If you’ve been watching BBC America’s gripping new murder mystery Broadchurch, I’m guessing that you’re falling in love with Olivia Colman, who stars as nurturing police detective Ellie Miller. This astonishingly versatile actress seems to be popping up everywhere these days, most recently in the United States on Run, a four-part miniseries that started streaming today on Hulu.
Colman, best known for playing warm, self-effacing characters, is decidedly cast against type here as Carol, an exhausted single mother with mousy brown hair streaked with blonde highlights that are less self-applied than self-inflicted. She shares her cramped council flat in London with her teenage sons, a couple of mouth-breathers who drift from one short-term job to another, filling in their frequent downtime with pot-enhanced video games and beer, pilfered from their mum’s refrigerator.
While her sons are spending their days in varying degrees of incoherence, Carol struggles to pay their rent and board with a soul-killing job at a characterless retail warehouse, where she helps stock the aluminum shelves with items sold by the case.
At the end of the day, Carol is so tired she barely can drag herself to the corner store to pick up more beer and liquor, then head home to cook a meal for her boys, who more often than not turn up their noses and lurch out for a night at the pub.
Things manage to get even worse on My Two Thugs, Carol’s life if it were a TV series, when she finds a bloodstain on one of her son’s clothing and eventually realizes they may well be behind a recent and savage homicide not far from their home. And while her first instinct is to protect her delinquents, their semi-casual dismissal of the crime makes her realize they are heading down the same dangerous path as their father, an abusive lout who walked out on them years ago.
That’s just in Episode One. Which lasts just over 40 minutes.
The concept behind this miniseries is to follow the ripples of an action from its point of occurrence to the seemingly disconnected lives it affects. The points of connection in Run are somewhat tenuous and occasionally not very compelling, but at least two of the episodes are well worth your attention.
In the first episode, we learn that Carol is augmenting her meager warehouse salary by stealing small electronics, ideally cell phones, and fencing them to Ying (Katie Leung, Cho Chang from the Harry Potter movies), an illegal Chinese immigrant who is selling them, and bootleg DVDs, to pay off a gangster. (Stay with me here, folks, I am not making this stuff up). One of those sales inadvertently causes some heartbreaking complications for Richard (Lennie James, AMC’s new Low Winter Sun series), a recovering heroin addict trying to reconnect with his teenage daughter. His travails lead us, in turn, to Kasia (Katharina Schuttler), a young Polish cleaning woman who – forgive me, I do not know the Polish equivalent of quelle surprise – was the girlfriend of the murder victim in Episode One.
Complications ensue, not all of them credible. In fact, as all the social horrors kept piling up – drugs, white slavery, larceny, immigration fraud, black market piracy, et al. – I started to wonder whether I was watching some contemporary variant on Reefer Madness. Stay out of wicked London Town, kids. It gets badder.
That said, I don’t especially regret watching all four episodes this morning, since each had its arresting moments, but if you’re strapped for time, I would recommend checking out Episodes One (Colman) and Three (James), both of which deliver powerhouse performances. The other two episodes aren’t bad, but they do traffic mainly in complex issues that have been tackled elsewhere more effectively, and frankly, I had hoped Episode Four was going to tie up all the narratives in a powerful bow.
Still, I’m glad that Hulu – which keeps getting publicly trumped by its streaming rival Netflix when it comes to high-profile events – remains a go-to service for people who want to explore more of the work of rising stars like Colman that isn’t otherwise available.
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.