AMC Sunday 2fer: Low Winter Sun 1.04 "Catacombs"

A tv review article by: Paul Brian McCoy

This week, Low Winter Sun falls into the The Killing trap: being somehow incapable of living up to the source materials. At least with The Killing there've been decent ratings. Low Winter Sun isn't grabbing anyone's attention despite the best/worst lead-in on television at the moment. I say best because with so many eyes on Walt, Jesse, and Hank as they head to an explosive climax, all LWS has to do is hold on to some of them. I say worst because it's fucking Breaking Bad. Almost anything is going to look weak next to it and two hours of back-to-back gut-wrenching crime and punishment can just be overwhelming.

And while Forbrydelsen, the Danish series that inspired The Killing, is simply so good there's no way the Americanized version could live up to it (despite doing everything it could to put viewers into a suicidal depression every week), the original Low Winter Sun is simply a nice, tightly-spun Scottish murder mystery that was done in just under two and a half hours (yes, I did fulfill my promise and watch it this weekend). By staying focused just on Frank (Mark Strong) and Joe's (Brian McCardie) murder of fellow cop Brendan (Michael McGrady), it provided a very satisfying character study of the two.

But AMC has to stretch the murder investigation out over ten episodes instead of three (and everyone hopes for a second season, meaning no closure if they're successful). So we get the wholly original (for this show) side story of Damon (James Ransone) and Maya (Sprague Grayden) trying to start a whorehouse tacked on. But not just any whorehouse; one where they show their moral fortitude by refusing to hire underage girls. It's also a fully-functioning whorehouse in what was just a day or two earlier a run-down abandoned building.

(Sure, there are five guys working on it while coked out of their minds, so okay. They maybe could have gotten their shit together that quickly. But when Frank points out this week that it's been two days since they found Brendon, I was immediately taken out of the story. Maybe it was an editing goof, but it was sloppy.)

It's the weak point of this show and with "Catacombs" we discover that Maya and Frank actually go way back. Back to when she was married to a cop named Sean (Trevor Long), who is now, conveniently, a homeless drunk who can't let her go and will clearly witness something he shouldn't before too long. Oh, and she's got some kids she gave up, but still pitches in money to help raise. Meanwhile Damon and a young gun for Rev. Lowdown (Ron C. Jones) named Poppa T (Samuel A. Brice) bond over the idea that it's time for a new generation to take control of the crime in Detroit.

Which wouldn't be all that bad if there was anything about any of the characters that was interesting or different from generic criminals-with-ambitions on any number of other shows. Giving Maya a backstory tying her to the police force almost does the trick, but it plays more like a desperate attempt to tie the stories together than real character development.

And speaking of desperate attempts at character development, this week we are introduced to Joe Geddes' (Lennie James) shoplifting teenage daughter April (Ryan Destiny) and his bitchy ex-wife Terri (Donna Cerise). Not a cliché in the bunch there.

I was cool with Joe and his mom Violet (L. Scott Caldwell) having a strained relationship. It helped to cement the idea that he was conflicted, isolated, and lonely. It allowed Joe to show a different side that broadened the character into more interesting shades of grey. Now Joe has to take care of his troubled teenage daughter, which reeks of pandering while also echoing a story element that worked well in Forbrydelsen, but not so much in The Killing.

It's just unnecessary and annoying. We don't need more characters awkwardly inserted in these people's lives. We need to focus on the crime and how Frank and Joe are going to stay out of the clutches of Internal Affairs. And I'm sorry. As much as I love everything David Costabile does, his take on Boyd is just not working. He's supposed to be quirky and weird, but the writing doesn't support it.

In fact, the writing doesn't support much. Occasionally there are glimmers of light, as with last week's internal/external struggles of Joe and Frank, but more often than not, we're just getting clichés and bad dialogue (see: every word uttered by Ruben Santiago-Hudson as Charles Dawson, the commander of the precinct - not his fault, but he drew the short straw on this show).

The worst thing this week (aside from everything about Damon and Maya, and everything about Joe's family) is Frank's search for Katia (Mickey Sumner), the thought-she-was-dead-so-I-killed-a-fellow-cop McGuffin. Frank is searching the seediest whorehouses in Canada trying to find her and only after a couple of tries, he gives in and fucks a prostitute who looks a little like Katia. Because the prostitutes in the seediest, most secret, let-you-do-anything-you-want whorehouses are smoking hot like Katia.

I appreciate and understand the writers' desire to soil Frank. He's a murderer (but he did it for love!) in charge of his own murder investigation, but aside from that little fact, he's been a stand-up guy. He's responsible and trustworthy (aside from that little fact) and is the protagonist of the show. I was hoping it was going to be more balanced between Frank and Joe, but clearly that's not happening. Joe is quickly becoming less interesting than even fellow cop Dani Khalil (Athena Karkanis), with her longing looks at Frank and I'm-one-of-the-good-Arabs clichés.

But the writers seem to want to go the opposite direction with Frank as with Joe. Joe is a dirty cop with emotional ties to his family clouding our opinions of his behavior, lightening the darkness. Frank is the good cop who is spending his off-time trolling Canadian hookers, shifting his character from the light to the dark. It's not a bad idea, but it's so ham-handed and thinned out with the stupid side story I just can't take any of it seriously. And as long as the writers keep playing fast and loose with the actual passing of time, this is destined to get sloppier and sloppier as they figure out a way for our cop-killing heroes to get away with it.

Which is something the original series didn't really have to worry about and was all the stronger for it.

Paul Brian McCoy is the writer of Mondo Marvel and a regular contributor/editor for Comics Bulletin. His first novel, The Unraveling: Damaged Inc. Book One is available at Amazon US & UK, along with his collection of short stories, Coffee, Sex, & Creation (US & UK). He recently contributed the 1989 chapter to The American Comic Book Chronicles: The 1980s (US & UK) and has kicked off Comics Bulletin Books with Mondo Marvel Volumes One (US & UK) and Two (US & UK). Paul is unnaturally preoccupied with zombie films, Asian cult cinema, and sci-fi television. He can also be found babbling on Twitter at @PBMcCoy.

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