We’ve got five years, stuck on my eyes / Five years, what a surprise / We’ve got five years, my brain hurts a lot / Five years, that’s all we’ve got – David Bowie, “Five Years”
David Bowie is my favorite musician but if I had to choose one of his songs to turn into a TV show, “Five Years” is not the song I would pick. It is, however, the inspiration for Neil Cross’ new show, Hard Sun, about two cops who find out the world’s going to end, and the Security Service agents who want to kill them before they tell anybody.
The trouble with this plan (besides how paranoid MI5 looks) is it forces DCI Charlie Hicks and DI Elaine Renko’s hand. Where they might have wanted to think things over, before announcing the world’s got five years to go, being shot at leads Renko to make a call. The only way they stop being targeted or killed is if everybody knows what’s going on.
Except Security Services manage to pass extinction off as a hoax, and it’s not long before Hicks and Renko are back to being the bearers of bad truths they can’t share. It’s not like the rest of the world won’t find out. MI5’s cover-up doesn’t change Earth’s lot, but in the meantime if they can fix their misplaced anger on Renko, and wherever it is she’s hidden an incriminating flash drive, they can kick up enough stink to merit screentime.
Being familiar with Bowie’s song, and what the show would be about, there isn’t really a mold for pacing pre-apocalyptic stories. My initial thinking was the show would go the way of end-of-the-world movies and induce catastrophes early. Instead, for all the problems you’d expect there to be, writing a show set five years before the main event, Hard Sun keeps the apocalypse pertinent by pointing out that, while ‘Hard Sun’ may have been debunked, it’s reverberations continue in the cases Hicks and Renko are assigned. The mere suggestion that the world could be on its last legs has caused killers to pop out of the woodwork. The damage is already done.
If that weren’t enough, the personal drama on this show is off the charts. If you think MI5’s sweating their portrayal on this show, that’s nothing compared to how silly Charlie Hicks looks. Played by Across the Universe’s Jim Sturgess, Hicks is one of those characters who’s so terrible you can’t wait to hear the stuff that comes out of his mouth. He’s literally the worst. Nikki Amuka Bird plays the face of Security Services and she manifests more sympathy than he does. The kind of cop who wants to be an antihero, and has done enough stuff to make a case for the label, he’s really just the most unbelievable ‘good guy’ a person could invent.
Joined by his new partner Renko (Agyness Deyn), they’re not exactly fast friends. He’s already cheating on his pregnant wife with his old partner’s widow (a character who’s given no life outside of being a plot device) and Renko’s got her hands full with her own investigation into Hick’s partner’s murder. Make an empty promise to protect Hick’s family and he’ll do anything you say, so it doesn’t take much for MI5 to turn these two against each other, but does any of it matter when they’re facing five years anyway?
Much like Cross’ Luther, Hard Sun doesn’t avoid violence and can be pretty disturbing at times. I don’t know that his shows are more violent than others, but they touch a nerve, due to the way they tear down the illusion of safe places. Bowie’s “Five Years” included violence, too — “A girl my age went off her head / Hit some tiny children / If the black hadn’t a-pulled her off / I think she would’ve killed them” — but Cross’ ability to scare viewers can get brutal.
On the other side, because British cops often don’t carry guns, Hicks and Renko’s confrontations with perps play out differently than their US counterparts. Renko has a night stick and brass knuckles, and watching her disarm people may be my favorite part of the show. It proves you don’t need a gun to get the upper hand, and that includes when your aggressor’s packing. On a sobering note, hearing Charlie’s daughter ask him, in regards to a serial killer, “What if he comes to my school, or something, like happens in America?” caught me off guard. It shouldn’t be surprising, but to hear it put so directly. This is how children think of America now.
Hard Sun isn’t without plot holes and plausibility problems. To name a few:
- Renko’s knack for profiling murderers. Everything she says checks out with what we know, but there’s a reason Sherlock always cites his sources. How is she deducing these things?
- The press not fact-checking Elaine’s scoop more before publishing (fun side note: I love the obvious connotations of the reporter being on the down escalator when he hits ‘publish’ on ‘Hard Sun’).
- The reporter citing time pressures as an excuse for publishing quickly when there’s a literal countdown clock every episode.
- Renko having an affair with this reporter (the guy texts back ‘OMG so sorry’ after being told a relative attempted suicide).
Then there’s the problem of everything Charlie says or does (threaten to waterboard someone? Charlie’s done it). His unwavering belief that they shouldn’t wait for back-up is almost as baffling as his inability to comprehend cheating’s wrong, and then there’s that time Elaine came this close to dying and he was right there, and nobody talks about it.
Is Hard Sun what David Bowie had in mind when he wrote “Five Years?” I’ll admit to being skeptical, but with an impressive supporting cast and enough changing allegiances to make you lose track, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t addicted to this wonderful mess of a show.
Hard Sun Season 1 begins streaming March 7th on Hulu.