Some TV shows are a victim of their time. Low Winter Sun is as much a victim here as the corrupt cop murdered in the opening scenes of an impressive pilot episode – helpless to the circumstances of its fate, but also a contributor to its own undoing.
Hardened Detroit detective Frank Agnew (Strong), aided and encouraged by duplicitous fellow detective Joe Geddes (James), kills in revenge for the murder of his prostitute lover. Their attempt to cover up their crime as ‘determined suicide’ raises suspicion after a second body is discovered at the scene. Agnew realises he’s been duped and become unknowingly embroiled in Geddes’ deeper corruption. With dogged Internal Affairs investigator Simon Boyd (Costabile) also on the case, Agnew must stay one step ahead of his colleagues as he investigates the very murder he committed.
It’s an excellent premise that reeks of the potential tension to follow. The fear of discovery and the lengths good people will go to protect their secret is what, among many things, kept audiences so riveted by Walter White in Breaking Bad (AMC have pedigree in this department). Where Low Winter Sun falters after such a promising opening is the distinct lack of feeling like the walls are closing in around our hero. Agnew is such an expert at playing the system and such a cool character that he rarely ever seems out of control of what’s going on around him. Not only does he have the necessary calm, skill, experience, etc to work the murder he committed, he also has time to go and investigate in other cities. This is where the series becomes too complex for its own good.
To the credit of the show, it does try to replicate some of the gritty, urban realism of The Wire. Detroit is depicted as a city where it would be easy for any police officer to walk a dark path with little in the way of incentive or risk to keep them off it. Exploring the efforts of drug-dealing Damon Callis (Ransone) and crew to build their own criminal empire in the face of established players is a testament to what was all-encompassing about The Wire. However, in offering so much time to characters and sub-plots loosely connected to the original crime Low Winter Sun loses the excruciating tension ramped up so well in the likes of Breaking Bad. This is where the series becomes a victim of its time. If it had been made when either one or none of these other shows existed it would probably be held in much higher regard.
Strong is excellent as Agnew, oozing gravitas as an experienced cop determined not to fall foul of Geddes’ schemes. Of course, all the characters have their shades of grey but one particular revelation just passed the halfway point in the series does make you question if Agnew is the man you have come to believe him to be. It’s an adjustment in opinion that’s hard to come back from and by the end of the show you will see him in a very different light. Nothing like the contrast between good Walter and bad Walter in Breaking Bad, but more like going from caring to not caring if he makes it out of the hole he’s in. James as Geddes is brilliantly layered. Some times you know you should hate him, other times he seems like he’s actually on Agnew’s side. The under-used Costabile is a gem as IA investigator Boyd. The cold politeness under which hides the most calculating and suspicious mind is a joy to watch in every scene. In fact, if the focus of the show stayed on the journey of these three characters trying to catch each other out it could have resulted in some riveting drama.
Low Winter Sun is a polished, well written, well acted series that can paper over the voids left by TV titans Breaking Bad and The Wire, but it certainly doesn’t fill them.