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  • Writer's pictureS.J.

'Sugar' season 1 review: Colin Farrell seeks the sweet taste of truth in Apple TV+ mystery noir

Colin Farrell rocking a suit and driving a convertible
Apple TV+

I like movies. You like movies. There's another guy who likes movies too. You can find him in season one of Sugar, a mystery noir series driving along the filthy and filthy rich streets of Los Angeles, including Hollywood. Colin Farrell stars as John Sugar (completely normal name, just go with it) who's a slick suit-donning private investigator with plenty of idiosyncrasies, health problems and a passion for motion pictures.

Sugar gets hired by renowned film producer Jonathan Siegel (James Cromwell) to look into the sudden disappearance of his granddaughter Olivia (Sydney Chandler). This leads our smooth convertible-driving PI on a path to uncover secrets of the Siegel family as he gets to know Olivia's producer dad Bernie (Dennis Boutsikaris), actor brother ''Davy'', sorry, David (Nate Corddry) as well as relapsed alcoholic mom and Bernie's ex-wife Melanie (Amy Ryan) with whom Sugar strikes up a connection. We also learn about Sugar's mysterious work life, which includes his friend and associate Ruby (Kirby; since everyone's using just first names nowadays).

As you may be able to gather from the title and name of our clean-cut, dog-adopting main character, this is meant to be a relaxed, amusing show, one that you watch as a treat after devouring some meatier material. In that regard, Sugar definitely hits the sweet spot as you get to have fun with its style and perspective on the beauty and ugliness of a city where no one is exactly what they, or their publicists, say that they are. Showrunner Mark Protosevich and his writers' room (including Donald Joh and Sam Catlin) tell the detective story confidently and even rather tightly, aside from the longer pilot episode that sets everything up, all the while adding a lot of interesting character quirks before taking a few massive left turns—some which will surely alienate viewers. They are, however, admirable and the overall story is never about a specific twist, the twists are just simply life getting in the way.

Managing those zigzags is the show's excellent ensemble, led by the cool shades-wearing Farrell who is entirely in tune with the series' different frequencies, carrying both the kind of charisma and relatable sincerity that is needed in this cold, detached mystery to draw you in. Best of all, whether the actor is trapped in arctic environments or repertory cinemas, he is able to remove movie star mannerisms and create a character that you'd want to follow for several seasons. This is unlike many stars at the same level who sign up for series for a limited time, hoping for award nominations that make their bio look bigger and better; this is just compelling TV with a lead actor who's game. Besides Farrell, Ryan also gets a layered character to inhabit, which she does finely, whilst a slew of ''those guys'' keep popping in and out, all smartly cast by casting directors Sherry Thomas, Sharon Bialy and Rebecca Mangieri.

In addition to witty screenwriting and Farrell's performance, the series' refreshing essence in our current TV landscape comes from the craftsmanship that understands the genre and these characters. Director Fernando Meirelles and cinematographer César Charlone are certainly doing a lot but most of it they're doing brilliantly, such as finding surprising or stylish angles whenever Sugar himself is trying to find a new angle into the case or a suspect he's meeting for the first time. Whether it's day or night, or there's a real location or a set, scenes are also beautifully lit and the frames themselves have a lot of depth, using architecture and Christie Wittenborn's chic costumes really well to fill that space.

How those scenes are edited (by Fernando Stutz, for instance) is the only glaring headache that you're sadly dealing with. When you have these performances and already short episode runtimes, it's a baffling choice to make a show look like fancam edits of said show. You can leave that stuff to TikTok, YouTube Shorts and Instagram because on a screen that is larger than your phone, the effect is nauseating and, frankly, extremely annoying.

If you're looking at Sugar as a thorough exploration of the rot in show business or in the lives of the rich and powerful, it might not be quite as deep as it could've been, especially when we reach the last two episodes and hurried developments in them. But as a simple story about an obsessed guy trying to find the truth in humanity, with room to improve and aided by a style that you don't find in other series right now, it's a blast. Pour some more Sugar, please.

Smileys: Cinematography, Colin Farrell, originality, writing

Frowneys: Editing

They did 'The Thing'!


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