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Apple TV+ Review: ‘Sugar’ is an Intoxicating Mystery with a Cool Colin Farrell

Sugar Tv Series

The effectiveness of a good mystery depends largely on how interesting and complicated the case is, but also relies heavily on who is solving it. A police officer lacking enthusiasm or just trying to find the first suspect to blame isn’t particularly enthralling, but a private detective battling his own demons, particularly an aversion to violence that he knows is a necessary part of his job, can make all the difference. The latest series from Apple TV+ offers an invigorating look at a man who has become inseparable from the work he’s uniquely qualified to do.

Sugar opens in black-and-white in Japan as John Sugar (Colin Farrell) arrives at the home of a man whose money he has found. While it seems at first that Sugar is merely a good Samaritan returning someone’s lost property, it soon becomes clear that he is indeed looking out for someone else, and this visit is to find a missing person. Sugar gives the man whose home he’s entered every chance to cooperate, emphasizing that he has no desire to hurt him and offering him a very forgiving future. After he’s forced to choose a less pleasant option, Sugar returns to the United States, where his next case awaits him, one that will require considerably more investigation and navigating complexity.

Fresh off his first Oscar nomination for The Banshees of Inisherin, this is a good moment for Farrell, who has been working consistently in the industry for over two decades, to try something new. His most prominent television role to date was in the poorly-received second season of True Detective, and though there’s a risk that his law enforcement-adjacent part here could be all too reminiscent of that ill-fated follow-up to the highly acclaimed first season of the HBO show, this is something altogether different and considerably more accessible.

If anything, it feels like a modern-day version of HBO’s recent re-envisioning of Perry Mason. There are echoes of Ray Donovan, though Sugar is much friendlier than that title character, with the washed-out look of Californication to give it a few extra layers of saturation. Its Hollywood setting, which finds Sugar looking into the disappearance of the granddaughter of a high-powered producer, is hardly coincidental since it speaks to the seedy undercurrents of the private lives of people whose public personas appear all too idyllic. Supporting players like James Cromwell and Eric Lange enhance the show’s foreboding moodiness, complimented by Farrell’s frequent voiceover narration.

Sugar brings together an intriguing combination of talent behind the camera, including Farrell as an executive producer. Creator Mark Protosevich’s past writing credits come from penning the screenplays for The Cell, Poseidon, I Am Legend, Thor, and the American Oldboy remake. Director Fernando Meirelles has directed large-scope films like City of God, The Constant Gardener, and The Two Popes (Adam Arkin takes over for three of the remaining six episodes). These artists’ collaborations prove creative and worthwhile, incorporating classic film clips in narrative scenes to give the series a haunting sense of grandeur, as if Sugar is living a version of a story that’s been told many times before, helpless to control how everything ends completely.

Farrell is charming but muted and likable enough, but still hard to read and crack. His best chemistry comes with costar Amy Ryan, who has shown equal capability for light comedy and dark drama and here leans towards the latter in an intoxicating and mysterious performance. Recently seen in Culprits and the SXSW selection We Strangers, Kirby is similarly magnetic and impenetrable as Ruby, Sugar’s handler, who isn’t too pleased to find that he’s been taking on assignments without consulting her. The two-episode premiere of Sugar sets a sufficiently inviting tone for future episodes, adding a smooth beat to its twisting storyline that should keep audiences hooked to see more.

Series Rating: 8/10

Awards Buzz: Apple TV+ has a wealth of series to promote, but consider Farrell a good bet for an Emmy nomination. His castmates Cromwell and Anna Gunn, who first appears in episode three, are both past Emmy winners, and Ryan could easily earn buzz too.


  • Abe Friedtanzer

    Abe Friedtanzer is a film and TV enthusiast who spent most of the past fifteen years in New York City. He has been the editor of and since 2007, and has been predicting the Oscars, Emmys, Golden Globes, and SAG Awards since he was allowed to stay up late enough to watch them.

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