SUGAR – Review by Diane Carson

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Sugar surprises with unexpected ideas and action.

So many very good streaming series exist now that I hesitate, only briefly, to recommend a quirky one, but it won me over: Sugar. It is innovative and unpredictable, so anyone tired of algorithm suggestions will find this rewarding, if they’re open to something different. Sugar’s eight episodes revolve around John Sugar, hence the series title.

In true noir fashion, Sugar harbors secrets but, admirably, devotes himself obsessively to finding missing persons. Sugar tools around LA in a flashy, Nassau Blue,1966 Stingray Corvette convertible, not exactly the kind of car that goes unnoticed on stakeouts. Adding to atypical touches, Sugar hates violence and doesn’t carry a gun, though he’s often mixing with unscrupulous people. More unusual, very brief clips from Hollywood film noir classics are edited into the flow of events, echoing plot moments.

Though no character experiences an emotional arc and there’s no moral ambiguity, nevertheless an engrossing plot begins in Tokyo with a Yakuza connection before Sugar returns to LA. There he’s hired by an iconic film producer to find granddaughter Olivia, though her father and stepbrother dismiss her disappearance. The plot soon involves false leads, hidden motives, devious secrets, betrayal, and a fair number of confrontations. Among them is Sugar’s Black female handler who warns him off the case, a violent-prone bodyguard, a conniving stepmother, blackmail, and a wonderful dog named Wiley.

The cast is led by Colin Farrell who still channels some of the understated character he played in The Banshees of Innisherin. Strange as it is, there are also many humorous scenes, brilliantly delivered through Farrell’s perfect comic timing. Farrell is joined by Amy Ryan, James Cromwell, Anna Gunn, and other superb supporting actors. Writer Mark Protosevich, who adapted the American version of the South Korean film Oldboy, demonstrates a masterful ability to blend compelling action with social commentary. First-rate Brazilian director Fernando Meirelles (five episodes) and American Adam Arkin (three episodes) expertly interweave multiple threads of the complex story without confusing viewers. This is particularly skillful given the array of characters and multiple subplots. Sugar’s eight episodes stream on Apple TV+.

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Diane Carson

Diane Carson, Ph.D., Professor Emerita, has reviewed films for over 25 years and has covered the Cannes, Telluride, Toronto, Palm Springs, and Sundance festivals. She writes for KDHX, 88.1 FM. St. Louis’ community radio. One of the founders of the St. Louis International Film Festival, she continues to serve on juries. A past president of the University Film and Video Association, she taught film studies and production at St. Louis Community College and at Webster University. Her new book, written with two colleagues, is “Appetites and Anxieties: Food, Film, and the Politics of Representation,” Wayne State U. Press, 2014.