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

Filming to begin on two new series due to be aired on Dave from next year

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Kit Harington plays MI5 agent Will Holloway in Spooks: The Greater Good

'You can't count on anyone making it out alive'film
Arts and Entertainment
War veteran and father of Peter and Laust Thoger Jensen played by Lars Mikkelson

TVBBC hopes latest Danish import will spell success

Arts and Entertainment
Carey Mulligan in Far From The Madding Crowd
FilmCarey Mulligan’s Bathsheba would fit in better in The Hunger Games
Arts and Entertainment
Pandas-on-heat: Mary Ramsden's contribution is intended to evoke the compound the beasts smear around their habitat
Iart'm Here But You've Gone exhibition has invited artists to produce perfumes
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
  • Get to the point
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.

    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

    Everyone is talking about The Trews

    Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
    'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

    'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

    British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
    Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

    Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

    Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
    14 best kids' hoodies

    14 best kids' hoodies

    Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

    The acceptable face of the Emirates

    Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk