I finished Season 1 of The Killing earlier this week. Courtesy of my DVR, I was able to watch it when I wanted rather than when it officially aired. By the time I saw it, I’d heard a slew of the complaints from the people who watched it live before.
That surprised me, but only because the people were disappointed to begin with. About halfway through the season, I realized the series was going to be a letdown. The only reason I finished was because I’d already spent a lot of time following the fictional murder and I wanted to see how it played out.
I won’t give away the ending because some people may want to watch the series, but I will say that it was less than spectacular. Waaaay less than spectacular. Below mediocre.
And that got me thinking: what if “The Killing” was a book? How would that have changed the series?
Lot’s of ways. For those of you that aren’t familiar with the series, it’s the investigation of a teenage girl’s death. Pretty much the first half of an episode of “Law and Order,” but dragged over 13 hour-long episodes.
I think a book editor (or agent) would have insisted on a lot of edits if this was a book a client was pitching to them. First, it’s too long, like a 150,000 word cozy romance. There are plenty of ways to make it shorter, namely by cutting a lot of the extraneous scenes and subplots that added nothing to the main story and made the characters less likeable.
Secondly, character motivations are never explained. There are logic leaps that no agent or editor would allow. The main character is a detective who is supposed to leave to be with her fiancé the day of the murder. Instead, she sticks around for 13 days with no reasonable explanation as to why she doesn’t depart.
The characters are terrible. Most start out likeable enough or at the least have understandable motivations. Each of the unneeded subplots provides information about the characters that makes them more annoying. By the end, the character I liked best was the dead girl, probably because she didn’t have any lines.
Which was another thing – the dialogue was atrocious, particularly between the two detectives handling the case. One was childish and immature while the other was rude, bossy, and condescending. That’s another thing an agent/editor would have corrected.
The last and biggest change an agent/editor would have made would be the ending. I can understand why “The Killing” ended the way it did. TV shows rely on cliffhangers to build interest. A lot of book series do too. But it’s not necessary. Want a series that solved a mystery each season without getting bogged down in unnecessary subplots: Veronica Mars. It can be done. “The Killing” failed miserably in its promise to reveal who did the killing.
Basically, the only thing I think an agent or editor would have kept is the main plot. And with all the rewrites necessary, they wouldn’t have allowed “The Killing” to reach publication the way it reached TV.
Maybe I’m spoiled by reading good books with solid plots that have been carefully edited. Maybe my expectations are too high, but I think TV shows could be better. “The Killing” is just the latest example.