The apocalypse is nigh as 'Hard Sun' hits Hulu

Robert Lloyd, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Entertainment News

Neil Cross, the creator of "Luther," has a new one for you, "Hard Sun," which has come to America by way of Hulu, which co-produced the series in association with the BBC. Like "Luther," it offers an assortment of nutcases and serial killers who must be stopped before they kill again -- good luck with that.

The twist this time is that, as in the David Bowie song that ends the first episode, Earth has "five years left to cry in."

Sorry if that feels like a spoiler, but it's also the premise. An apparently inescapable, apparently scientifically determined and somehow completely secret extinction level event (code name: Hard Sun) is coming, though it is far enough away that Cross can squeeze in a few more seasons while remaining chronologically appropriate.

As has been the case in every other crime show and movie ever made, we begin with a cop who has lost a partner meeting the cop who will become his new partner. Detective Chief Inspector Charlie Hicks (Jim Sturgess) is the former; the latter is Elaine Renko (Agyness Deyn), who shares a last name with police officers and detectives on "Hill Street Blues" and "NCIS: Los Angeles" and in the novels of Martin Cruz Smith. For reasons that will soon be made clear, the new partners don't trust one another. But they must trust one another! But can they trust one another?

The relatively imminent end of the world gives a special flavor to the motivations of the murderers and mayhem artists who are the series' main meat, leading intermittently to philosophical discussions among cops and killers and their confidantes. It also sets the police business in the framework of a conspiracy thriller -- personified by hands-on intelligence official Grace Morrigan (Nikki Amuka-Bird, in a part not a world away from the one she played on "Luther"), the government is ready to kill to keep Hard Sun a secret.

But the information has made its way, in a keen little app, onto a dead hacker's flash drive and into the hands of Hicks and Renko.

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As in "Luther," we are in the new fog-free London, a cold, hard-edged, vertical city of glass and steel -- the building known as the Shard dominates the background, as well it might, being the tallest structure in Western Europe -- where a police station resembles a successful tech company.

The rare scenes that appear to portray some sort of relaxed domesticity or a relationship not colored by apocalyptic foreknowledge are all colored by looming dread, the viewer's knowledge that this person is lying or the expectation that this person will wind up dead. (There is some misdirection.) Knives and other sharp things are weapons of choice for Cross' killers, I suppose because guns are harder to come by in Britain. They are also messy, which seems to be his taste.

It is as stylish as it is unpleasant, and there are some well-staged action scenes, but overall, the series is loud and tiring, like spending an hour in an MRI machine. So assiduously does it avoid humor -- well, it's a serious subject, the end of humanity -- that one turns to less conflicted supporting characters for a few crumbs of jovial behavior. (A criminal sort saying "pathomologically" when he means "pathologically" is as much of a joke as "Hard Sun" can muster.)

Plots and subplots are laid on -- corruption, infidelity, tragic past -- almost as if to translate Bowie's "My brain hurt like a warehouse, it had no room to spare/I had to cram so many things to store everything in there" into a recipe for television. (Your brain may hurt like a warehouse trying to keep it all straight.)


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