AMC’s new police drama Low Winter Sun is trying very hard to be the next Breaking Bad meets NYPD Blue, but if you don’t blink twice you could think that you are watching The Shield. That show’s protagonist Vic Mackey, memorably portrayed by Michael Chiklis, was a bald cop who killed another cop in the first episode of that series, setting up an out of control spiral of events that would drive the rest of the story. Here we have Detective Frank Agnew, a bald cop played by Mark Strong, who kills a cop in the first episode in the series. So you can’t help to start thinking, “Here we go again.”
Instead of sunny LA (where The Shield took place), we have the gritty and grimy streets of Detroit, that seem as wasted and barren as they did in the Robocop films. We don’t have any super cop coming to the rescue here, and as Agnew walks into the stationhouse, you are left to wonder how many other cops may be as corrupt, or more so, than he.
Agnew’s problems begin with fellow cop Joe Geddes (Lennie James) who claims that his partner Brendan McCann has murdered Frank’s girlfriend (cutting off her head, hands, and feet). Frank and Joe find Brendan drunk in a restaurant, and faster than you can say, “Take the cannolis,” Frank and Joe are drowning Brendan in the sink. Later they handcuff the body to the steering wheel and plunge the dead cop’s car into the river.
By now you are probably thinking this all sounds good, but unlike The Shield, the story starts to get too muddled almost immediately after this. I know this is a first episode, but so many people are introduced, some of them with little or no substance or background, and then we get Internal Affairs, bad guys, and all Frank’s internal conflicts. Yes, there is a lot going on here, but you don’t just make a delicious stew by throwing a whole bunch of things into a pot and hope for the best. That seems like what is happening here.
It all comes back to the main characters – Frank and Joe. There is an edge in their relationship, something to explore for certain, but we aren’t sure if Joe is lying about everything (though we know he is lying about some things). Strong’s performance is solid, as is James’s , and perhaps in time the other actors will get enough scene time to develop fully.
Right now Low Winter Sun is a mixed bag, and I’m not sure whether it is trying too hard or not enough. If ever a series was crafted to be like another series, this one has, but it seems more like a poor cousin of The Shield. That show caught me in the first episode (where the killing of the cop was necessary for bad cop Mackey to remain on the force) and it never let go, impelling me to watch every episode. The killing of McCann doesn’t carry the same weight here (it’s more that he was just a bad cop who got killed). I do not feel like I have to come back next week, or the week after that, and that may be the undoing of Low Winter Sun.
Maybe it didn’t help matters that Low Winter Sun came on right after a powerful episode of Breaking Bad, but just as it will not be in the shadow of that amazing show forever, it will also not have that lead in too much longer. Last night Low Winter Sun was like the show on right after the Super Bowl, and sadly it didn’t kick the field goal.
Maybe I’ll give Low Winter Sun a chance next week, but probably only to hang around to get to Talking Bad, which won’t be around too much longer either. I’m not sure, but I think the future for this series is almost as bleak as the Detroit waterfront it depicts, unless something big changes and that means in next week’s episode.
Photo credits: AMC