August 18, 2013

THE SKED Pilot + 1 Review: “Low Winter Sun”



A lot can happen between the creation of a TV pilot and the production of regular episodes: writer/producers may be hired or fired, audience focus groups weigh in, networks and studios (which may have had their own turnover) give plenty of notes, helpful and otherwise, and critics start to rear their ugly heads. Tone, pace, casting, and even story can change. Here at THE SKED, we’re going to look past the pilots and present reviews of the first regular season episodes as well.

Previously… on LOW WINTER SUN:  Detroit Detective Frank Agnew (Mark Strong), along with fellow Detective Joe Geddes (Lennie James), have murdered Geddes’s partner, a third Detective named McCann.  Geddes convinced Agnew that McCann had brutally killed Agnew’s girlfriend Katya, sawing off her head, hands and feet, but when a body is found in the trunk of the car that the two cops sent into the river, it doesn’t belong to Agnew’s girlfriend.  Meanwhile, Geddes may have had his own reasons for wanting McCann dead, because Internal Affairs investigator Boyd (David Constabile) was about to begin an investigation of McCann the next morning, which may be related to McCann’s deal to protect a pair of hoods led by Callis (James Ransome) who were ripping off the drug kingpin of Detroit’s Greek community. In any case, everyone from Geddes to squad commander Dawson (Ruben Santiago-Hudson) is spooked by Boyd.  And fellow Detective Kahil (Athena Karkanis) is already sniffing around Agnes and Geddes, sure something isn’t quite right.

Episode 2:  Low Winter Sun seems to be pitched more toward a steadily increasing degree of tension than, a la The Killing, constant twists and red herrings.  The second episode, written by US series adaptor Chris Mundy and directed by pilot director Ernest Dickerson, tightened the screws on Frank Agnew, as it quickly turned out that he wasn’t as clever in killing McCann as he thought he’d been–he remembered that the fluid in McCann’s lungs couldn’t be salt water, but not that Detroit tap water also wouldn’t match the river that supposedly drowned him.  (The scene where the coroner informed Frank that this meant McCann was definitely murdered, as Boyd watched, was a brilliant mini-showcase for Mark Strong to repress about a dozen emotions in just a few seconds.)  There’s also the question of just how much–or little–Frank can trust Geddes, especially when it developed that the headless, hand-and-footless corpse in McCann’s trunk was Boyd’s chief confidential informant against McCann.  Geddes’s new story is that Frank’s girlfriend wasn’t killed at all, and that he rescued her and sent her back overseas, but that seems highly unlikely, and the episode ended with Frank and Geddes burning down Katya’s house together to hide the evidence of McCann’s murder of the informant.

The plot’s parallel thread, about Callis and his wife Maya (Sprague Grayden) and their plan to build their own drug empire with the coke stolen from the head of Detroit’s Greek drug business, is so far less engaging and more of a typical TV or movie crime story, although it was useful to know that they were supplying McCann with information he was apparently planning to use to bring down the kingpin himself and trump the IA investigation against him.  We also got hints that there’s more to Maya’s story than we would have expected.  But even the nice scene where Callis and his Number 2 courted the acquiescence of the city’s black druglord to open a brothel/drug emporium in his territory felt familiar in its broad irony, what with the gangster happily presiding over his barbecue and preaching the importance of kids.  (Another secondary scene, allowing Karkanis to give what-for to an uncooperative witness to another murder–in Arabic–felt a lot fresher.)

Low Winter Sun is compelling when it sticks to its main storyline and lead performers, although it’s still something short of a knockout.  With 8 hours still to come in its season, there are presumably plenty of surprises ahead, and the fact that it’s not clear from what direction they’ll be coming is a good sign–unless it isn’t.


PILOT + 1:  Can It Sustain?  It’s Worth Sticking Around to Find Out.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."