Low Winter Sun: TV Review

A solid, if a little too somber, addition to AMC's drama roster.

AMC's new drama centers on two detectives who come to the conclusion that killing a fellow detective is the only answer.

There are a lot of things to root for in the new AMC drama Low Winter Sun (Sundays at 10 p.m., starting Aug. 11), but chief among them is that maybe at some point it will tone down its badass, noirish bravado that rushes up to imaginary mirrors to strike threatening poses, revealing clenched teeth, trembling lips and trigger fingers.

If any series needs to sprinkle in a dose of levity -- even dark humor -- it's Low Winter Sun. Hell, even The Wire was not afraid to be funny.

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(This may be particularly important since the series will be following the incredibly intense final eight episodes of Breaking Bad, which will no doubt take a toll on the nerves of viewers.)

But this complaint is not meant as a warning to turn away from Low Winter Sun. This is definitely a series with potential -- and AMC really needs one of those right now, to offset the departure of Breaking Bad and lure in people who maybe missed out on the third-time's-the-charm mini-comeback of The Killing or who can't jump-start any desire for Hell on Wheels.

Chief among the reasons to be patient with Low Winter Sun is its best character -- the crumbling, haunting beauty of Detroit, which is a majestic visual criterion equal to the use of New Orleans in HBO's Treme.

The corruption, rot and pride that Detroit exudes is metaphorically significant to the characters in Low Winter Sun, which centers on two detectives who come to the conclusion that killing a fellow detective is the only answer. The answer to what, exactly, is a question that unspools slowly in Low Winter Sun and frequently works against it.

Based on a 2006 British miniseries of the same name, the American version comes from Chris Mundy (Criminal Minds, Cold Case), and stars Lennie James (The Walking Dead, Snatch) and Mark Strong (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and Zero Dark Thirty) as the detectives who kill their co-worker and David Costabile (Breaking Bad and virtually everything else on television) as the Internal Affairs agent who pops up immediately and heightens the tension and the suspicion.

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The impetus will be on Mundy to prove to viewers that he has the capable hand to create a drama that is a serious player in the scripted universe. Working against him is the fact the Veena Sud, who also worked on Cold Case, had a disastrous learning trying to prove the same thing during the first two seasons of The Killing, before returning to a more familiar structure in season three (which has improved, helped immeasurably by the brilliant acting of Joel Kinnaman and Mireille Enos). And one of the great hindrances of Hell on Wheels getting any traction was that it always seemed too ambitious a project for creators Tony and Joe Gayton.

Mundy has decided to drop viewers into Low Winter Sun in the same fashion that David Simon tends to drop viewers into his projects -- with a lot going on and very little explanation of who or why. We know Simon's track record there, but Mundy will have to convince viewers that there's more to Low Winter Sun than a lot of ominous dialogue, Ernest Dickerson's beautiful direction and the gloriously riveting disintegration of Detroit.

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There are certainly hints of hope. The cast is strong, the writing has flashes of muscle mixed with nuance, and in the first two episodes you get the sense that a broader, complex and creative world is being developed. Those are all encouraging signs that offset the first impression that Low Winter Sun so desperately wants to be taken seriously that it sometimes feels like someone stuck a photo of Ingmar Bergman on their inspiration board.

And yet, Low Winter Sun could end up having a lot to say, even if it's not saying much in the early episodes (though we are certainly led to believe that deception and corruption will be broad themes above and beyond the initial murder and cover-up). And we get to see some hints of Greek and African-American mob life (and thus, one would assume, racial issues) boiling underneath.

Low Winter Sun makes you want to watch for the potential, but a little more sun (or dark humor) to offset the This Is Serious tone would go a long way in encouraging that potential to be realized.

E-mail: Tim.Goodman@THR.com
Twitter: @BastardMachine