Lennie James and Mark Strong (from left)
Low Winter Sun, a new 10-part crime drama premiering Sunday on AMC after the return of its Emmy-winning Breaking Bad, starts out on an intense note, as Detroit homicide detective Frank Agnew (British actor Mark Strong, Zero Dark Thirty) teams up with police colleague Joe Geddes (Lennie James, The Walking Dead) to murder a corrupt cop who – Frank has been told by Joe – killed one of Frank’s loved ones in a drug-fueled rage. The crime is grossly out of character for Frank, an upright cop driven to violence by his grief. After all, the victim was a nasty piece of work, so the two men don’t feel that bad about making his death look like a suicide.
Except, almost immediately, things start to go spectacularly wrong. The morning after the murder, Frank learns that the victim was under the scrutiny of Simon Boyd (David Costabile, Suits), an Internal Affairs investigator. Worse, when investigators retrieve the victim’s car from the watery site of his “suicide,” they find a second, dismembered corpse in the trunk.
What the heck is going on here, Frank starts to wonder. Has Joe played him? Did the dead guy really kill Frank’s loved one, or did Joe, or is she still alive? And is the crime going to suck Frank into an ugly morass via the Internal Affairs investigation?
So many questions, so little reason to care.
Seriously, I can’t remember the last time I saw a drama with a strong cast and a solid pedigree (former Criminal Minds and Cold Case scribe Chris Mundy adapted this new series from a well-received 2006 British miniseries) that left me so thoroughly disengaged. While I like the audacity of starting the series with this shocking act of violence, the murder loses a lot of its impact because we never see Frank – who, we are reassured by most of his colleagues, is a stand-up kind of guy – not behaving badly. Low Winter Sun wants to make us feel emotionally invested in the moral disintegration of a decent human being, but we never make a connection with Frank in the first place, nor do we care about the relationship the murder victim apparently destroyed. It doesn’t help that James, in an otherwise good performance, is so transparently a bad guy from the first moment we see him that Frank seems pretty simpleminded to be taken in by him. (If you’re about to scream, “Hey, spoiler alert!” trust me. You can see that one coming a mile off).
There’s a secondary story line involving a blue-collar aspiring drug kingpin named Damon Callis (James Ransone) and his Lady Macbeth, wife Maya (Sprague Graydon), but their scenes in the first two episodes AMC made available look like outtakes from every other episode of Law & Order you’ve ever seen.
I suppose it’s possible that Mundy will find a way to make us care about Frank, or any of the other characters for that matter, in the episodes to come, but after spending two hours with this chilly, cliché-filled story, I can’t in good conscience suggest you clear another hour in what is probably an already full Sunday night of TV viewing for such a half-baked effort.