Is “Low Winter Sun” poised to be AMC’s next “Breaking Bad?” The jury is still out on that, but the cable channel’s latest crime drama certainly has a similar DNA: Tortured and bald anti-hero trying to do the right thing—check. A gritty exposition of a city’s seedy underbelly—check. A twisted morality tale where right is wrong and wrong is right—double check. “Low Winter Sun” even stars David Costabile, who played Gale the chemist on “Breaking Bad” before he was shot in the face by Jesse.
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The show is based on a 2006 U.K. two-part miniseries of the same name and again stars Mark Strong, a steely-eyed, follicly-challenged bruiser who you may recognize from “Zero Dark Thirty” and “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier Spy,” in the lead role.
The premise: Two Detroit cops kill another cop and they're then put in charge of an internal investigation to find themselves. Sounds sort of dark and crazy? What else would you expect from AMC?
Here are five other reasons to watch “Low Winter Sun”:
No. 1. It may do for Detroit what “The Wire” did for Baltimore. While the original “Low Winter Sun” took place in Edinburg, Scotland, the American version crosses the pond and lands in the urban wasteland that is Detroit. The city, which recently declared bankruptcy, is not just a backdrop for the show but is an integral part of the story. “We’re shining the spotlight on the city in its darkest hour,” says Strong. “But it’s given so much to us in return.”
Strong admits that when he told his friends he'd be filming a show in Detroit, they told him it was the worst place ever. "But having worked here for the last four months, it's nothing like what I was told," he says. "The opposite is true. It's a fascinating place that has everything."
Strong’s co-star and fellow Brit, Lennie James, agrees: “Detroit is the most dangerous, most exciting, most fascinating, most interesting first world city I’ve ever been to in my life.” He says he admires a city that requires people to wear seatbelts in their cars but not helmets on their motorcycles. “Any city that’s like that can’t be all bad, really,” he says.
No. 2. It’s the original miniseries on steroids. While the U.K. version of “Low Winter Sun” was an action-packed two episodes and three hours, the AMC series is 10 episodes and 10 hours. This means that the new Yankee writing team, led by former Rolling Stone magazine editor Chris Mundy, had to introduce entirely new elements and characters to the story.
Says Strong, "The new show has cherry picked the best parts of the old show. Only doing two episodes before meant it was a finite story, but now we have the potential to take the characters and plotlines wherever we want."
And Strong likes where they went with it this time around. "The original is really just a starting point. The original was like humming a few bars. This version is like a symphony."
No. 3. Mark Strong is badass. If you saw Strong lambaste a bunch of hapless CIA agents in “Zero Dark Thirty,” you know this guy does not play around. With his shiny head and piercing eyes, he looks like the kind of deranged British football fan who would head butt you in a pub.
Strong has transferred that same intensity to the Detroit version of his character Frank Agnew. Says Strong, "He is essentially a good person who does something that is incredibly bad. He's trying to marry his love of the city and the goodness of his call with the constant pull over to the dark side."
While Strong has been courted for many other American TV shows, this is the first one he's actually done. "The idea that you can resurrect the same character and move him from Edinburg to Detroit was too fascinating a creative opportunity to let go by," he says. "I just couldn't imagine anyone else playing Frank." Lucky for us.
No. 4. This isn’t a typical cop show, it’s a crime thriller. Although the show focuses on the Detroit Police Department, it’s not a police procedural. “This isn’t a whodunnit because you know within the first five minutes who did it,” says James. “We’re not trying to solve a case, we’re trying to un-solve a case.”
Showrunner Mundy concurs. "'Low Winter Sun' is a crime drama and about shared humanity between cops and criminals, and people trying to survive," he says.
No. 5. You’ll get most of your answers the first season. Unlike other serialized TV shows that leave you hanging season after season for answers (first season of “The Killing,” anyone?), “Low Winter Sun” promises for some satisfying closure after its first 10 episodes.
“It was important for me and the other writers that the season ends,” says Mundy.
Does this mean there's no room for a second season? "There sure as hell better be," Mundy says with a laugh. "We think about the first season as an album. Next year we'll work on a difficult second album."
We’ll be listening.
“Low Winter Sun” premieres Sunday, August 11 at 10/9c on AMC.