"The Killing" is back, but critics aren't being very welcoming.
The show returns Sunday for a third season it almost never had: It was canceled after two seasons, then revived in a deal between Netflix and AMC. After a promising start when it debuted two years ago, the show shed viewers by failing to resolve the mystery of who killed teenage Rosie Larsen by the end of Season 1.
With the mystery finally solved, it returns with a new focus: A serial killer is preying on young women, and homeless teens are at risk. Volatile, vulnerable Det. Stephen Holder (Joel Kinnaman) tries to enlist his former partner, Sarah Linden, now working a "minimum-wage" security job and jogging every morning. Meanwhile, a death row inmate played by Peter Sarsgaard may know more than he's telling. The pacing remains slow, and it still rains a lot.
Noting that the show owes its revival to Netflix, Variety's Brian Lowry said it "can't help but look like a deal in search of a show."
"As usual, the two-hour premiere closes with a flourish, but it's a long slog to that point, with one compelling cast addition and plot threads that otherwise engage in a different type of killing – specifically, time," he wrote.
The New York Times' Alessandra Stanley wasn't very impressed, either.
"The creators take a fresh start, but cling to the sepulchral atmospherics that too often take the place of narrative. The series is still suspenseful, but the dread that once again follows Sarah through damp forests, deserted tenements and shadowy, rain-washed streets diminishes with overuse," she wrote. "And it's particularly easy to grow impatient with the slow, gloomy pace of 'The Killing' when there are more energetic series around that offer a refreshingly different look at the same kinds of crimes and conspiracies."
But the New York Daily News critic David Hinckley enjoyed the premiere, saying that if you liked the show before, "it's still a killer." He advised viewers who felt the show reneged on a "promise" to solve its Season 1 murder: "It's worth getting over it and giving 'The Killing' another chance."
Hitfix's Alan Sepinwall, meanwhile, believes "There's a good show hiding inside 'The Killing,' struggling to peak out from behind the cliches and other hackery."
He credited the show with making the potential victims register with audiences more than Rosie Larsen could from the grave. He also praised a new dynamic that puts more initial focus on Kinnaman, whose "kinetic performance was the highlight of the earlier seasons."
Sepinwall noted the problem with the first season of "The Killing" – all the atmospherics and plot twists didn't lead to a resolution. And while this season might feel like an improvement, he wrote, "The problem is that no one will know that for sure until we get to the finale."