A “Breaking Bad” set in the seedy underbelly of Detroit, “Low Winter Sun” wears its parallels to the AMC show that precedes it on its grimy sleeve.
The series debuts post-“Bad” Sunday evening with a dynamic familiar to fans of that show: Two morally ambiguous men kill a man and then argue over how to dispose of the body.
Like Walt on “Breaking Bad,” the nominal hero sports a shaved head and displays a willful side. David Costabile, geeky Gale on that series, appears early in the first episode, further invoking the show’s Albuquerque-set predecessor.
But “Low Winter Sun” is no “Breaking Bad.” Dark and sordid from the start, the new AMC series lacks the mordant wit of Vince Gilligan‘s Emmy nominated show; it’s broody and pulpy.
Drugs are plentiful, but shady big-city cops, not a hapless scientist and a former student, drive the plot.
Mark Strong reprises the lead role of detective Frank Agnew in the American version of the British miniseries with the same name, and the actor plays him as haunted yet mysterious in early going. Fellow homicide detective Joe Geddes (Lennie James, below left with Costabile) is even more slippery.
“Folks talk about morality, act like it’s black and white,” he says to Frank, urging him to exact revenge on a fellow cop while establishing the show’s manifesto. “Or maybe they think they’re smart or they’re at a cocktail party acting pretentious and they say it’s gray.
“But you know what it really is? It’s a damn strobe, flashing back and forth and back and forth. So all we can do is try to figure out how we can see straight enough to keep our heads bashed in.”
Chris Mundy, who adapted “Low Winter Sun” for AMC, knows his way around police procedurals, having previously written for “Cold Case” and “Criminal Minds” before a turn on the network’s “Hell on Wheels.” He makes good use of the Detroit setting in the show — the U.K. counterpart was set in Edinburgh — drawing on Motor City’s decay and palpable racial tensions.
Misdeeds, double crossings and corruption are the order of the day: Cops monkey with evidence and drug dealers jockey for position. Frank recalls tender moments with his paramour, a hooker of European accent, in flashbacks.
“We did what we did. Now we need to deal with it,” Joe Geddes says to Frank at one point, pausing for emphasis as he so often does.
Sadly, “Low Winter Sun” lacks the lean snap of classic noir. Dialogue is too frequently fraught, especially as delivered by James. And Strong, who was so soulful in “Zero Dark Thirty” and “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy,” is such a cipher it’s hard to care about Frank too much in early going.
AMC clearly hopes that audiences will take to this flawed hero the way they did Walt in “Breaking Bad.” But ardent “Bad” fans may crave the flashes of humor that are missing in bleakly stylish “Low Winter Sun.” Those souls might as well savor the final episodes of “Bad” — and hold their breath that Gilligan’s proposed spin-off with sleazy attorney Saul Goodman comes to pass.