Sugar Is a 21st Century Noir: A Recap & Review of Its Premiere on Apple TV+

S1E1, “Olivia,” and S1E2, “These People, These Places”

John Sugar, looking downwards, in profile
Screenshot/Apple TV+

The following recap contains spoilers for the premiere of Sugar on Apple TV+: S1E1, “Olivia,” and S1E2, “These People, These Places” (written by Mark Protosevich and directed by Fernando Meirelles)

The first thing you notice about Sugar is its style. There’s no way around that. The opening scene is in black and white. The credits are like the pages of an old illustrated pulp magazine, and everything is punctuated with riffs of smooth jazz.

John Sugar (Colin Farrell) offers narration from time to time, but it doesn’t serve to provide information so much as to help put him in resonance with whatever noir detectives you’re familiar with. This is a man with problems and a past he doesn’t want people to know about, but he also clearly has a kind heart. John Sugar cares about people, even if he struggles to understand why.

John Sugar looks on, in black and white
Screenshot/Apple TV+

The opening scene of Sugar is disconnected from what follows. Its purpose is to introduce us to this man and his modus operandi. He doesn’t like violence, but he’ll do it. He gives Hideo (Taishi Mizuno) the chance to turn over the boy he’s kidnapped, Yuma (Koya Harada), and flee Japan before the yakuza learn what he’s done. But, of course, Hideo doesn’t take John’s offer. Who knows what the boy’s father will end up doing to him.

John Sugar, walking across a patterned floor in Japan
Screenshot/Apple TV+

John is heading back to Los Angeles. He and Ruby (Kirby), who I suppose we could call his manager, have agreed that he’ll take a break after Japan. When Thomas Kinzie (Miguel Sandoval) contacted her about the Siegel job, she turned it down and is upset that Kinzie also reached out to Sugar directly.

But it’s Jonathan Siegel (James Cromwell) who’s requesting Sugar’s services. How do you say no to a man whose films you’ve seen more times than you can count?

Jonathan Siegel leaning to the side, talking
Screenshot/Apple TV+

John has already taken the meeting before he arrives at Ruby’s. He’s already seen Olivia’s (Sydney Chandler) face. She reminds him of Djen (who we learn in Episode 2 is John’s sister), and Ruby has to let him take the job once he mentions that.

We don’t know what happened to Djen, but it sounds bad. Maybe we’ll find out by the end of the season.

Ruby presents John Sugar with a gun in a box
Screenshot/Apple TV+

John doesn’t like guns, but Ruby wants him to have one, so she’s bought him the one that Glenn Ford used in The Big Heat. Sugar’s a film buff. He can’t resist. And, indeed, the first two episodes of Sugar are laced with scenes from old films, like Minnie and Moskowitz and Sunset Boulevard. Someone should compile a list.

The Siegel family is messy. Jonathan’s son, Bernie (Dennis Boutsikaris), is also a film producer. He’s been married multiple times. Olivia’s mother, Rachel Kaye (Natalie Alyn Lind) was an accomplished actress. She died in a car accident in 1998, when Olivia was a baby. Recently, though, Olivia recorded a rendition of one of Rachel’s scenes and posted it to social media. She also had racy Polaroids of her late mother, which Sugar finds. Bernie says he didn’t take them.

In the weeks before her disappearance, Olivia was spending time with Melanie (Amy Ryan), Bernie’s ex-wife (and her ex-stepmom, if that’s the right way to put it). Melanie knows more than she’s letting on, and John can smell it. She might think she’s helping Olivia, but she isn’t.

Melanie looks at John intently, having just told him to get out of her house
Screenshot/Apple TV+

Both Bernie and Melanie insist that there’s nothing for Sugar to investigate. Olivia has disappeared before, and they express confidence that she’ll reappear any day, ready to go into rehab again. Bernie may believe that, but I don’t think Melanie does.

A lot of things indicate that Olivia hasn’t simply fallen off the wagon again. She hasn’t called her grandfather, Jonathan, for money, like she has during past instances. Her friends and drug dealer haven’t seen her. And, oh yeah, there was a dead body in the trunk of her car.

That dead body—of one Clifford Carter—has gone missing. When Sugar returns to dispose of it at Ruby’s insistence, it’s simply gone. He finds a strand of hair that might serve as a clue as to who took it, but the only other person he told about it was Jonathan. The old man might have sent someone to get the corpse out of his beloved granddaughter’s car, or maybe someone else knew it was there and finally got around to it.

Stallings sits in a chair in Teresa's apartment, flanked by a goon
Screenshot/Apple TV+

The closing scene of Sugar Episode 2 introduces us to Stallings (Eric Lange), as he ambushes Teresa Vasquez (Cher Alvarez) in her home to ask her if she knows what’s happened to Clifford. Teresa is the sister of Carmen Vasquez, who we know from newspaper headlines was raped and murdered.

Sugar has also learned (from the GPS) that Olivia’s car was at Carmen’s apartment the night Carmen was killed. He can’t figure out how to put things together. But, given that Stallings shows Teresa a picture of Melanie that was sent to him from Clifford’s phone, we may be a step ahead of John’s investigation.

Teresa knows who Melanie is. We flash to a photo of the two posted to a bulletin board. We further know that Olivia had been spending a lot of time with Melanie prior to her disappearance and that her social media shifted in the direction of advocating for women’s rights. It doesn’t feel like too much of a stretch to suggest that Olivia killed Clifford and Melanie helped her go on the lam. Of course, things may be more complicated than that.

Bernie, in glasses, looks at a tablet screen as Davy stands behind him
Screenshot/Apple TV+

A complication I haven’t talked about is that Bernie has tasked his son, Davy (Nate Corddry), along with his heavy, Kenny (Alex Hernandez), with spying on John Sugar. They’re stupid, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t a threat. John doesn’t want them looking into his past, but they’re about to start doing that.

There’s also someone else who has been following John in a gray VW. We know that’s not Davy and Kenny because they were following him previously and were very bad at it, so there remains a question as to who it might be.

John looks at his arm, which is bleeding through his shirt, as he stands in front of a mirror
Screenshot/Apple TV+

As I watched the premiere of Sugar, I thought it was fairly straightforward, but clearly this story has a lot of ins and a lot of outs. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that John appears to have some issues with controlling his arm that he doesn’t want to see a doctor about, and that towards the end of Episode 1, he hallucinates that he’s bleeding from the cut he got in Japan, only to find when he comes to in the shower that he was never bleeding at all.

Something about this case is getting under John’s skin. He needs a rest, but he’s not going to get one. Olivia reminds him of Djen, but he hopes this story has a happier ending.

Olivia's face on an iPad
Screenshot/Apple TV+

One way or another, he has to get to the bottom of it, no matter the cost.

Written by Caemeron Crain

Caemeron Crain is Executive Editor of TV Obsessive. He struggles with authority, including his own.

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