‘Sugar’ series review: Colin Farrell’s sugar-coated love letter to noir is a missed opportunity

Colin Farrell stars in the Apple TV series ‘Sugar’ | Photo Credit: Apple TV

Apple TV’s series Sugar introduces us to a classic noir-style detective whose style is more noteworthy than his morally questionable nature, which is highlighted by an extensive collection of classic film knowledge. Sporting the genre’s hallmark mysteriousness and a modern spin, the show wears a veneer of sophistication that hides a narrative maze that derails with a dramatic twist. Instead of adding depth, this turning point leaves the plot wobbling in a quagmire of wasted potential.

Conceived by Mark Protosevich, Colin Farrell portrays John Sugar, a private investigator whose attire harks back to the heydays of Hollywood and harbors a dark secret: he’s a film buff. Dressed to kill with his neat hairdo and impeccable suits, Sugar appears to be the quintessential noir hero. But as anyone familiar with film aficionados can confirm, appearances can be misleading.

Colin Farrell in Apple TV’s ‘Sugar’

Colin Farrell in Apple TV’s ‘Sugar’ | Photo Credit: Apple TV

Under the direction of Fernando Meirelles, notable for his work on City of God and The Constant Gardener, the series aims to capture the enigmatic styling of vintage noir but ends up swamped with clichés and exaggerated stylistic elements. With its over-the-top visual techniques, Sugar veers more towards satire than homage.

The show initially positions itself as a noir detective drama, with Farrell’s title character, Sugar, set to uncover the whereabouts of a film producer’s missing granddaughter, Olivia. Sadly, her disappearance is little more than an excuse for Sugar to navigate Los Angeles, spewing esoteric cinematic references rather than engaging in substantial sleuthing.

Sugar (English)

Creator: Mark Protosevich

Cast: Colin Farrell, Kirby Howell-Baptiste, Amy Ryan, James Cromwell, Dennis Boutsikaris, Anna Gunn

Episodes: 8

Runtime: 35-40 minutes per episode

Storyline: Private detective John Sugar is on the case to find Olivia Siegel, the missing granddaughter of esteemed Hollywood mogul Jonathan Siegel.

As the series unfolds, it becomes evident that the true enigma is the web of minor storylines and misleading clues spread throughout. A deeper mystery emerges, shrouded in secrecy, until a mid-season twist throws it into the spotlight. This twist, while intriguing, destabilizes the narrative buildup and forces a new beginning.

The show’s depiction of Sugar’s fascination with secrecy takes precedence over a logical plot, leading to an imbalance in its twin narratives. The core mystery feels underwhelming as it leads up to a much-teased bigger revelation.

A highlight is Sugar’s interaction with Melanie, brought to life with sharp sarcasm by Amy Ryan. Their shadowy bar scene delivers a prime example of noir banter, laced with double entendres and subtle threats. Yet, it conceals further hints of what is to unfold, including Sugar’s uncanny ability to drink copiously without the slightest intoxication—an aspect that strains credulity.

Amy Ryan in Apple TV’s ‘Sugar’

Amy Ryan in Apple TV’s ‘Sugar’ | Photo Credit: Apple TV

To the audience’s disappointment, Olivia’s case becomes less captivating, devolving into worn-out clichés and foresighted outcomes. Simultaneously, the secrecy surrounding Sugar’s past stays frustratingly unresolved until the final moments, disconnecting viewers from truly engaging with him.

Amidst the chaotic twists of the series, Colin Farrell’s compelling performance shines through. The accomplished actor brings vitality to his role, yet not even he can completely redeem Sugar from the quicksand of its own excesses. Despite Farrell’s naturally noir-esque charm, it feels out of sync with the melodramatic plot swings.

Early in the series, an homage to John Cassavetes’ 1971 film Minnie and Moskowitz resonates with Sugar’s detective escapades, stating, “You know, I think movies are a conspiracy.” This phrase nearly captures the essence of what the series struggles to communicate. The heart of Sugar’s issue is its drawn-out progression towards one major conspiracy longing for resolution, mired in an overly secretive atmosphere that leaves the detective element thin on the ground and bogged down by diversions. While Sugar may appeal to those fond of neo-noir visuals, its devised plot craves more substance. Hopefully, the next venture by Apple TV will stick to the genre’s roots rather than opting for a nod to the Bogart enthusiasts.

Sugar is currently available for streaming on Apple TV+, with new episodes launched weekly.

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