Low Winter Sun: Sundays at 10 p.m. Eastern, AMC
One of 2013’s most recurring TV threads is that this year feels like a year of transition. As veteran series either end (Breaking Bad, The Office, Dexter) or are winding down towards a 2014 conclusion (Mad Men, It’s Always Sunny, How I Met Your Mother), networks are trying to tie their new chosen favorites to these aging favorites in order to get viewers to hang along for the ride into the future. We see this tonight in AMC’s attempt to keep the Breaking Bad crowd hooked in with its’ newest entry: Low Winter Sun.
Low Winter Sun delves deeply into a corrupt police force in America’s most dysfunctional city: Detroit. When Detective Frank Agnew (Mark Strong) murders one of his own colleagues in a fit of passion, he finds himself at the mercy of one of his corrupt colleagues in Joe Geddes (Lennie James). Now he must figure out how to navigate the aftermath of his actions as well as the corrupt underworld that can now force his hand.
If there is one word I would use to describe Low Winter Sun, it is competent. By that I mean that on the little technical measures that can affect how a show is perceived, it manages to handle then in a fairly average to above average manner. The camerawork is solid, conveying the grime and emptiness that comes from the show’s setting, contemporary Detroit. The score, similarly enough, conveys this sort of mood, using a lack of fanfare more often than not as well.
The acting is also generally very strong. Lennie James, who plays bad cop Joe Geddes ends up popping off the screen at every opportunity, while playing a character who is one part cop, one part hustler, and one part ruthless sadist. Mark Strong, who also played the lead character in the original British mini-series, excels as Agnew, a conflicted but honest man who realizes that while he was desperate, he was also duped.
So if the surface elements are there and performed well, and the acting is superb, then why is a show like Low Winter Sun fail to resonate on the same level as many of the best dramas on TV (like perhaps it’s lead-in)? Much of that comes from the show’s pacing, as it opens on the climactic murder that the show’s main storyline hinges on (without really doing a sufficient job of showing Agnew’s desperation), before slowing down (to the point where some of the scenes feel like pure filler) only to spike the action with a big twist at the end. Unfortunately, when scenes seem to exist solely to space out plot points as opposed to providing character development or further building the world in which these characters live in, it makes it harder to get attached, especially when they crowd out moments that potentially provide resonance: Frank gets drunk and rambles about why he has to kill a man, but instead of providing some more coherent set-up (maybe devote a couple of scenes instead of a quick and nonsensical flashback?), the show finds room to place a redundant scene of Frank in the bathroom.
The Final Verdict: Low Winter’s Sun feels like a doppelganger for any dark, gritty, urban, contemporary drama in the last few years. All of the surface elements are there: the profanity, the darkness, and the bleakness of the world, but unfortunately it’s not backed by any real plot hook or emotional resonance in order to compel further viewing. This is a shame, as the central pairing of Mark Strong and Lennie James both do superb work. Check it out to see James light up the screen, but I can’t imagine it becoming appointment viewing when there are better options in that time slot.