“Hard Sun” has many of the things you expect from a British crime drama: Competent visuals, a solid cast, a serialized tale of criminality, and a nearly unending string of overcast days.
Unfortunately, despite a slight sci-fi element thrown into the mix, much of this six-episode program — a Hulu/BBC co-production — feels like an assemblage of TV cliches, many of them quite worn out. Creator Neil Cross’ previous crime drama, “Luther,” had an intense and charismatic performance from Idris Elba to help it traverse that show’s inevitable rough patches and ridiculous twists. Despite having two leads at the center of it instead of “Luther’s” solo protagonist, “Hard Sun” is less than half as interesting.
The show’s first bewildering decision is to drag out the full scope of the show’s “twist” until the very end of the first episode, even though the general outlines of that development are communicated in the show’s opening scene and are very easy to guess in any event. What sets “Hard Sun” apart from the usual U.K. cop drama is that the two police officers at the center of the story find out that the world is about to end — in a few years’ time, that is.
Even the deployment of this part of the premise feels lazy: As the show gains steam, it’s unclear just how much various characters actually know about the so-called “Hard Sun” scenario contained in a secret government dossier, but they all instantly believe that its revelations are true. The show also seems to want to say something about how governments try to keep secrets and about what it’s like to live in a post-truth age, but “Hard Sun” mainly hand-waves in those directions without having an thoughtful take on the workings of the media and the golden age of conspiracy theories.
Aside from that element, much of “Hard Sun revolves around the shady past of London cop Charlie Hicks (Jim Sturgess), who may be involved in some seriously unethical activities. Detective Elaine Renko (Agyness Deyn), who comes to work with Hicks, is secretly trying to figure out just how corrupt he is, and their mutual suspicions are supposed to drive much of the suspense. However, individually or together, Renko and Hicks don’t have much charisma or depth; they both appear to have fallen off a conveyor belt that churns out standard English cops, early 21st Century edition.
The cast is full of the kind of personable U.K. character actors who do good work with what they’re given. But every dramatic crescendo that revolves around the concept that Renko and Hicks are fighting for those they love in the face of possible worldwide annihilation falls flat, because their relationships aren’t developed in compelling ways. Nor do the personalities of the criminals, the shadowy spies chasing Renko and Hicks, or various supporting characters stand out in any sustained way.
Woven around Renko and Hicks are a series of stories that take great pleasure in depicting violence, and a core assumption of “Hard Sun” is that dark streets, a glum tone and violence (especially against women) connotes importance and ambition. Nope. In fact, those aspects of “Hard Sun” are very tiresome. Most characters come in for some cuts and bruises, but there’s a great deal more violence directed at women in the first three episodes, and there are a number of instances in which female characters — unlike the men — are largely defined by the ways they are physically and psychologically brutalized.
The main thing we learn about Renko is that she was raped in the past — so of course she is “damaged” and has a tragic personal life. In the second episode, another woman is assaulted before she’s brutally killed; we barely learn her name before her killer begins terrorizing his estranged wife. On this side of the Atlantic, there’s growing awareness regarding how dull, problematic and cliched these kinds of plot elements are. Whether those who commission U.K. dramas — where these kinds of elements appear to be quite common — will ever get the message remains an open question.
All things considered, “Hard Sun” takes itself almost comically seriously, despite its obviously derivative elements (if I never see a serial killer quote Bible verses in a darkened warehouse again, I’ll give thanks to the Lord). That self-important tone is a bit hard to take from a drama whose core pitch is this: What if the present moment was even darker and more hopeless than the one we are living through now? Or course, given the right execution, a drama shot through with pessimism and concerned a with quest for survival can be exhilarating and worthwhile. But “Hard Sun” contains so many contrivances and overwrought moments that the commitment of its cast and the potential of its premise are largely squandered.