Don’t Stare Directly At Hulu’s Hard Sun

Hulu’s Hard Sun is a science-fiction series that focuses on two detectives who have stumbled upon an apocalyptic event threatening mass extinction. Set in contemporary London, the series follows the pair as they encounter a government cover-up and homicidal maniacs. To add even more suspense, the detectives are also distrustful of each other. Unfortunately, Hard Sun burns itself by overstuffing drama into six chaotic episodes. The show’s copious action overheated a series that could have otherwise been an interesting premise.

This post contains spoilers about Hulu’s Hard Sun, a drama produced with the BBC.

The Anticlimactic Chaos Of Hard Sun

The turbulent tone of Hard Sun is set early and often.

A near-matricidal knife fight, a home invasion, a suicide, a dead partner, and an affair are all incorporated into the pilot episode. The main story arc surrounds London police detectives Elaine Renko and Charlie Hicks. The two are paired together following the death of Hicks’ partner. Hicks (played by Jim Sturgess) is immediately suspicious of Renko (Agyness Deyn), believing that she is investigating him following his partner’s death. As it turns out she is conducting an internal affairs investigation of Hicks. Meanwhile, Hicks’ wife is pregnant and he is sleeping with his partner’s widow. The detective also become tasked with investigating a murder. Their work leads to the discovery of the mysterious apocalyptic event “Hard Sun.” As if the end of planet earth is not enough, the world’s impending doom is being covered up by MI5 and the British government.

If you had any difficultly following all of that, you are not alone. That was just the short version.

Jim Sturgess as Charlie Hicks on Hard Sun
Jim Sturgess as Charlie Hicks on Hard Sun

Hard Sun continues at the pace of its pilot for the duration of season one. The overabundance of stories in Hard Sun eclipses the main premise of the series. The mass extinction of the planet is frequently reduced to a secondary concern.  When every twist has two or three turns, a show loses its dramatic edge. What was intended to be gripping is now routine.

The best television drama is created by balancing a sense of ease with intensity. Feature films can get away with cramming action into two-hour windows, but even the best movies are constructed with character development and pace.

The Characters Of Hard Sun

In addition to overcrowding its story, Hard Sun did not create good characters. There are few secondary characters who have any significant impact on the series, leaving the main focus of the series on Hicks and Renko. Neither figure grabbed control of the series and carried Hard Sun like a true detective drama. Without compelling leads, a two-person show fails to demand an audience’s attention. The extreme writing of Hard Sun also thrust both Hicks and Renko into scenes where they had to constantly overact to mirror the intensity of the story.

Whether it was a choice on the part of Jim Sturgess or series creator Neil Cross, Hicks is the most overacted character on Hard Sun. The vast majority of his dialogue is delivered with grovely angst. Hicks always seems to speak as if he is a man at the end of his rope. When that happens with such frequency, it is hard to know when he is really up against it. Hicks is also constantly jittery, yet most of  the professional detectives he works ever detect that as a warning sign that he might be up to something.

Agyness Deyn as Elaine Renko on Hard Sun
Agyness Deyn as Elaine Renko on Hard Sun

Renko, who looks like an adult Millie Bobbie Brown (Eleven from Stranger Things), was doomed by weak writing. For starters, Renko nonsensically says that it is “narcissistic” to worry about a global extinction event. The most ridiculous aspect of the show emanates from why she is investigating Hicks in the first place. It is not because she is an internal affairs investigator, but because she cut a deal with her own police department. Renko is trying to keep her troubled son out of prison after he stabbed her and set their house on fire. He is clearly experiencing emotional issues and is already in an asylum. In reality, the police would not have a say in where he is sentenced for attempted matricide. In the U.K., sentencing is determined by the magisterial branch of the law.

Drama Needs Some Reality

Hard Sun discards anything resembling a police procedural manual. Hicks compromises the chain of evidence by impatiently taking a phone out of an evidence bag. He also leans against a blood-stained wall as a forensics team canvasses the scene of a crime. As this is going on, Renko interferes with an investigation of her own son via text.

Renko also fails to disclose that a dead body on the floor raped her when she was a minor child. We know this because we have already seen the relevant police file.  One would think that London’s finest would not take long to figure out her association with this victim’s past, but it never happens.

Deyn and Sturgess on Hard Sun
Deyn and Sturgess on Hard Sun

It is not critical that a police series follows every procedure to the letter. Creative licensing grants the writer’s some convenience within a story. Some grasp of reality, however, is necessary for drama to be plausible. There is little drama in a show when the characters get away with everything. Without consequences it is hard to invest emotion into a story. By placing reasonable limits on characters, a drama creates greater tension and becomes more compelling.

Hulu’s Hard Sun  Should Fade Away

The greatest achievement by series creator Neil Cross is that he was able to complete the massive variety of stories within Hard Sun in time for the finale. Through his big reveal at the end of the first season, Cross did leave room for a second season of Hard Sun. It appears that he has more than two seasons of Hard Sun in mind. Cross (who also created Luther) is planning on turning Hard Sun into a five-season show.

It is impossible to see how Hard Sun could continue at its current pace over four more seasons. Even after just six episodes, it seems that any possible stories in Hard Sun have been exhausted. Production partners Hulu and the BBC would be best to leave Hard Sun to just one season.

Hard Sun Trailer: is a Philadelphia pop-culture blog that covers television, music, podcasts, and movies. Follow along on Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest, or subscribe by e-mail to catch all posts and conversations. 

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