“Low Winter Sun” is not a show with a huge fan base. Having been consistently plopped into the time slot following AMC’s current star, “Breaking Bad,” this American adaptation of a British two part mini-series really had a lot of work to do in order to hold the attention of audiences left reeling by its predecessor week after week. While it hasn’t been entirely successful on this front, it does show some signs that it’s at least trying. The gritty look of Detroit’s decaying streets and its introduction of a mystery that allows for lots of musing on morality would normally be enough to potentially make this a decent addition to AMC’s line up. I was even hopeful that, as a person who hasn’t completely caught up on “Breaking Bad” yet, I could be spared the disappointment of it not living up to that show’s high standards and maybe enjoy the series for what it is.
Needless to say, this didn’t work.
Following a long night of heavy drinking, Detroit police officer, Brendan McCann (Michael McGrady), is quietly killed by fellow homicide detectives, Frank Agnew (Mark Strong) and Joe Geddes (Lennie James). Using their knowledge of past homicide cases, the two dump McCann’s body in a nearby lake and carefully create what looks like a scene of suicide. However, when the body is discovered the next morning, it becomes clear that Agnew and Geddes weren’t so thorough. Cause of death is determined to be homicide and the two cops in question are put on the case. As the investigation ensues, secrets come to light that require Detroit’s Internal Affairs unit to become involved.
“Morality…It’s a damn strobe.”
The most defining and memorable feature of “Low Winter Sun” is easily its ability to take the above quote and just run with it. Much of the series’ focus lies on secret deals and mysterious intentions that the audience is often left to guess out for long stretches of time. From its first episode, the series drops viewers straight into the action and leaves them with little context on how any of the characters got to where they are. However, what we do learn fairly quickly is that these are people who are perfectly comfortable straddling moral lines and who have subsequently become deeply entangled in a growing network of dual alliances. Even with our main duo, Agnew and Geddes, it’s soon brought to light that their stated reasons for killing McCann weren’t completely truthful, and that each has their own agenda that the other isn’t privy to. Unfortunately, without a clear indication of who anyone really is or what they’re trying to accomplish, there’s also very little incentive to stick around and find out how this story unfolds.
“I drove her across the border to Windsor.”
Outside of merely focusing on the moral ambiguities of its characters, “Low Winter Sun’s” main interest lies in uncovering the corruption of its police department and the Detroit city streets. The series actively tries to create the sense that there is much more going on than first perceived, and that the murder of McCann isn’t simply a small-time act of revenge. Now, this would be interesting if it weren’t for that fact that I felt as though I was just waiting for the next big plot twist to come along and explain things to me half the time. The series does show some promise in its strong cast and deliberate slow reveal but, in the interim, none of the characters manage to stand out in their small, personal dramas and television was in no way yearning for yet another story of police corruption.
It doesn’t help that the cinematography is so, so bland. The series carries a very typical gritty cop show look and does very little to try to capture the eye of the viewer. Worse yet, its only attempt to create some interesting visuals through heavy contrasts in lighting result in the characters being blanketed in darkness on a regular basis. It seems to be done in an attempt to visualise the series’ themes of morality and add a sense of mystery to each scene’s proceedings, but all it really does is make important scenes incredibly difficult to watch. It’s nearly impossible to see anything.
AMC’s “Low Winter Sun” isn’t necessarily a bad series. It’s just not as exciting as it seems to think it is. It’s a series that takes itself very seriously but isn’t prepared in any way to back up its own sense of worth. As it continues to air in the direct shadow of “Breaking Bad’s” final episodes, this is a show that will most likely be forgotten before it even finishes its run.