The best thing about AMC’s moody and dark new cop drama “Low Winter Sun” is how authentically Detroit it feels. From the characters’ pitch-perfect vernacular to Bettye LaVette’s haunting rhythm-and-blues-drenched main title theme song, this show is a welcomed and necessary love letter to a financially bankrupt city that could use some love. Yes, there are some depressing shots of boarded up buildings and houses. But there are just as many sweet and breathtaking views of downtown’s Gothic architecture, Greektown and the little fishing neighborhoods just east of Belle Isle and south of Jefferson Avenue. In case you haven’t been paying attention, “Low Winter Sun” (which debuts Sunday, Aug, 11, at 10 p.m. ET/PT on AMC) is a remake of a 2006 U.K. miniseries of the same name about a couple of cops who kill a fellow cop.
British actors Mark Strong and Lennie James masterfully lead the cast as said cops and spend the majority of the series pretending to solve the very murder they committed. Strong’s character, Det. Frank Agnew, lives in a two story brick house that looks like so many of the homes in and around East Grand Boulevard and he and James’ character, Det. Joe Geddes, work out of 1300 Beaubien. In one scene, Det. Dani Kahlil (Athena Karkanis) roughs up a Chaldean store owner after he disrespects her. She’s Chaldean too and as she derides him in Arabic, the exchange is not only exciting but rarified on mainstream TV. Such little touches mean so much. Chris Mundy, the executive producer, showrunner and writer behind “Low Winter Sun,” clearly did his research and the gestalt he captures is more tangible and convincing than the half-hearted attempts at verisimilitude seen on “Detroit 1-8-7” and “Hung.” It’s not just a “pop” versus “soda” thing. It’s bigger than that.
When a character admonishes a group of petty criminals and tells them the city hasn’t been this good to them since they received sexual favors after the Dream Cruise, the spark of legitimacy is as comforting as a whiff of chili from Lafayette Coney Island. In another scene, Geddes’ threatens to leave a white criminal at the bottom of the Rouge River and the Downriver diss burns like a swig of Red Faygo. It also doesn’t hurt that 10 minutes in, I saw a guy I went to Cass Tech with so many years ago. (Good looking out Robert Shannon who now goes by the stage name Seven Unitedsouls.)
While such cameos and references – including the ones in this review – will most certainly be lost on people who are not from the Detroit area, they still matter. After all, Detroit is a character in this murderous tale much the way Baltimore was in “The Wire” – a drama it very much resembles. With a little luck and strong ratings, “Low Winter Sun” could be the hit it has all the promise to be.
Mekeisha Madden Toby is a Los Angeles-based television critic and blogger for MSN TV (tv.msn.com). She’s also one of the co-founders of Antenna Free TV (AntennaFree.tv). The Detroit native has covered the medium and the entertainment industry for 14 years. Madden Toby is also an NPR expert commentator who has written for The Detroit News, TV Guide, CNN.com, eHow, People Magazine, Us Weekly, The Seattle Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Minneapolis Star Tribune and The News Tribune in Tacoma, Wash. She holds a B.A. in journalism from Wayne State University. Madden Toby is also a wife and mother. When Madden Toby was 10, she started her own magazine and paid her staff in candy. Check out her podcast, “TV Madness with Mekeisha Madden Toby,” at tvmadnessmmt.podbean.com or on iTunes.