to prevent the tragedy.
In addition, the case could imperil the political career of a city councilman (Billy Campbell) running for mayor. When the cops find a connection between the victim and his campaign, his staff members shift into frantic damage-control mode. It soon becomes clear that a lot of past secrets are about to be unburied.
The acting is exceptional all around. Forbes, who recently thrilled us in True Blood, is especially captivating in the early episodes.
But we should point out that one key "character" in The Killing is its locale.
Shot in Vancouver, which stands in for Seattle, this series is dark, wet and so chilling that you may want to wrap yourself in a thick blanket while watching.
Only three episodes of the show were available for review, so there's no way of telling if the murder case will continue to unfold in the same spellbinding fashion, or if the measured pace ultimately becomes a debilitating handicap.
• The Killing premieres tomorrow at 8.30pm on SoHo (Sky digital 10).