Sugar Review

Los Angeles private investigator John Sugar (Colin Farrell) is hired to find a missing woman who’s part of a powerful Hollywood dynasty. He has no idea what he’s getting himself into.

by Olly Richards |
Published on

Streaming on: Apple TV+

Episodes viewed: 8 of 8

One of the most wearying things to be told about a new show is that “you have to stick with it”; that you should give it time to get good. A story should earn your continued attention, not expect it. It would be easy to give up on Sugar after a couple of episodes if you’re not content with a stylish but formulaic contemporary LA-set mystery. It eventually turns into something bolder and more intriguing, but yes, you really do have to stick with it.

It’s hard to say why it doesn’t all quite hang together without giving too much away, but the trickiness at the core of Sugar is that it’s unfurling concurrent mysteries, and the balance is off. One is the hunt for a missing woman. The other is the puzzle of who our hero is and what drives him. The former gets the most attention for more than half of the series, and it’s not particularly gripping.

Private detective John Sugar (Colin Farrell, enjoying playing with the archetype), a man who says he “doesn’t like to hurt people” yet frequently does, is hired by a Hollywood producer (James Cromwell) to find his missing granddaughter (Sydney Chandler). It’s a take on the well-worn ‘dark side of Hollywood’ trope, with all the usual ingredients — sexual exploitation, compromising photos, double-crossing dames — but the plot doesn’t have much of a spin on a well-spun genre. It’s handsomely done, and has a weighty cast (Amy Ryan, Anna Gunn, Kirby Howell-Baptiste, Jason Butler Harner), but while it seems to know it’s hitting the obvious beats, it doesn’t change the fact it’s all stuff we’ve seen before.

It eventually opens things up in very unexpected ways.

However, there are signs from the get-go that there is something more going on. There are peculiarities in Sugar’s behaviour. The direction, from Fernando Meirelles (the City Of God filmmaker has helmed several episodes), is playful. In style and framing it’s like a fun game of spot-the-reference for film nerds — Sugar himself declares his film nerdery within the first few minutes. There seem to be winks at everything from Billy Wilder to Wong Kar-wai to Jean-Pierre Melville. There are brief clips of old movies — The Third Man, The Thing, The Night Of The Hunter — spliced into the action, apparently as echoes of what Sugar is experiencing. It all suggests this isn’t just a film-noir love-letter. It eventually opens things up in very unexpected ways.

The hitch is that by the time that comes — six episodes in — it’s asking the audience to pivot to a completely different show for the last two episodes. It’s a development that’s promising if there’s to be a second season — and Farrell’s restrained performance softens the skid into it — but it’s an extraordinarily long run-up to starting the real story.

The show that Sugar eventually becomes is original, weird, and has huge potential. It’s just very odd that it takes six episodes to reveal itself.
Just so you know, whilst we may receive a commission or other compensation from the links on this website, we never allow this to influence product selections - read why you should trust us