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TV Review: “Low Winter Sun”

The run down, poverty stricken streets of Detroit are the backdrop of AMC’s latest crime drama, Low Winter Sun. Just like The Wire and Homicide used Baltimore to great effect, Low Winter Sun uses the streets of the Motor City to set the dark, bleak mood for this adaptation of the 2006 award-winning British mini-series by the same name. Unlike that BBC series, which ran 180 minutes, this American version is 10 hour-long episodes, and possibly more should the show garner enough acclaim and ratings. Since it airs directly after the final episodes of Breaking Bad, odds are in its favor. Is it worth your time? I think that fans of The Wire, The Shield and Homicide should be intrigued. I know I am.

The pilot opens with a shot of Mark Strong (who also starred in the British version) as Detective Frank Agnew staring at camera, a tear running down his eye. Who’s he crying for? Himself?  His dead lover? We don’t know. From there we jump to another time and place: The back of a restaurant, where Agnew is slamming beers and whiskey, trying to build courage.

“I’m not a bad person,” Agnew tells his accomplice, Joe Geddes (Lennie James). Indeed, Frank may be a good person and a greatFrank & Joe cop, but he’s also human and his emotions have gotten the better of him. Gettes has informed Frank that a crooked cop, Detective McCann, has killed and butchered Frank’s girlfriend. Blind with grief and liquor, Frank agrees to drown McCann, Geddes partner.

They think they’ve plotted the perfect crime, making McCann’s death look like a suicide. But their plan begins to unravel when the shit hits the fan. Soon enough, McCann’s body is found, Frank is assigned the murder investigation, but the murder of McCann is just the tip of the iceberg in this drama. It turns out Internal Affairs was after McCann, and possible Geddes. Franks begins to wonder if he’s been set up, and the slow realization that he’s been trapped by Geddes makes his stomach turn. Frank has to play the good cop and investigate the homicide of the guy he murdered, all while IA’s Detective Costabile (Simon Boyd) is breathing down his neck for dirt on Geddes.

Maya & DamonAcross town, a street hood named Damon Callis (James Ransone) robs a stash house where he’s supposed to meet the crooked cop he’s been paying for six months. That crooked cop? Yep, it’s McCann. Damon has been ready to make a power play in his neighborhood, recruiting street punks and finding real estate where he could open a whore house and sell cocaine. It’s a dangerous move, as he’ll be competing with two other crime bosses. But Damon feels that the time is right and he has the backing of his crew and his wife, Maya (Sprague Grayden). By the end of episode two, Damon and Geddes will have crossed paths, and I got the feeling that Damon might have a past with Frank, too.

Low Winter Sun begins with these two plots, but it slowly begins to open up as the second episode begins. Already it has that epic feel that The Wire accomplished so well. We see Geddes home life, and get too meet Nick (Billy Lush), a psychologically scarred war vet who’s lack of job skills (“The only thing I got any training to do is kill people”) makes him an ideal candidate to join Damon’s crew and do some dirty work. Maya has already begun working that angle, being the good wife that she is. In episode two we also meet one of the competing crime lords, Rev. Lowdown. He reminds me of Luther Mahoney from Homicide: he’s a pillar of his neighborhood who watches out for the children, yet he also controls the drugs and prostitution of the area. Rev. Lowdown has the kind of smile that makes you uneasy.

I felt that the writing in the first two episodes was strong. Even though Geddes has a way of showboating and speechifying, that is just who his character is, while others, such as Frank and the department commander, Lt. Dawson (Ruben Santiago-Hudson) are more careful with their words and behavior. I really liked how incidents from characters pasts were referred to, but never explained. At one point someone says to Maya, “Aren’t you?” She replies, “Yes.” And that’s where it’s left. Eventually we’ll find out, I’m sure, which compels me to keep watching.

If Low Winter Sun has a flaw, it’s that this show feels a little too much like The Wire and Homicide. That said both of those acclaimed cop shows had abysmal ratings, developing cult audiences. Therefore, Low Winter Sun should feel new and edgy to anyone who never watched either of those award-winning series. Mark Strong is exceptional in his performance, as are James and Callis. All three really inhabit their characters. If Low Winter Sun only lasts one season, it will be worth watching just to see these three men act.