TV Review: 'Those Who Kill' has murky start

A&E's Pittsburgh-set-and-filmed crime drama "Those Who Kill" (10 p.m. Monday) takes elements from the serial killer crime genre -- more "Silence of the Lambs," less "Hannibal" -- and the female detective drama ("The Killing") and slathers on a layer of character-driven vengeance that goes largely unexplained in Monday's all-over-the-place series premiere.

As a psychological thriller, it's not terrible -- certainly better than Fox's dreadful monotonous "The Following" -- but "Those Who Kill" suffers from character/relationship incoherence.

Catherine Jensen (Chloe Sevigny, "Big Love") has only been a Pittsburgh homicide detective for a few months. She's overeager and possibly over involved, tearing up over bodies and disobeying the lead detective, Dunn (Christopher Michael Holly), when bodies are found by workers inside rusted machinery at Carrie Furnace.

Jensen enlists the help of forensic psychologist Thomas Schaeffer (James D'Arcy, "Cloud Atlas"), who has some kind of bad history with her boss, Frank Bisgaard (James Morrison, "24").

'Those Who Kill'
When: 10 p.m. Monday, A&E.
Starring: Chloe Sevigny, James D'Arcy.

The "Those Who Kill" pilot, the only episode A&E made available for review, falters in its murkiness. It suggests but doesn't reveal.

There's a beef between Bisgaard and Schaeffer, but "Those Who Kill" only hints at it.

The show introduces Dunn as a possible foil for Jensen, but he disappears after just a few scenes (not necessarily a bad thing because the conceit of their relationship -- lackadaisical veteran versus more dedicated newbie -- has been done to death).

The first scene in the pilot shows Jensen stalking a stately East End Shady Avenue mansion, breaking in and spying on the home's owners before stealing a photo. It eventually becomes semi-clear that this is her parents' house and she wants Schaeffer to investigate something having to do with her older brother, but the pilot does not communicate the particulars, leaving viewers to scratch their heads. Presumably future episodes will make clear that Jensen believes her stepfather (Bruce Davison), a Pittsburgh judge, is a serial killer responsible for the death of her long-missing brother, but none of that is explained in the frustratingly cryptic premiere.

It's one thing to tantalize viewers but another to frustrate them with a lack of information. A pilot should not vomit up every bit of character detail at once, but "Those Who Kill" withholds too much about all the characters and their relationships. It offers little for viewers to grasp onto.

What's good about the show, besides local-interest beauty shots of Pittsburgh, is its seeming investment in its characters.

There are some small details -- Jensen goes to serve Schaeffer chips, tastes one, finds it stale and spits it out and dumps the whole bowl -- that resonate. And for once, the police actually call for backup when they should.

Director Joe Carnahan ("The Blacklist," "Narc") makes excellent visual use of the ruins of "the old Mayview plant" (it's actually Mayview State Hospital), where a serial killer takes the woman he kidnaps from a parking garage near Duquesne University.

Written by executive producer Glen Morgan ("Millennium"), the pilot does a nice job, through Schaeffer, of explaining the serial killer's motivations. Mr. Morgan also keeps the focus enough on the victims while still making the bad guy super creepy (he emits a cross between a Wookie growl and bug-like chirp when terrorizing his victims).

Mr. Morgan draws a key parallel between the killers Schaeffer profiles and Jensen's own yet-to-be-explored obsession. ("These minds are dark, monstrous forces to explore. You could get lost and never return," Schaeffer warns.)

Ms. Sevigny, always a strong on-screen presence, excels when the story calls for Jensen to be unhinged (she's a cutter!), scared or determined. But in her early scenes where Jensen argues with Dunn, Ms. Sevigny sounds a little too petulant, too much like her "Big Love" Sister Wife character.

The first season of any series is a work in progress and so it is with "Those Who Kill." If subsequent episodes share more details of the regular characters, their relationships and their motivations, it could grow into a less frustrating, more compelling series.

TV writer Rob Owen: or 412-263-2582. Read the Tuned In Journal blog at Follow RobOwenTV on Twitter or Facebook.

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