By: Aleks Chan
Like many a crime procedural, the opening scene is of a discernibly older man, with two much younger girls (extra creepy points if they’re in their school uniforms) in a secluded forest. If our basic detective skills cultivated by cable crime fighters (and DATELINE) have taught us anything, the girls won’t be turning in their homework the next day. But the sadistic way the girls meet their fate is gruesome – you’re never this uncomfortable when you watch CSI.
Through the branches and wood is a focused, studying eye – a witness to a double murder, the trembling figure leaves one of the girls’ plead for help unanswered. Before the bodies are discovered and an investigation is launched, the body of a schoolteacher washes up bludgeoned in the same fashion. That wandering eye was Ray Prager’s (Justin Louis), and when he’s not screaming at his wife or belittling his son, he’s moonlighting as a serial killer.
This isn’t DEXTER, Showtime’s thriller starring Michael C. Hall as a blood-loving murderer, it’s DURHAM COUNTY, a Canadian import more akin to a (more) homicidal DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES: Det. Mike Sweeney (Hugh Dillon) moves his family to the suburbs after his partner is killed, buying up a house previously occupied by a man who committed suicide in what is now his daughter’s bedroom. His former high school nemesis Ray lives across the street.
The setting is a little hokey, but it gets enough of both sides of the equation right to make it worth seeing: Ray is like a newborn killer, clumsy and erratic, he scrambles around with his prey, not entirely sure what he’s doing. It makes the acts of violence seem much more raw, visceral, and unsympathetic – the murders here aren’t anything greater than an episode of CRIMINAL MINDS in terms of severity, but this is a rare series that makes the taking of another’s life as guttural and miserable an experience as the victim’s.
And Mike, wonderfully broody and distant with Dillon’s squinted eyes, holds the emotional centerfold, a high relationship drama that crosses paths with their killer neighbor. His wife Audrey (Helene Joy) is recovering from breast cancer and a mastectomy, an outcome Mike is conflicted about: Believing her life to be running short, he fell in love with another woman. Then he has a killer to catch, the tension derived from how he’s going to pin his psychopathic neighbor down.
The series swept the Gemini Awards (the Canadian equivalent of the Emmys) last year and season two already aired this summer (and featured True Blood’s Michelle Forbes), with a nomination for Dillon and much deserved wins for Louis and Joy. And I hope that American audiences will gravitate to it as well – good television shouldn’t know geographic boundaries. B+
Catch the series premiere of DURHAM COUNTY on ION Television on Monday September 7th at 10PM. Visit iontelevision.com for more info.