Hulu’s Hard Sun is a lesson in not knowing when to wrap it up

Hulu’s new BBC-produced acquisition Hard Sun is a mixed bag that suffers from too many subplots and not enough room to breath.

If this show were an American production with at least 10 episodes, it would benefit from the extra screen time for things like character development and some actual “procedure” in the police procedural elements of its plot. In its current form, though, it seems as though the script was written either with a guaranteed second season in mind or with the pure hope that by concluding every plot line with a cliffhanger, it would somehow force a second season.

Despite these significant failings, the show is well made, with solid acting and attractive — if not standard BBC-style — cinematography and editing. The writer of Hard Sun, Neil Cross, also created BBC’s Luther, so perhaps his success with that show scored him a two-season contract (though no announcement about a second season has been made yet).

I hesitate to reduce the main plot of Hard Sun to the uncovering of a secret government document, known as the “Hard Sun” dossier, outlining an impending world-ending natural catastrophe. While this is the main driving force behind most of the story’s forward momentum, there is also an overarching concern surrounding DCI Charlie Hicks (Jim Sturgess) and whether or not he killed his previous partner. Leading this clandestine internal investigation is DI Elaine Renko (Agyness Den), brought on as Hicks’s new partner, even though this only hampers her investigation.

Throughout the six episodes of the first season, Renko’s investigation of Hicks creates nothing but a simmering distrust and often-violent gamesmanship between the two investigators. But the “Hard Sun” dossier serves two purposes to further complicate the plot: it pits Hicks and Renko against MI5 — whose agents will stop at nothing to recover the flash drive on which the dossier is stored — and it motivates people who believe the in the dossier’s findings and start killing people because the end is nigh.

Meanwhile, Renko is dealing with both the trauma of her rape and her violent and psychotic son, while Hicks deals with his family, his mistress, and his various crooked engagements. And, on top of all this, there are three serial killers discovered, investigated, and caught, all over the course of under six hours.

Hulu's Hard Sun

Agyness Deyn and Jim Sturgess in Hulu’s Hard Sun.

If this sounds like far too much plot to parse in far too little time, that’s because it is. The show suffers from a lack of character development, especially because it is very hard to understand the motivations behind various characters’ actions.

The final episode does, finally, reveal a number of important plot points that genuinely make me interested in season two, but the slog to get there was tough, and what should have been a one-day binge of a relatively short show turned into a reluctant viewing experience spread out over nearly a week.

In addition to muddied character development, the show’s desire to incorporate standard police procedural practices does it no favors, as solving three serial killer cases in six episodes basically boils each investigation down to a series of helpful coincidences foisted onto a mostly behind-the-scenes team of lesser investigators.

This aspect of the show would have been much more successful had the writers limited it to one killer for the season, despite the fact that part of the reason that there are three killers is to help emphasize the breakdown of social structure in the face of the “Hard Sun” threat.

Editor's Pick

Perhaps the most interesting thing about Hard Sun is the character of DI Renko. The show opens with her barely surviving a brutal home invasion and attack. We find out very quickly that this violence was at the hands of her estranged son, whose father raped Renko. The DI is compassionate to a fault — especially with her son — yet has no time for bullshit from other characters. Far from being a victim, she demands that others deal with her on her own terms, and not once does she back down from a fight, verbal or otherwise. Her police baton becomes a scalpel in her hands, and she fears no one.

As a mother figure, Renko may well be unparalleled in film and TV; as a detective, she is as badass as they come. This creates an interesting tension between her and Hicks, as his macho bravado often seems like a veneer compared to Renko’s hardened steel, especially as more details about his private life come to the surface. Renko’s self-possessed approach to the world is refreshing to see in a female character, and that alone makes me enjoy Hard Sun more than I might otherwise.

Hard Sun can’t quite decide who its protagonist is.

But for all this, the show has a difficult time deciding whether it is about Renko or Hicks (or “Hard Sun”), and the suturing of the viewer to one character, and then the other, gets a bit tiring. I found myself just wanting to know more about Renko and how she got to be where she is in life, while caring less about Hicks except as the subject of Renko’s investigation.

Ultimately, Hard Sun has created an interesting story that cuts against the grain of so much contemporary TV and cinema; by building a world that is pre-apocalypse, it has begun to explore the character/morality of people when there is a literal clock counting down the end of the world. Similarly, it has packaged this with a dynamic and intriguing female protagonist who seems right for our times.

I have high hopes for season two of Hard Sun, but I just wish I hadn’t had to sit through the overly-packed season one just to get there. We’ll see if the show can deliver on all the cliffhangers and bombshells if it gets renewed.

Let me know in the comments what you think of this new Hulu property and which other Hulu originals are your favorites. And, as always, be sure to bookmark DGiT for all your smart home, tech, and streaming entertainment news and reviews.

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