‘Low Winter Sun’ Series Premiere Review

Published 2 years ago by

Lennie James and Mark Strong in Low Winter Sun Low Winter Sun Series Premiere Review

AMC’s newest drama Low Winter Sun is all about peering into the endless, inky abyss that lies just beyond the gray area in which all its characters seem to reside. But it’s also a cop show, so right from the beginning, it’s clear the series has rather serious plans to take its particular narrative down what has become the now standard and highly sought after road of the antihero (in this case an essentially good cop drawn into some very bad things) and his gloomy pursuits in an equally murky and foreboding environment.

The environment, in this case, is the beleaguered city of Detroit – which exists here as something of a physical gray area, a land of boarded-up and abandoned houses, graffitied buildings and trash-lined alleyways. Effectively, it is the embodiment of the moral and social decay we see in the actions and reactions of the show’s players and, more to the point, its two leads: Joe Geddes and Frank Agnew, played by Lennie James (The Walking Dead, Space Jail Lockout) and Mark Strong (Green Lantern, Zero Dark Thirty), respectively.

While James is certainly no stranger to appearing on AMC’s airwaves (okay, he’s only done it twice), Strong is no stranger to the role of Frank Agnew – as he played the character in 2006 for the two-part mini-series, which aired on the UK’s Channel 4 Television. Together, the two make something of an odd couple: They’re not partners, but they work in the same precinct, and both have a pretty serious bone to pick with a fellow detective (and Geddes’ actual partner) Brendan McCann (Michael McGrady).

Michael McGrady and Mark Strong in Low Winter Sun Low Winter Sun Series Premiere Review

The pilot begins in medias res, after Joe has already talked Frank into killing McCann for what sounds like the brutal murder and subsequent dismemberment of Frank’s love interest, Katia (Mickey Sumner). Together, they murder McCann and dispose of his body, using their intimate knowledge as homicide investigators to help them pull off what they believe will be the perfect crime. Rather than focus on a build-up to the murder, most of the episode is spent the following day, as Geddes and Agnew feign ignorance, shock and anger in and around their precinct while Internal Affairs – headed up by an investigator named Simon Boyd (another AMC alum in David Costabile) – spends the day looking into the purported corruption of McCann and, possibly, Geddes.

The cover-up and panic over the I.A. investigation turns what would normally be an internal monologue of one of the characters to be reformatted into pure exposition. Though lengthy and overwrought, it’s not necessarily bad; most of it is well performed – like Geddes’ drawn out preamble to McCann’s murder – and quite a lot of it has the sort of ask-and-answer, ask-and-answer-again repetitious style of dialogue that typically denotes the work of David Mamet. In fact, the various confrontational conversations going on inside the cramped precinct feel quite similar to Mamet’s Homicide, or that the pilot could easily have been conducted as a stage play. There’s some nice (if slightly strained) dialogue here, but we don’t really get a clear sense that there is or will be something deeper behind it all.

Lennie James and David Costabile in Low Winter Sun Low Winter Sun Series Premiere Review

The trouble is: much of what transpires on-screen also smacks of repetition, of having been done before; and if the first mini-series was considered lightning in a bottle, then this first hour stands as proof of the impossibility of repackaged brilliance. Perhaps that will translate to a better series in the long run, as the original’s 180-minute runtime will be completely consumed by the AMC version before August is out. By then it will be episode four, and while it’s almost certain the storyline of the original will largely be decompressed to accommodate the 10 episodes of the first season, sorting out the narrative might yet yield something wholly new and engrossing that also justifies the jump from Europe to Detroit.

So far, there is little in the way of acknowledgment toward the struggles of Detroit in any consequential manner. Right now (that is, over the first two episodes), the city exists primarily as a backdrop, or a bit of set dressing, and though the state of affairs in the Motor City works aesthetically, the impact is only surface-level. The show needn’t take the same route, say, David Simon did with regard to Baltimore in The Wire, but leaving things unsaid will eventually work against the series.

