Sugar episode 1 and 2 review: "Colin Farrell is charming, but the mystery gets off to a slow start"

(Image: © Apple)

GamesRadar+ Verdict

A stylish, glossy series that gets off to a slow start, but holds promise for the season ahead.

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There's no more stalwart a figure than the TV detective, and Apple's latest offering, Sugar, aims to introduce another eccentric private investigator to the storied ranks of (neo-)noir sleuths. 

Colin Farrell stars as the titular John Sugar, a polite PI with an aversion to hurting people (but who will hurt them with brutal efficiency nonetheless), a love for movies (and a tendency to reference them), and a mysterious past (naturally). He's on the case of the missing granddaughter of a famous Hollywood producer – only what he uncovers is a dangerous web larger than just one person. 

Now, I should note that, for the purposes of this review, I've only viewed two out of eight episodes. That means this will all be spoiler-free, as I myself have no idea of the twists and turns that – inevitably – lie ahead. 

California dreaming


(Image credit: Apple)

From the outset, Sugar looks stylish, beginning with a Tokyo-set black and white sequence which smoothly transitions into full color and, eventually, transports us to the bright skies of Los Angeles. Everything from the laconic narration, smooth jazz score, and neon-lit city streets oozes classic noir vibes. But, while this all establishes certain genre expectations, Sugar himself is an unconventional private eye. 

He goes out of his way to be kind to people, sidestepping the cynicism you might expect from a neo-noir, and, as a self-described movie addict, he's a surprisingly earnest film buff. Sugar seems deeply invested in helping people, rather than just trying to make a quick buck off the vulnerable. It's a refreshing twist on the archetype. 

Farrell is very charming as Sugar, though, in the first two episodes of the show, he's not given much to work with beyond the polite exterior and some flashes of violence. Still, what we see of him across the opening begins to build a compelling portrait of a complicated man – whether this proves true is something we'll discover across the show's remaining six episodes. Sometimes his oddness works, and other times, it feels overdone; his unexplained health condition is also a point of intrigue, though it's left frustratingly vague. 

Sugar also has a handler named Ruby, played by Kirby, though she's sadly underused in the opening two episodes and seems only present to highlight Sugar's character flaws: he's unable to stop talking about the case long enough to eat a pleasant dinner with her until she gently chastises him, and he chooses to stay long-term in a hotel rather than set down roots of his own. It feels like there's history here – Ruby genuinely cares about Sugar – but, at the moment, there's not a lot to sink your teeth into. 

Hidden secrets


(Image credit: Apple)

As for the mystery itself, it's a slow burn to start with. The missing girl, Olivia, is a former addict who has been given up on by everyone in her life besides her loving grandfather, Jonathan Siegel, who hires Sugar. As these opening two episodes proceed, though, we're drawn into the thick of the Siegel family. 

There's the spoiled, unpleasant Davey, who insists on being called David, and is an actor – a nepo baby, by the looks of things – and there's the prickly Bernie Siegel, a producer nowhere near the level of prestige of his father, Jonathan. They're both curiously resistant to Sugar's attempts to find Olivia, suggesting buried family secrets in need of unearthing. Amy Ryan's Melanie, an alcoholic with an enigmatic connection to the darker side of the case, is also linked to the family.

The Siegel family characters are rather thinly drawn, making it difficult to get too invested in the mystery, and it can be hard to keep track of the connections between them all. Melanie, though, seems more complex. A gruesome discovery and, later, a tense confrontation certainly help raise the stakes, however, so that, by the end of episode 2, there's enough to keep you engaged. 

Ultimately, these opening two episodes of Sugar, which are arriving together on Apple TV Plus, lay enough groundwork that you'll be interested in what comes next, though there's no major, attention-grabbing hook. Instead, Sugar is shaping up to be more of a simmering pot than one about to boil over.

Sugar arrives with a double premiere this April 5, with the remaining season to follow weekly. You can fill out your watchlist with our guide to the best shows on Apple TV Plus or our roundup of the most exciting new TV shows that are coming soon.

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Molly Edwards
Entertainment Writer

I'm an Entertainment Writer here at GamesRadar+, covering all things film and TV for the site's Total Film and SFX sections. I previously worked on the Disney magazines team at Immediate Media, and also wrote on the CBeebies, MEGA!, and Star Wars Galaxy titles after graduating with a BA in English.