In the killing fields of the ubiquitous TV crime drama, there are shows that attempt to expand the formula with depth of character and a hauntingly fatalistic tone, while many others cling to the comfort zone of wrapping each case within a tidy hour, just another routine day on the job. AMC's The Killing, back for a third season of dark brooding after narrowly escaping cancellation, is ambitious to a fault. And its fault lines showed throughout the first two erratic and indulgent though often absorbing seasons, with an overextended inquiry into a single murder case that frustrated and annoyed viewers with its obvious red herrings and stubborn lack of resolution until long past interest had waned.
Have the producers learned their lesson? It seems so. They insist the new mystery will be resolved within this season, and judging from the two-hour opener (Sunday, 8/7c), this season's case appears to have greater scope, involving a string of murders targeting a marginal subculture of wayward street kids and prostitutes. These deaths inevitably draw the attention of former detective Sarah Linden (the quietly compelling Mireille Enos), who discovers a connection to one of her earlier investigations, which she now worries may have led to an innocent man ending up on death row.
When first approached by her former partner, the proudly unconventional Stephen Holder (Joel Kinnaman, a tall pillar of funky attitude), Sarah bristles, "Not every victim's worth it," having sacrificed her career and family by caring too deeply, even obsessively, about the job. "You don't know me. I break things," she also tellingly laments to her latest ill-fated and ill-advised lover, telling him what we already know all too well. But the pull of the hunt is too great, and by the end of Sunday's premiere, Sarah is literally wading through evidence of fresh evil.
As before, The Killing excels at and even wallows in moodiness, established in the atmospheric rainy murk of Seattle and in the nuanced performances, this time including the riveting Peter Sarsgaard as the intensely inscrutable death-row prisoner Tom Seward, a bitter and broken man and thus extremely unpredictable in his outbursts and motives. It's too early yet to know if the writing can avoid the pitfalls of the "Who Killed Rosie Larsen?" story, but this is off to a promising start.
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PRYOR KNOWLEDGE: No one made better use of pain in his comedy than Richard Pryor, who gave himself plenty of material to work with. Showtime's Richard Pryor: Omit the Logic (Friday, 9/8c), an unsparing and sobering documentary by Marina Zenovich (Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired), charts Pryor's career from the hilarious peaks to the horrific self-destructive meltdowns of a notorious comic trailblazer. "He was the messiah, the messenger for the real n----s in the streets who wanted to express themselves but couldn't," recalls Mike Epps, one of many admirers in awe of how Pryor shattered racial taboos in his stand-up while becoming a superstar in the movies. Though Pryor did face setbacks: The studio nixed him from starring in Blazing Saddles (which he co-wrote) because of his drug use. And footage from his short-lived, heavily censored 1977 NBC sketch-com The Richard Pryor Show is a stark reminder of how ahead of the curve he always was.
HORROR AND FANTASY: Using each of our five senses as inspiration for lurid vignettes of cautionary terror, the anthology Chilling Visions: 5 Senses of Fear (Friday, 9/8c) is the most intriguing original project yet commissioned by cable's shriek-niche Chiller channel. Unfortunately, this short-film compilation lacks the confidence to spook us with ambiguity, instead relying with wearying regularity on graphic torture-porn imagery of gruesome mutilation (often involving the eyes) that makes you cringe for all the wrong reasons. Taste? Not really a priority here. Only the final story, Listen, from filmmakers Jesse Holland and Andy Mitton, generates chills (before it goes too far viscerally) in its account of a notorious piece of music that causes all who play or hear it to go bloodily berserk. It uses the "found footage" gimmick, with jagged editing cuts for added disorientation, to reasonably smart effect. But as the panicked climax builds to a "Don't Watch It!" warning, I couldn't help apply those words to the entire mess of a package.
A much better bet for fans of the weird and wonderful is Saturday's first-season finale of BBC America's head-spinning buzz magnet Orphan Black (9/8c), with Tatiana Maslany's career-launching mega-performance as a dizzying variety of cloned doppelgangers, no two of whom act or talk alike. One of the best things about this inventive and fast-paced series is that, even as I peruse a listings synopsis that teases how "the Orphans must decide whether to make peace with their creators, as Sarah [the story's central figure] is forced into a deadly confrontation with their enemy," I still have no idea what to expect. Except for a good time.
And with only one week to go before the finale of this tremendous season of HBO's Game of Thrones, we've been conditioned to expect something major in the penultimate episode (Sunday, 9/8c), and this year will be no exception. Those who've read the books are already anticipating what's to come as Robb Stark and members of House Tully make their way to House Frey for an eventful wedding.
It's hard to imagine the Sunday night/Monday morning watercooler buzzing about anything else — unless AMC's Mad Men (Sunday, 10/9c) somehow manages to produce two satisfying episodes in a row. And wouldn't that be a nice surprise, since that hasn't happened yet this frustrating, heavy-handed season. (But seriously, how great was that Don-Betty reunion last week, and her reflection on Megan: "That poor girl. She doesn't know that loving you is the worst way to get to you.")
THE WEEKEND GUIDE: NBC's Brian Williams talks with six survivors of the Boston Marathon bombings who underwent amputations and describe their recovery in interviews that will air on various NBC News programs Friday, including the on-its-way-out Rock Center With Brian Williams (10:01/9:01c). ... Capping a week that began with Memorial Day, National Geographic Channel devotes three hours to going Inside World War II (Friday, 7/6c), with archival footage and interviews with veterans from U.S., British, Russian and German troops. Among those remembering: the late U.S. Senator Daniel Inouye, in one of his last interviews, recalling the horrors of combat. ... USA Network presents the Oscar-winning movie Milk with limited commercial interruption (Saturday, 8/7c), with an introduction from everyone's favorite host Neil Patrick Harris, in acknowledgment of Pride Month. ... Danny Glover stars in a Hallmark Movie Channel special inspired by a classic Americana painting, in Norman Rockwell's Shuffleton's Barbershop (Saturday, 9/8c). ... The search for a new Food Network Star begins Sunday (9/8c) with Alton Brown, Giada De Laurentiis and Bobby Flay returning as judge/mentors to 12 contestants, each hoping to land their own show. ... Discovery Channel analyzes and relives the terrible storm that wreaked such devastating tragedy May 20 in Mile Wide Tornado: Oklahoma Disaster (Sunday, 10/9c). ... The season premiere of E!'s Keeping Up With the Kardashians (Sunday, 9/8c) promises to reveal the gender of Kim's baby-to-be. If this is news that matters to you, then why on earth have you been spending time reading this? We clearly have nothing in common.