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05th Apr 2024

One of 2024’s best mystery thriller shows is now available to stream

Stephen Porzio

It features not one, but two gripping mysteries.

It’s no secret that Colin Farrell has been on a real hot streak of late when it comes to his movie and TV projects. So, the fact that the Oscar nominee has chosen to star in the new mysterious Apple TV+ series Sugar bodes well for its quality.

And indeed Sugar is a very good, albeit quite unusual show – one which starts off as an almost hyper-traditional detective noir series before mutating as it goes into its own compelling little oddity.

Created by Mark Protosevich (The Cell), Farrell stars in the programme as John Sugar, a modern-day private investigator who specialises in finding missing people whose work takes him around the world. After an excellently taut black-and-white opening sequence set in Japan, the PI is hired by famous Hollywood producer Jonathan Siegel (James Cromwell) to locate his missing granddaughter Olivia (Sydney Chandler).

A recovering addict, the rest of Olivia’s family – including her less successful producer father Bernie (Dennis Boutsikaris), her rockstar step-mother Melanie (Amy Ryan) and her former child actor step-brother David (Nate Corddry) – are not as concerned about her disappearance. As Sugar investigates, however, he uncovers the seedy underbelly of LA hiding just beneath the glitz and glamour.

So far, so classic noir and if the series just comprised of these elements, it would make for a standard if extremely watchable throwback. Yet, when the project was first announced, it was described as “genre-bending” and in fact, there is more to the show than meets the eye at first. The further it goes on, a second mystery begins to unfurl itself: who exactly is John Sugar?

Characters are constantly pointing out how the PI – who models himself off of heroes from old noir films (clips from which are spliced throughout the series) – is unusual, as if he is almost too perfect.

Also sprinkled throughout the show are other eccentricities about John Sugar – he goes above and beyond to help random strangers he encounters, he is secretive about his past, he suffers from strange spasms that he needs to take injections for, he lacks the ability to get drunk even after knocking back several whiskeys, he is part of an enigmatic club apparently for polyglots (Sugar speaks multiple languages fluently) alongside his handler in LA named Ruby (Kirby Howell-Baptiste) with whom he has close yet somewhat icy relationship with.

More and more of these odd details stack up on top of each other throughout the show until you’re tuning in less for the traditional mystery for what happened to Olivia but more to get to the bottom of what the deal is with John Sugar.

This could be frustrating but thankfully satisfying answers to both mysteries do eventually come. Plus, the journey to get there is pretty pleasurable due to the bite-sized episodes – after the 50-minute pilot, the show’s other seven episodes are around 35 minutes long – and the craft on display from series directors Fernando Meirelles (City of God, The Constant Gardner) and Adam Arkin (Get Shorty, Justified). Together, the pair the create the perfect modern LA noir mood while also deploying unusual camera angles and compositions to establish a unique off-kilter tone where anything could happen.

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Having already played a very different type of detective in California in True Detective season two, Farrell accomplishes something similar with his performance – managing to put a modern spin-on the type of tough detectives with a heart of gold that the likes of Humphrey Bogart played complete with the hard-boiled narration. But through subtleties in his line deliveries, his eyes and his movements, he also suggests a secret inner life.

He is aided by a uniformly terrific supporting cast. Similar to his recurring role in Succession, James Cromwell adds such quiet gravitas to Jonathan, the powerful man who hires Sugar and who seems fully aware that his spoiled family cannot be fully trusted. Amy Ryan is hugely likeable as Olivia’s step-mother, a woman with her own demons who gradually realises there is more to Olivia’s disappearance than meets the eye and winds up becoming a great aid to Sugar. In smaller roles, meanwhile, Anna Gunn (Breaking Bad), Eric Lange (Narcos) and Justin Butler Harner (Ozark) leave a big impression.

Though a couple of details in the overall mystery are left a little hazy, the series ultimately wraps up in a rewarding fashion while setting up a potential second season. If Farrell returns, we would too.

Sugar’s first two episodes are available to watch now, with its other six being released weekly.