Another bald man, more moral ambiguity, and a healthy dose of a bad thing done in the name of the greater good. AMC’s new noir drama Low Winter Sun is hoping that when viewers are finished watching Breaking Bad on Sunday night, they will stick around for what looks, on the surface, like another series of the same ilk. Unfortunately, Low Winter Sun‘s dense, dour nature forgets the one thing that elevates shows like Breaking Bad, Sons of Anarchy, and other dark series: humor. Without it, Low Winter Sun runs the danger of becoming too much of a slog. Still, there are moments that might suggest later episodes could turn things around. Hit the jump for more.
Low Winter Sun is a full-series remake of a British miniseries of the same name, which also starred Mark Strong as Detective Frank Agnew. But here, Strong dons a new zip code (Detroit) and a new accent (American), and is joined by another Brit and AMC regular, Lennie James. James plays Agnew’s fellow detective Joe Geddis, and this time, the rebooted series seems to want to go deeper into the story of a crime that at first appears to be perfect, but ends up unravelling everyone.
The original series began much as this one does: Geddis and Agnew have decided to rid themselves, and the world, of Geddis’ corrupt parter Brendan McCann (Michael McGrady). They murder McCann and cover it up, but as the police find his body and assign Agnew (and later Geddis) to investigate, the two men begin to see that there were far too many variables that they never considered, and their confidence at getting away with it wavers as they work on limiting to collateral damage.
Unsurprisingly, that’s easier said than done. Internal Affairs was on McCann’s heels, and that investigation (lead by Simon Boyd, played by Breaking Bad‘s David Costabile) is the first and almost instant wrench in Agnew and Geddis’ plan. McCann was also dealing with a low-level Detroit criminal, Damon Callis (the underrated James Ransone), who gets a lot of time devoted to his story on the other side of the law. Callis has ambitions, and the deal he had with McCann is not one he wants to let go of, which causes big trouble for Geddis. Then there’s the emotional side of it all: Agnew’s reason for wanting to kill McCann was because McCann allegedly killed Agnew’s girlfriend, a prostitute named Katia, but even the reliability of that tale gets almost immediately called into question.
It’s noir alright, but is it good? There are elements of the complex story, especially as it begins to sprawl out in the second episode, that suggest Low Winter Sun could deserve its full series run rather than just the two-part miniseries it was confined to in Britain. At other times, it seems more like a paint-by-numbers approach to critically acclaimed drama, as noted before the jump. Ultimately, the show may live and die by its own sword: it is so steeped in darkness and melancholy without any hint of humor that viewers may not find a compelling reason to want to be that depressed.
In many ways, Low Winter Sun has a number of allusions to Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, where the book’s anti-hero Raskolnikov commits what he believes to be a righteous murder in a way that should mean he is never caught. He rids the world of the evil pawnbroker, but finds himself slowly becoming entirely consumed by guilt and paranoia. Similarly, Agnew almost instantly regrets the deed, but plays it much cooler than Geddis. Yet in the aftermath of the crime, their shared looks and suspicious behavior turn the spotlight on them in a way that wouldn’t otherwise be the case.
The right themes are there, a great cast is set up (with a few truly memorable turns, even in the first two screener episodes), and the night is dark and full of terrors. But so far, Low Winter Sun has not broken through the line, yet, from being an imitator to becoming the stuff of legend. Whether it ever can or not remains to be seen. In a crowded year of compelling new and returning dramas, decent shows are a dime a dozen, but truly great shows are still very rare.
Low Winter Sun premieres Sunday, August 11th at 10 p.m. on AMC