Update: Time, USA Today, TV Guide Dislike 'Low Winter Sun'

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Advance reviews of Detroit's new cop drama (AMC, 10 p.m. Sunday) include strong slams by prominent publications. 

Negative reviews of "Low Winter Sun" are in Time ("disaster cheesecake"), USA Today ("forced and phony"), TV Guide ("more punishing than provocative") and a blog called Grantland ("not an ounce of originality or spark.")

At the local Metro Times site, Jim McFarlin says he hopes the script and actors lighten up at least occasionally -- a comment several critics make.

The Kansas City Star's negative review Friday has a cheap-shot head: 'Low Winter Sun' makes Detroit even more depressing.

Sure, why not whack at fellow Midwesterners living three states away? Good way to feed hometown readers' sense of superiority -- and it's not like anything is depressing in glittering KC, right?

Other reviewers admire the first two episodes seen via advance DVDs. 

It "could be the hit it has all the promise to be," writes Mekeisha Toby Madden, a former Detroiter now in LA. A writer at The Record in northern New Jersey calls it "unquestionably well-done" and adds: "It's nicely written, impressively acted and beautifully filmed." But she also considers it too humorless.

Excerpts from 13 new reviews:


Mark Strong's "eyes, and the way they reflect Detroit, will make or break the series," writes Tom Long of The Detroit News.

Time: " 'Sun' is . . . a paint-by-the-numbers serious-cable series where all the numbers indicate a shade of black. . . . Detroit – though its ruins are shot in Low Winter Sun with haunting beauty – seems most attractive to this show for its emptiness, as a stage to isolate tortured men doing desperate things at the end of times. 'Low Winter Sun' may not be disaster porn, but at minimum, it is often disaster cheesecake." -- James Poniewozik

New York Magazine: "The problem isn’t that Low Winter Sun is incompetent, it’s that it’s essentially a catalogue of cable clichés that don’t need any more exposure. . . . [It] seems to have just one note in its repertoire — anxious nihilism — and hammers it over and over. . . . Everyone’s working so hard to put across unremarkable material that the best one can manage is a kind of exhausted empathy." -- Matt Zoller Seitz

Grantland: "The police drama works best when viewed as a sharp and cutting satire of television's recent dark, antiheroic age. It's a swaggering, snarling mess so rife with clichés that one has to believe the majority of them are intentional. . . . 'Low Winter Sun' has not an ounce of originality or spark. Rather, it clumsily cobbles together a whole host of macho signs and signifiers in the hope that they'll add up to something more than gunsmoke and other forms of hot air." -- Andy Greenwald

Detroit News: "Mark Strong . . . looks to be the focal point here, plagued by guilt from the moment the cameras begin rolling, dark thoughts and memories rolling behind his eyes. Those eyes, and the way they reflect Detroit, will make or break the series. So far, they’re pretty dark." – Tom Long, grading it with a B

Metro Times: "Executive producer and series adapter Chris Mundy . . . has created a gloomy, unrelenting landscape where the strobe separating the good guys from the baddies spins at high speed. . . .  In fact, the drawback of the pilot is that it never lightens up. Even "The Wire" and "NYPD Bluecracked a few smiles every now and then." – Jim McFarlin, who gives the episode a B+

TV Guide: " 'Sun' aspires to the breadth if not the depth of 'The Wire.' But it's so self-conscious in its existential misery, lacking the leavening humor and humanity of a modern classic like 'Breaking Bad' that it often feels more punishing than provocative." – Matt Roush

USA Today: "Too much simply rings forced and phony, from the dialogue to the plot to the characters. What's worse, considering that Detroit already has enough problems, too much seems only tangentially related to the city, as if the writers simply chose it from some list of suitably troubled urban areas. In both 'The Wire' and 'Treme,' you can feel David Simon's passion for Baltimore and New Orleans. There's no passion here, and no real sense of location, either. . . . On the plus side, the show is actually shooting in Detroit. So if viewers are lucky, Sun will grow into its locale." – Robert Bianco, who gives it 2 stars out of 4


Sprague Grayden plays Maya Callis, a criminal.

BlackGirlNerds: "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. . . . 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. . .  . 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, former Detroit News writer

TV.com: "This is a show that respects its audience enough to toss viewers into a situation with minimal information and expect them to engage with the story. . . . Detroit provides a rich, thematic backdrop for the equally deteriorating ethical codes in the world of LWS. Like a forgotten frontier, the empty buildings and abandoned homes of Motor City function as set pieces in something of a reverse Wild West for brooding neo-noir." – Ryan Sandoval

HitFix.com: "Director Ernest Dickerson shoots the Detroit locations in a fashion that captures both the beauty of the architecture and the absolute bleakness of the setting. This season was written and produced before the city's recent bankruptcy, but there is an immediate sense of place and of the feeling of being abandoned." – Alan Sepinwall

The Record (N.J. newspaper): "AMC's latest dramatic entry is unquestionably well done. It's nicely written, impressively acted and beautifully filmed. It's also depressing as hell. . . . In the entire one-hour pilot, I did not see a single glimmer of comic relief. . . . Here's hoping 'Sun' will lighten up a bit." -- Virginia Rohan

Kansas City Star: "With cops this bad, Detroit really is in trouble. . . . Detroit is supposed to explain a lot of things, like every cop’s depravity and every dealer’s grim upbringing. The city is bankrupt and so are the characters’ morals — see what they did there? . . . But without heroes worth rooting for or a victim worth avenging, the rubble heaps of an imploded metropolis can only do so much heavy lifting." – Sara Smith

The Oklahoman (Oklahoma City newspaper): " 'Low Winter Sun' is attempting to create a tableau as detailed and engrossing as 'The Wire,' and it could do for Detroit what that landmark HBO series did for Baltimore. It gets these elements dead on, and the wailing theme song by veteran Detroit R&B singer Bettye LaVette certainly helps establish the bona fides." – George Lang

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