Here we are on the long weekend and, while the pickings appear to be slim, there's still good entertainment to be found.
Low Winter Sun (Sunday, AMC, 10 p.m.) began airing recently while I was away, and landed under the radar. It appears immediately after Breaking Bad (Sunday, AMC, 9 p.m.), which, in its final batch of episodes, has sucked up all the attention.
It's worth your time if your taste runs to grim, serious crime drama. The fourth episode airs Sunday, but you can find the first three on-demand.
Set in Detroit, which makes it interesting given that city's spectacular decline, it is as noir as all get out – set in darkness much of the time, and oozing angst. It's about two detectives who decide that killing a fellow officer is the only answer to their problems. When one of them is assigned to investigate the murder, it looks like it might easily be covered-up, but then Internal Affairs becomes interested in the case. And then there's all that guilt about killing a fellow cop.
Loosely based on a 2006 British TV movie with the same title, it took the risk of casting the star of the original, Mark Strong, as Detroit detective Frank Agnew – the one most tortured by the situation. Strong is a familiar, imposing figure from many movies (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, John Carter), and he's good here as someone seeing Detroit crumble just as his career and self-worth begin crumbling, too. He makes a splendid speech early on: "Folks talk about morality like it's black and white. Or maybe they think they're smarter, or they're at a cocktail party acting all pretentious, and then they say it's grey. But you know what it really is? It's a damn strobe, flashing back and forth and back and forth all the time. So all we can do – all we can do is try to figure out how to see straight enough to keep from getting our heads bashed in. Isn't that right?"
In this circumstance, he is right. The cop who helped carry out the murder, Joe Geddes (Lennie James, another British actor), actually has his own agenda. The series opens with the murder and then, very slowly, the complex web of deceit and betrayal behind it becomes clear. Heads are bashed, low-lifes are wiped out, lies are told in scene after scene.
Low Winter Sun takes time to evolve. This isn't a Criminal Minds episode, even if the man in charge here, Chris Mundy, was a writer/producer on that show. There is a spareness to the dialogue, machinations take place that are only hinted at, and concentration is required. If you're intrigued enough to watch to the end, it does pay off.
The series, so far, doesn't do for Detroit what The Wire did for Baltimore. That's a hard one to match. But Low Winter Sun does offer a strong visual sense of a ruined city that's sometimes darkly beautiful in its decay.
Also airing this weekend
JFK's Women: Scandals Revealed (Saturday, CBC NN 10 p.m. on Passionate Eye) has been on before, but if you haven't seen it, it might act as a good primer since we will get an avalanche of JFK-related material leading up to the 50th anniversary of his assassination in November. This rather lurid doc claims to focus on four "dangerous" women he was involved with – Marilyn Monroe, Ellen Rometsch, Mariella Novotny and Judith Campbell. It says that the four were monitored by the FBI, the situation was seen as damaging to national security and it claims revelations about the affairs were about to be made public at the time of his assassination.
TV's Funniest of the Funniest: A Paley Center for Media Special(Sunday, NBC, 9 p.m.) is two hours of interviews and clips about decades of TV comedy, everything from Seinfeld to The Simpsons, Saturday Night Live, 30 Rock and all the way back to I Love Lucy. You might feel better after two hours of laughing on the last long weekend of the summer.