Low Winter Sun is a strange beast. Developed for AMC by Chris Mundy (an executive producer of Cold Case, Criminal Minds, Criminal Minds: Suspect Behavior, and AMC's own Hell on Wheels), it is a reimagining of the BAFTA and Royal Television Society award-winning UK Channel 4 miniseries of the same name – also starring Mark Strong as Det. Frank Agnew. The action is transplanted from Edinburgh, Scotland to Detroit and the starting point of the series is the same cop on cop murder as the original.
If there's a problem with the AMC version of this story, it's that it's all a bit too familiar, even if you've never seen the original. There's also the question of what this version is going to do to either expand the story from 3 episodes to 10, or carry on the story after the initial adaptation comes to an approximate close. But those are concerns that may or not play out.
As far as the pilot episode goes, it's a fairly strong start, despite a penchant for having the characters speak their thoughts out loud to each other as exposition in the manner of a stage production – which forces a couple of awkward questions for Agnew by fellow detective Dani Khalil (Athena Karkanis). Strong brings a strange intensity to the role, partially energized, I think, by reinterpreting the character through another, similar but distinctly different, web of motivations and personal dynamics.
If nothing else, the pilot almost demands that interested viewers track down the original to compare the way the story morphs with the new settings and characters.
Lennie James plays fellow cop / fellow murderer Detective Joe Geddes and is, as usual, a joy to watch. It's Geddes' partner that he and Agnew have murdered, and each character has his own reasons for taking part. None of those reasons are very clear from the first episode, and Geddes may be playing Agnew for a sucker. The chemistry between the two actors is strong and it may be worth watching just to watch them play against each other over the course of the season.
After a fairly run-of-the-mill pilot, the closing moments do kick the drama into gear, as the body of Detective McCann (Michael McGrady) is discovered – along with a surprise dismembered body in his trunk – and Agnew is assigned to investigate his own crime. At the same time, an Internal Affairs investigation has just begun involving McCann with Breaking Bad vet David Costabile playing the officer in charge. McCann was also involved with a group of criminals, led by James Ransone (bringing some The Wire cred to the role), who were planning on robbing a local druglord after a bust. When McCann didn't show up (he was otherwise detained, i.e. dead and handcuffed to the steering wheel of a car that was dumped in the river) they stole the coke anyway.
Repercussions are sure to follow.
In contrast to other recent Americanizations of foreign cop dramas, Low Winter Sun lacks the intensity of The Killing and the flair of The Bridge, but it is more grounded and has the decidedly superior cast. It's not the most auspicious of debuts, but there may be enough ground work being laid to make the season worth our attention.
Provided the psychological battering we're all going to be taking from its lead-in, Breaking Bad, doesn't keep us from sticking around for another hour of emotional abuse.
Paul Brian McCoy is the writer of Mondo Marvel and a regular contributor to Shot for Shot at Comics Bulletin. His first novel, The Unraveling: Damaged Inc. Book One is available for at Amazon US and UK along with his collection of short stories, Coffee, Sex, & Creation, also at Amazon US and UK. He recently contributed the 1989 chapter to The American Comic Book Chronicles: The 1980s and has kicked off Comics Bulletin Books with Mondo Marvel Volumes One and Two. Paul is unnaturally preoccupied with zombie films, Asian cult cinema, and sci-fi television. He can also be found babbling on Twitter at @PBMcCoy and blogging occasionally at Infernal Desire Machines.