It’s hard to think of a more compelling combination than the British duo of Mark Strong and Lennie James, and their pairing alone (sans accents) is enough to recommend checking out “Low Winter Sun,” an AMC redo of a 2006 U.K. miniseries, with Strong reprising his central role. Their appeal is tested, however, by a too-familiar tale of police corruption, a relentlessly grim tone and an abundance of terse, jargon-riddled dialogue. Riding piggyback on “Breaking Bad’s” last stand, the series merits a look, certainly, but the first two episodes mostly live down to the title — throwing off limited heat, and even less light.

James’ Joe Geddes and Strong’s Frank Agnew are introduced while brutally killing Joe’s partner, in what for Frank is clearly an act of vengeance, albeit for a vaguely specified transgression against a woman shown only in gauzy flashback.

Their efforts to conceal what happened, however, are quickly complicated by the investigation being conducted by Internal Affairs officer Simon Boyd (David Costabile, who had a memorable “Bad” guest arc), whose suspicions and questions begin to fuel Frank’s own doubts about Joe’s underlying motive.
“This isn’t a game,” Joe tells him, trying to maintain their unified front. “This is grown-up shit.”

Adapted by Chris Mundy (“Criminal Minds”) from the original, with Ernest R. Dickerson directing the first two episodes, the show is certainly that: terse, gritty and realistic. Still, with so many cops patrolling the airwaves, it’s hard to make a new one stand apart from the crowd, and other than the casting — which in terms of excitement level initially doesn’t extend much beyond the aforementioned trio — the brooding atmosphere and assortment of low-lifes go only so far.

Moreover, Frank’s character is so tightly wound and taciturn it’s tough in the early stages to get a read on him, other than to see he’s probably not the sort of guy you want to cross. As for James, his intensity shines through in virtually everything he’s done — from “Jericho” to “Hung” to “The Walking Dead” — and this latest foray is no exception, its flaws notwithstanding.

In the nice-problem-to-have dept., AMC has set the bar pretty high for itself, and the passion surrounding “Breaking Bad” represents something of a double-edged sword. While it’s not generally fair to compare a new program to one of TV’s all-time-great dramas, well, with the two airing side by side, the yardstick is somewhat unavoidable.

There’s also the little matter of how much mileage this concept has in it as an ongoing series, having run two cycles in the U.K.

For now, “Low Winter Sun” has created a reasonably compelling universe, without as yet establishing the gravitational pull necessary to ensure viewers stay in its orbit. But to paraphrase one of James and Strong’s countrymen, the faults lie not in its stars.

Low Winter Sun

(Series; AMC, Sun. Aug. 11, 10 p.m.)

  • Production: Filmed in Michigan by Tiger Aspect Prods. and Endemol Studios.
  • Crew: Executive producer, Chris Mundy; co-executive producers, Dave Erickson, Rolin Jones; supervising producers, Melanie Marnich, Brett C. Leonard; producer, Charles S. Carroll; director, Ernest R. Dickerson; writer, Mundy; camera, Patrick Murguia; production designer, Ruth Ammon; editor, Skip Macdonald; music, Tyler Bates; casting, Cathy Sandrich Gelfond, Amanda Mackey. 60 MIN.
  • Cast: Mark Strong, Lennie James, James Ransone, Ruben Santiago-Hudson, Sprague Grayden, Athena Karkanis, Billy Lush, David Costabile.