Aside from the fact that this story has literally been told before, Low Winter Sun‘s premise, its characters and, certainly its atmosphere, all feel like components to a story we’ve already seen countless time. Portions of it are certainly well-made and, again, some portions are beautifully acted, but it begs the question as to just how well (or if at all) the series will be able to extend this narrative over 10 episodes, and if it will find something unique and meaningful to pull from all this darkness.

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Low Winter Sun continues next Sunday with ‘The Goat Rodeo’ @10pm on AMC.

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  1. Seriously, how many variations of this tired plot do we have to bear through before a network tries something different? That was tired and wont last a full season.

  2. I only watched this because straight after Breaking Bad it was said that the next episode teaser will feature on the first advert. So I found myself watching it just for Breaking Bad, 5 minutes in and the show caught me, very interesting. Well played AMC, well played.

  3. I too only watched this for the Breaking bad preview and because it is the bridge between Breaking and Talking Bad. Excellent cast, I love so many actors in this show. But it was boring as hell. Been here, done this.

    • I agree. James and Strong as well as the BB preview attracted me to this. But the show was pretty boring. Might give it another chance.

  4. And Kevin, I agree. Detroit is such an interesting city (especially for a cop show). It’s a shame they don’t make use of it.

    • You’ve seen all 10 episodes?

      • No need for that smart attitude, bud. It’s uncalled for. You didn’t direct that towards the author, who made the same point, so don’t direct it toward me either.

        Obviously I haven’t seen all the episodes. I’m just talking about the pilot, which is designed to be an indicator of what a series will be like.

  5. I enjoyed it. It’s got two powerful leading men. It may not last long but I think it’s worth keeping an eye on.

  6. I thought it was very good and it started a little slow, but when I hear the theme song sung by Betty Lavette, I was hooked.

  7. It’ seems like a derivative show, so far.

  8. I watched it last night. I liked it, but I’m not 100% sure I understand what is going on and/or what is suppose to be happening. I will rewatch this premiere and then watch upcoming episodes. I like the leads. I remembered Lennie James from the Walking Dead.

  9. “The environment, in this case, is the beleaguered city of Detroit – which exists here as something of a physical gray area, a land of boarded-up and abandoned houses, graffitied buildings and trash-lined alleyways. ”
    Unfortunately that last bit there is a fairly accurate description of Detroit, at least a large chunk of it. And thus far, this show casts the correct light on what used to be the grand, lively city. I hope it broadens as the show develops.

  10. Too uneven, retread storyline, unfortunately even with a strong cast. I don’t see this being a diamond in the rough kind of series like Breaking Bad. This will go into purgatory along with other failed Cop shows.

  11. Pretty much Michael Mann doing ‘The Shield’ with a bit of David ‘End of Watch’ Ayer thrown in. So be it. First episode was fine. Won’t change the world. If ‘Blue Bloods’ can find an audience and all that…

    Never quite understood why Lennie James seems destined to forever remain underrated/under-appreciated.

    • I see your point, but at least the shield was a good show

  12. As soon as they start copying anything they have lost what made Walking Dead and Breaking Bad so good-the originality.

    This new show is just not even CLOSE to either of the above.

  13. I was not impressed with the first episode. I found the story plot tired and used so many times. Then the teasers keep telling the plot like the audience isn’t smart enough to follow along. Please give this series a merciful and quick death. Won’t watch another episode.

  14. This show sucks!

  15. I love how you mention Walking Dead, a show that Lennie has been in like 2 episodes of, and lockout where he had a total of about 20 mins of screen time – less than the rapist brother of the main bad guy played by Joseph Gilgun, of misfits fame. You neglected to mention Jericho – a show that defied the network to come back for a second season due to fan backlash of the cancellation – in which he was a main character. Great detective work guys, but seriously that’s a particular kind of annoying with a special spot in hell – the spot between the pedophiles and the people who talk in theaters.

    (Yes, I know that Lennie James was not in firefly and it was Ron Glass who said that line, but I love it too much not to say it all day erry day)