The Weekend’s Viewing: Have we finally reached the bleak anti-hero tipping point?

Low Winter, Sun, Fri, Fox / Big School, Fri, BBC1

We are living in the age of the television anti-hero, a world where we thrill to Don Draper’s every drunken misstep and wait desperately to see whether Walter White  will get his comeuppance in Breaking Bad.

Yet is there such a thing as an anti-hero tipping point? Fox’s bleak new crime drama Low Winter Sun tested that theory almost to its limit, before offering up enough positives to suggest it’s worth sticking with this convoluted story of corrupt cops and gang warfare for little longer yet.

A remake of a 2006 Channel 4 mini-series, Low Winter Sun moves the action from Edinburgh to Detroit but kept the starting point the same. Thus we met conflicted Frank (Mark Strong) and fast-talking Joe (Lennie James in his second “is he a corrupt cop or isn’t he?” role after last year’s Line of Duty) as they prepared to murder fellow officer Brendan for reasons hinted at but still unknown. “I’m not quite drunk enough yet,” muttered Frank, eyeing his  whisky bottle with distrust as Joe, an ex-seminarian with  a Jesuit’s love of hair-splitting, proceeded to lecture him  on the nature of morality.

I knew how Frank felt. From that moment on, everything just got darker and more complicated, with a visit from  Internal Affairs in the form of the excellent David Costabile, late of Breaking Bad, a gang of local hoodlums headed up by James Ransone, aka The Wire’s doomed Ziggy, and hints of a tragic love affair in Frank’s immediate past. Forget  the old adage about building to a climax – this was a show that started from a point of near-nervous breakdown and then  proceeded to oppressively pile  on the doom and gloom. 

It was all Very Serious and there was no doubting either the quality of the acting or the brilliance with which veteran cinematographer Ernest Dickerson (Do the Right Thing) captured Detroit’s ruined majesty, from the dankly peeling walls of the police station to the boarded-up,  broken-down houses that lined the streets. Yet even as  the plot sprouted off in ever more complex directions it  felt as though something small but crucial was missing.

About three-quarters of the way through, as Frank furrowed his brow once again and Joe continued to demonstrate his ability to parse a sentence, I realised what it  was: Low Winter Sun is a gloriously shot and superbly acted portrait of a city in decline and despair. It’s just a shame they forgot to learn The Wire’s most important lesson and leaven all that brooding misery with the odd joke.

A similar issue dogged the first episode of David Walliams’s new comedy, Big School, which appears to have blown most of its budget on assembling its superstar cast without remembering to give them anything remotely funny to say. Neither as broad as the abysmal The Wright Way nor as abrasive as Mrs Brown’s Boys, Big School is clearly aiming to be a good-natured family comedy, but, in the absence of any actual belly laughs, it relied on tired jokes about streetwise pupils, the too strenuous efforts of its famous cast and the overfamiliarity of the scenario.

In addition to a more subdued-than-usual Walliams  – who also co-wrote – there were solid enough turns from Catherine Tate as the new French teacher who thinks  she’s funnier than she actually is and Philip Glenister as  the boorish head of PE. Better than all three, however,  were Frances de la Tour as the crabby headmistress and Joanna Scanlan, whose huffy drama teacher recalled her passive/aggressive brilliance as Terri in The Thick of It. They made you long for another, more risky comedy  in which their off-kilter characters were centre stage,  and that ultimately was the problem with Big School.  It wasn’t absolutely terrible, but, like Low Winter  Sun, it didn’t feel particularly new.

Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey in Fifty Shades of Grey

film Sex scene trailer sees a shirtless Jamie Dornan turn up the heat

Arts and Entertainment
A sketch of Van Gogh has been discovered in the archives of Kunsthalle Bremen in Germany
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Eleanor Catton has hit back after being accused of 'treachery' for criticising the government.
books
Arts and Entertainment
Fake Banksy stencil given to artist Alex Jakob-Whitworth

art

Arts and Entertainment
'The Archers' has an audience of about five million
radioA growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is heading to Norwich for Radio 1's Big Weekend

music
Arts and Entertainment
Beer as folk: Vincent Franklin and Cyril Nri (centre) in ‘Cucumber’
tvReview: This slice of gay life in Manchester has universal appeal
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
‘A Day at the Races’ still stands up well today
film
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tvAnd its producers have already announced a second season...
Arts and Entertainment
Kraftwerk performing at the Neue Nationalgalerie (New National Gallery) museum in Berlin earlier this month
musicWhy a bunch of academics consider German electropoppers Kraftwerk worthy of their own symposium
Arts and Entertainment
Icelandic singer Bjork has been forced to release her album early after an online leak

music
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth as Harry Hart in Kingsman: The Secret Service

film
Arts and Entertainment
Brian Blessed as King Lear in the Guildford Shakespeare Company's performance of the play

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
In the picture: Anthony LaPaglia and Martin Freeman in 'The Eichmann Show'

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Kirkbride and Bill Roache as Deirdre and Ken Barlow in Coronation Street

tvThe actress has died aged 60
Arts and Entertainment
Marianne Jean-Baptiste defends Joe Miller in Broadchurch series two

tv
Arts and Entertainment
The frill of it all: Hattie Morahan in 'The Changeling'

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny may reunite for The X Files

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
TV
News
A young woman punched a police officer after attending a gig by US rapper Snoop Dogg
people
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

    As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

    Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
    Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

    The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

    Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
    Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
    Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

    Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

    A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
    How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

    How books can defeat Isis

    Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
    Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

    Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

    She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
    The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

    The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

    The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
    French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

    French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

    Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
    Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

    Young carers to make dance debut

    What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
    Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

    Design Council's 70th anniversary

    Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
    Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

    Dame Harriet Walter interview

    The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
    Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

    Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

    Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

    Bill Granger's winter salads

    Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
    England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

    George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

    No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
    Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links