Colin Farrell Is a Private Detective Worth Following in Intriguing Los Angeles-Set Mystery Series 'Sugar'

This Apple TV+ series splashes its love of film noir and LA movies gone by across its frames, but it's never afraid to be its own thing.
Sarah Ward
Published on April 26, 2024

Colin Farrell's recent hot streak continues. After a busy few years that've seen him earn Oscar and BAFTA nominations for The Banshees of Inisherin, notch up a Gotham Awards nod for After Yang, steal scenes so heartily in The Batman that TV spinoff The Penguin is on the way and pick up the Satellite Awards' attention for The North Water, Apple TV+'s Sugar now joins his resume. The Irish actor's television credits are still few — and, until his True Detective stint in 2015, far between — but it's easy to see what appealed to him about leading this mystery series. There's much to entice viewers, too, including an alluring slipperiness that spans past the sleuth-focused premise from creator Mark Protosevich (whose last screen credit is scripting and co-producing the American Oldboy remake).

From the moment that Los Angeles-set noir Sugar begins — in Tokyo in black and white, in fact, covering a situation that involves a yakuza gangster's kidnapped grandson — it drips with intrigue. Farrell's John Sugar, the show's namesake, is a suave private detective whichever city that he's in. Upon his return to the US, he takes a big Hollywood case against his handler Ruby's (Kirby, Scott Pilgrim Takes Off) recommendation. She thinks that he needs rest instead. She's adamant that the gig isn't for him. But once he signs on, he's swiftly plunged into sinister City of Angels chaos, bringing The Big Sleep, Chinatown, LA Confidential and Under the Silver Lake to mind, and loving movie history beyond the show sharing the same genre as said flicks.

Softly spoken, always crispy dressed in Savile Row suits, understandably cynical, frequently behind the wheel of a blue vintage convertible as it drives down neon-lit streets and also narrating his experiences via voiceover, Sugar, the PI, is a film fan. The series bakes that love and its own links to cinema history into its very being through spliced-in footage and references elsewhere. To watch Sugar, the series, is to take a voyage through the gumshoe stories, LA visions, accounts of duplicity and other thematically connected flicks that've blazed across the silver screen before (The Big Heat, Kiss Me Deadly, Sunset Boulevard, Double Indemnity, Touch of Evil, The Night of the Hunter, The Third Man and The Thing are just a few that pop up). At the same time, with its wholehearted embrace of movies, the show also foregrounds the idea that illusions — aka what Tinseltown so eagerly sells via its celluloid dreams — are inescapable in its narrative. 

Twists come, some relating to Sugar's current assignment and some bigger — and suspense stacks up like crystalline cubes along the way — but his new task is at the show's centre for its eight-episode first season. The gig: endeavouring to track down Olivia Siegel (Sydney Chandler, Don't Worry Darling), a member of Hollywood royalty who has vanished to the immense concern of her grandfather and legendary film producer Jonathan (James Cromwell, Succession). She's also the daughter of less-worried (and less-renowned) fellow producer Bernie (Dennis Boutsikaris, Better Call Saul); half-sister of former child star David (Nate Corddry, Barry), who is on the comeback trail; and ex-stepdaughter of pioneering rocker Melanie (Amy Ryan, Beau Is Afraid). Each one is a person of interest in Sugar's quest to ascertain Olivia's whereabouts — and each has their secrets.

If locating a missing person was simple, it wouldn't fuel film and TV narratives. Trying to find Olivia inspires heated and dangerous opposition from every angle, which directors Fernando Meirelles (The Two Popes) and Adam Arkin (The Night Agent) — collaborating with cinematographers César Charlone (also The Two Popes) and Richard Rutkowski (Masters of the Air) — reflect visually. In its own imagery, when the four-strong editing team aren't cutting in snippets of classic pictures, askew placements, shots peering through doorways and frequently obscured positioning are rarely far from sight. Sugar isn't just about a film buff, and doesn't merely weave in movie clips and take its cues from beloved cinema genres; it also values a big-screen look within its meticulously poised small-screen frames.

Even with a cinephile for a protagonist, Sugar clearly isn't here to ignore the entertainment industry's unseemly side. Also sparked as it slinks through the clash of Tinseltown's glow and shadows: an excellently cast series that splashes around its affection for film noir and LA movies gone by wherever it can, but a show that's never afraid to be its own thing as well. Accordingly, Protosevich and his co-scribes Donald Joh (Invasion), Sam Catlin (Preacher) and David Rosen (Hunters) simultaneously probe, revere and swerve. Then arrives a bold and brilliant move that reframes everything that precedes it — one with its own winks at specific movies, of course — and ensures that Los Angeles' status as a new home for anyone chasing its gleaming sense of opportunity sprinkles on another layer.

Farrell as a private eye in a hardboiled neo-noir crime drama is the stuff that detective-genre fantasies are made of. Getting Farrell leading Sugar into the rest of its concept is also a savvy decision. Investigations, as the series shows, are as much about the right pieces falling into the right places at the right time as they are about determination, instinct and gumption — and Sugar itself equally embodies that truth. Sincere yet world-weary, earnest but clear-eyed, tender but pragmatic, suave but haunted, sorrowful and vulnerable but hopeful, and decent in a place and a world that rarely recognises let alone rewards such a trait, the show's titular role isn't a straightforward one. Indeed, that's so much the case that it feels as if Farrell was born to play the part, and that the series might've crumbled without him proving magnetic yet restrained at its core.

Any sleuth story is built from one-on-one exchanges; that's how interrogations work. Farrell's perfect-for-the-role skills don't only apply in fleshing out Sugar as a character, maintaining an enigmatic air even as viewers peer into his soul, but in the dynamics with Kirby, Ryan, Cromwell and his fellow co-stars — Anna Gunn (Physical) as David's protective mother and another of Olivia's stepmothers among them. Whatever the plot throws his way, and whoever else, Farrell has audiences investing in the journey, the clue-chasing, the cross-examinations, the connections and the searching, Olivia-driven and existential alike. If a second season follows, he'll also be a key reason to tune in for what'll likely be a very different program.

Check out the trailer for Sugar below:

Sugar streams via Apple TV+.

Published on April 26, 2024 by Sarah Ward
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