August 11, 2013



LOW WINTER SUN:  Sunday 10PM on AMC – Potential DVR Alert

It’s been more than a decade since The Shield introduced US television to not just corrupt, but murderous cops as protagonists, and–well, it feels like about 15 minutes since the last bleak serialized mystery (actually it was a few days ago, with the US premiere of Broadchurch), so LOW WINTER SUN will have its work cut out to prove it’s worthy of its royal placement as the show airing after the final episodes of Breaking Bad on AMC.

Adding to an overall feeling of familiarity, Low Winter Sun, like The Killing and The Bridge, is based on a format that originated overseas–in this case, in England, where it started as a novel and then became a BBC miniseries.  (The American adaptation is by Chris Mundy, whose credits include years on Criminal Minds.)  One unusual wrinkle this time is that the British actor Mark Strong, who played the lead at home, repeats his turn as the same character here, although now the action is set in Detroit and he’s dropped his Edinburgh accent.  Also, while the BBC version told its entire story in 3 hours, AMC’s is intended as a continuing series, with 10 episodes in its initial order.

Low Winter Sun is also somewhat different from the norm in that it’s not exactly a whodunnit or a procedural, but more a story of character and millieu in the vein of The Wire.  Minutes after the show begins, Strong’s character, Detective Frank Agnew, and fellow Detective Joe Geddes (Lennie James), methodically drown another cop, Geddes’s partner McCann, in a restaurant, and then carefully stage the murder as a suicide. There’s no mystery about Agnew’s motive:   Geddes has told him that McCann brutally murdered Agnew’s girlfriend–although we don’t yet know what the motive would have been for that crime.

As the initial episode unfolds, it becomes increasingly clear that there were other reasons various parties may have wanted McCann dead.  An Internal Affairs investigation, under the dogged command of Simon Boyd (the marvelous David Constabile, from Suits and Breaking Bad itself), was about to begin, perhaps incriminating Geddes or even the division’s commander Dawson (Ruben Santiago-Hudson).  McCann was involved in protecting some second-tier gangsters led by Callis (James Ransome) who were ripping off the local mob leader.  Agnew may have been duped into becoming a murderer, which doesn’t make him any less guilty, but should lead to much mental anguish.  And inevitably, Agnew is put in charge of the McCann investigation, under Boyd’s watchful eye.

The first hour of Low Winter Sun doesn’t make any grandiloquent claims for itself, and it starts off, at least, with a much narrower scope than The Bridge.  It’s simply an intense and perhaps complicated story of life lived in gray areas, both morally and visually (director Ernest Dickerson makes sure Detroit looks as moldering as the settings of television’s other recent thrillers).  The cast will certainly help:  Strong is a superb character actor, in projects as varied as Guy Ritchie’s crime movies, The Young Victoria and Kick-Ass, and the supporting cast is well stocked with actors like James, Santiago-Hudson, Constabile, Athena Karkanis as another detective who already has her suspicions, and Sprague Grayden as Callis’s wife. Mundy’s dialogue is crisp, and the pilot is well-paced.  While it’s too early to tell if Low Winter Sun will distinguish itself in what’s now a crowded subgenre, let alone be worthy of being mentioned in the same sentence as Breaking Bad, it has an effective start.


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."