Binge or Purge: Hard Sun.
Hulu’s new exclusive series about the end of the world takes a compelling premise and surrounds it with frustrating missteps.
The current boom in science fiction has led to some very uneven results. Films like Annihilation and A Wrinkle in Time have floundered, while series such as Electric Dreams and Star Trek Discovery have been very uneven. You can add Hulu’s new sci-fi police drama, Hard Sun, to that list. A fascinating premise about two cops trying to keep their heads while the world is moving towards an extinction level event is often squandered on melodramatic characters, poor acting, and a some frustrating choices by the director. It’s not all doom and gloom, as Hard Sun manages to shine through the fog just enough to keep you interested. The problem is that the series is at its worst early on, making it a chore to finally get to the good stuff.
Hard Sun (2018).
Detective Hicks is excellent at his job as a police officer, except for the part about being honest. The same can be said for his role as a father and husband. He’s paired with a new partner, Detective Renko, who he’s afraid is there to spy on him. Renko is herself apprehensive as she is recently recovering from a brutal assault and personal betrayal. The two wary detectives quickly find themselves with more to worry about as a murder case involving stolen data makes them the target of very powerful people. The hacked data points to a solar event dubbed Hard Sun and could lead to the end of the world.
Episode 1: The Sun, The Moon, The Truth.
Elaine Renko is assigned to partner with Charlie Hicks, a successful detective who recently lost his long-time partner under suspicious circumstances. Renko is recently returning to service after being attacked in her home by a suspect close to her: her son. While the two detectives get along like oil and water, they quickly have to get up to speed when a murder leads to them learning about a catastrophic solar event that will wipe out all life in 5 years. They both learn the hard way that the people guarding this information will stop at nothing to keep the population from learning this secret.
God did I hate this episode! Jim Sturgess (Hicks) is constantly over-acting. His reading of every line comes across like a cheap John Wick impersonation as delivered by a terrified horse. Ageyness Deyn (Renko) has the opposite problem: she’s nearly catatonic. Nikki Amuka-Bird is the main antagonist, and she is trying to act cool and deadly but instead comes across as either a robot or an alien with Asperger’s. So, the acting is awful and the dialogue is over boiled.
The pace and the camera work is a wonky mess as well. We rapid cut all over the place, never understanding what we’ve just seen and how on Earth it ties into the next scene. In a rush to get all the pieces in place the whole episode turns into a dog’s breakfast. By the end of the show I didn’t give a good goddamn about the end of the world, I just didn’t want to watch any more of this show.
Episode 2: One Thousand, Eight Hundred Days.
After a squabble over what to do with the files, Renko leaves Hicks a bloody mess and takes the documents to the press. In short order she is discredited by the government, but her gambit has at least insured that she and Hicks are no longer worth assassinating. Unfortunately, the news of Hard Sun finds an audience among the disaffected and disturbed who are willing to believe any conspiracy. One man in particular takes the doomsday scenario as a license to get revenge on everyone who wronged him. Hicks and Renko must find him and stop him before he murders his ex-wife and two children.
The second episode saved the series. While the acting isn’t great, it is markedly improved. The pace has settled down and we get some really excellent (and gruesome) cinematography. Hicks and Renko as characters are still unlikable, but they are much more interesting when given police work to do. It’s surprising and a bit disappointing that the best part of “two cops at the end of the world” is boring old police work, but it is the best part of the series. Each episode has another interesting lunatic pop out of the wood work, inspired by Renko’s leak of the Hard Sun files. Like the early X-Files, the series hums along on the “psycho of the week” premise while allowing the conspiracy theory and government cloak-and-dagger subplots to boil away in the background.
Episode 6: Sun Day.
After having been hunted and sabotaged at every turn by Grace (Nikki Amuka-Bird) and her clandestine agency, Hicks and Renko hatch a plot to strike back and remove Grace from the game. As the two opposing forces draw closer to a showdown, the Hard Sun event begins to become undeniable.
It really feels like Hard Sun is starting to slowly find its groove…just as the whole plot gets a major shake up. The creepy imagery and edgy tone finally feels justified. I still can’t stomach Jim Sturgess, but he’s no longer a distraction. This week’s psycho is delightfully warped and gives many of the supporting cast some much needed attention. The big season finale is a suitable mind-screw, and it actually made we want to see another season. That being said, it totally blows up the formula that they’ve managed to distill over six episodes, so I can’t say if Hard Sun season 2 is going to be anything like season 1.
Binge or Purge?
I don’t know? The bad parts of this series are undeniably bad and more than enough to make you want to walk away. The first episode is horrendous, the characters are unlikable, and the acting is rubbish in many places. The subplots about either detectives family life is boring and since I hate them both, I don’t care if they get to go home to their families either way. That being said…it gets better.
While it could be easy to argue that Hard Sun wastes one hell of a establishing premise, it does wind up being its own animal. Maybe I just want to see if this show can become as good as its premise warrants. Maybe the old routine about monster of the week that the X-Files did is such a solid plot hook that it even works with characters I don’t care about. I can’t say Hard Sun is a good show. Heck, for quirky good shows about the end of the world, go watch Girl’s Last Tour! I can say that there are signs that Hard Sun COULD be a good show and that I’m just interested enough to give it a second chance.