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

While Apple TV’s ‘Sugar’ may hold some allure for fans of neo-noir aesthetics, its contrived plot leaves much to be desired

April 09, 2024 01:00 pm | Updated 01:14 pm IST

Colin Farrell in Apple TV’s ‘Sugar’

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

Apple TV’s Sugar debuts its brooding noir-archetype, whose contrived moral righteousness is overshadowed only by his spanning Letterboxd catalogue. Donning its fedora of mystery in a fresh take on the genre, beneath the series’ stylish facade lies a convoluted narrative that veers off course with a bombshell reveal that, instead of enriching the story, leaves it stumbling in the shadows of missed potential.

Created by Mark Protosevich, Colin Farrell steps into the role of John Sugar, a P.I. with a wardrobe straight out of a vintage Hollywood catalog and a sinister secret about his identity: he’s a cinephile. With his slicked-back hair and tailored suits, Sugar looks every bit the part, wrapped in the smoky allure of your typical noir protagonist, but looks can be deceiving, as those who have ever survived an encounter with a cinephile will likely attest.

Colin Farrell in Apple TV’s ‘Sugar’

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

Director Fernando Meirelles, known for his work on City of God and The Constant Gardener, attempts to infuse the series with the old-school atmospheric charm of classic noir, but ends up drowning in a sea of clichés and overwrought stylistic choices. From exaggerated fish-eye shots to gratuitous iris close-ups, Sugar pulls out all the stops in its attempt to pay homage to the genre, but ends up feeling more like a parody than a genuine tribute.

Sugar initially presents itself as a standard P.I. mystery, with Farrell’s eponymous sleuth tasked to find the missing granddaughter of a legendary film producer. Olivia’s disappearance serves as little more than a flimsy pretext for Sugar to strut around Los Angeles in his vintage convertible, spouting off obscure film references like a wannabe film critic (no, I don’t feel attacked).

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
Storyline: Private detective John Sugar investigates the disappearance of Olivia Siegel, the beloved granddaughter of Hollywood producer Jonathan Siegel.

However, as the plot unfolds, it becomes increasingly clear that the real mystery lies in deciphering the tangled mess of subplots and red herrings that litter its story. Beneath the surface lurks a second genre, one that unfortunately must remain shrouded in secrecy... until a mid-season twist reveals its true nature. This twist, while promising in theory, ends up overshadowing the intensity of the buildup, only to start from square one all over again.

As the series progresses, it becomes increasingly apparent that Sugar is more interested in teasing out its own secrets than delivering a coherent narrative. It struggles to balance its dual identities, with the primary mystery feeling lackluster compared to the much-alluded-to revelation that follows.

One of the series’ highlights is Sugar’s encounter with Melanie, played with sardonic wit by Amy Ryan. Their whiskey-soaked conversation in a dimly-lit bar is a masterclass in noir dialogue, dripping with innuendo and veiled threats. Yet, beneath the banter lies more evidence of what’s to come, as Sugar’s seemingly innocuous metabolism that lets him drink 50 times more than the average person, without getting drunk feels, just a little bit too far-fetched.

Amy Ryan in Apple TV’s ‘Sugar’

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

Conversely, Olivia’s disappearance, while serving as the initial catalyst for the plot, fails to evoke any genuine concern towards the end, as it descends into generic tropes and predictable plot points. Meanwhile, Sugar’s personal secrets, teased throughout the season, remain exasperatingly elusive until the eleventh hour, robbing the audience of meaningful engagement with his character.

Colin Farrell’s magnetic performance is a beacon of hope amidst the murky waters of the series’ missteps. The veteran Irish star does his best to inject some life into the proceedings, but even his considerable charisma can’t save Sugar from its own self-indulgence. As the titular detective, Farrell exudes the kind of world-weary appeal that should be right at home in a noir thriller, but ends up feeling out of place amidst the series’ frustratingly ludicrous plot developments.

Earlier on in the series, one of the myriad odes to classics interspersed with Sugar’s sleuthing includes a postulation from John Cassavetes’ 1971 Minnie and Moskowitz, “You know, I think movies are a conspiracy”. And that nearly sums up what the series is so desperately trying to say. The crux of Sugar’s downfall lies in its prolonged buildup to one giant conspiracy, itching to be unraveled.

Its insistence on maintaining the very same air of mystery results in a misplaced detective thriller that feels stretched way too thin and weighed down by misdirections. While Sugar may hold some allure for fans of neo-noir aesthetics, its contrived plot leaves much to be desired. Here’s hoping that next time, Apple TV decides to leave the detective work to the professionals and not Humphrey Bogart aficionados.

Sugar is currently streaming on Apple TV+ with weekly episodes

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