I like a LOT of TV and movies. Especially series like Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan. So, I thought I’d tell the world about it on SoManyShows.com.
I’ve seen a couple previous Jack Ryans. Admit it. Most of us have. Do you remember your first? Of course you do. Who can forget your first Jack Ryan? Mine was Alec Baldwin in The Hunt for Red October. I stuck with the franchise with Harrison Ford for Patriot Games and Clear and Present Danger, though I thought those movies never measured up to Red October. Since then (the mid 90’s), I’ve been in a Jack Ryan slump. I like Ben Affleck just fine, but his version of Jack Ryan in The Sum of All Fears came along right in the middle of Caroline’s first pregnancy, sooooo… Yeah. We didn’t see it. I like Chris Pine a lot, but his Shadow Recruit got such middling reviews, I never made the time.
For a new crop of viewers, John Krasinski will be their first Jack Ryan. The actor, most well-known as practical-joking, Dwight-teasing, and camera-mugging Jim Halpert from The Office uses the cache built up from that TV show to easily sell his Jack Ryan as a nerdy, computers and numbers guy for the CIA. Then, he shows off his post-13 Hours physique and makes us all wonder why we’ve never seen him in action movies before (almost no one saw 13 Hours). The combo works well on screen. Let’s take a look at the show a little closer.
Paul’s Pick: Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan from Amazon
Released: August 31, 2018
Creatives (Executive Producers, Writers, etc.) of note: Carlton Cuse, Graham Roland, Michael Bay, Brad Fuller
Starring: John Krasinski, Wendell Pierce, Abbie Cornish, Ali Suliman
The concept: Brainy and unexpectedly brawny CIA analyst tries to stop the next Bin Laden before it’s too late!
A low-level CIA analyst, with a history involving both the Marines and Wall Street, thinks he’s found the paper-trail left by terrorism’s newest bigwig. His Camaro-driving and recently-demoted new boss disagrees and the best buddy-cop relationship since Riggs and Murtaugh gets off and running! These two go all over the world together, hating each other the whole time. Out of their hatred though, they usually find the answers they need, building an uneasy trust between them.
Meanwhile, it turns out there IS actually a new terrorism bigwig and he’s got his sights set on the whole world. (That’s The United States plus everyone else, if you’re keeping score.) He’s concocted a complex, yet plausible plot, assembled followers that cross religious divides, and is willing to sacrifice anything. And anyone. The good guys know something bad is coming, but they have no idea where or what and they have to stop it.
Characters: Jack Ryan
As a fan of comic book movies, I’ve lived through several cases of characters and stories being re-imagined for TV and movies. Jack Ryan himself came through that Hollywood-group-think process in a pretty recognizable state. Maybe it’s just Krasinski’s inherent likability, but I (as I’ve stated) really buy him in this role and like the character. Every time I’ve seen Jack Ryan in movies, he’s believably smart when he needs to be and believably tough when he needs to be. Check and check for Amazon and Krasinski’s Ryan.
Characters: Jim Greer
Jim Greer on the other hand came through the adaptation process with some changes. Keep in mind, I’m making comparisons to movies and NOT the novels featuring Jack Ryan’s adventures. Those movies used a 60-something James Earl Jones in that role, long past the gun-fight portion of his career. Jones’ Greer held the rank of admiral and worked with naval intelligence. The role as adapted for Wendell Pierce shares only the character’s ethnicity in common with Jones’ Greer. Amazon’s Greer has always been CIA, very active in the field, and pulls his gun a LOT. But only when he intends to kill someone. Which is a lot.
The biggest change, and probably the most criticized, has been Greer’s conversion to Islam. For novel-based purists, this apparent political-correctness driven change made them give up on the show. In an era where reboots and remakes re-cast classic characters without regard to their original gender, race, creed, color, sexual-orientation, what have you, I see how some may consider that change simply a move to head-off social justice warriors before they strike. Having seen the whole season, I’d argue against that judgement. His faith makes a few scenes more complicated (thus interesting or comedic) and a few scenes more doable (like visiting a mosque and asking questions). His approach to his faith and the struggle he shows with how to reconcile his beliefs with the work he does and the people he fights counterbalances what would have been a fairly one-sided representation of Islam. The show needed him to be Muslim, in other words.
Some people measure a story by the quality of its villain. True to the standard that the best villains do not see themselves as the “bad guy”, Suleiman (Ali Suleman) offers a complex twist on a familiar trope. Remember True Lies and Aziz, the leader of the Crimson Jihad? Suleiman and he share nothing in common. Suleiman demonstrates calm, patience, kindness, deliberateness in planning, selflessness in execution, as well as deviousness, cruelty, and an ability to sacrifice family. He appeals across the various divisions with the Muslim faith and makes a pretty sympathetic villain. If you were in the shoes of one of his prospective followers, his arguments and personal demeanor would probably be very appealing.
Seventeen years after 9/11, the US vs. Arab-world story has gotten an over-saturated level of representation. BUT, this is how US-based entertainment works. Watch any action movie from the 80s and the “bad-guys” are the Russians. The 90s featured more war-on-drugs type stuff, which usually got back to enemies south of the Rio Grande. Right now, the easy, go-to, movie bad guy comes from the Middle East. This is one of those “it is what it is” statements not meant to elicit anyone trying to burn down my house.
The young version of Jack Ryan, as originally conceived, came from the 80s with the requisite Russian bad guys. Although I can’t think of anyone I know that feels great about the relationship between the US and Russia, any menace the Russians pose as TV bad-guys takes a back seat to that of terrorism and those that commit it. In that sense, the writers have modernized young Jack Ryan (he ages a lot in the books) to start his career now, not fighting Ivan Drago (Rocky IV anyone?). Combine all that, and it’s almost like a + b = c if you’re a Hollywood writer.
I felt some initial disappointment about this. If you’ve seen Black Hawk Down, 13 Hours, The Kingdom, Zero Dark Thirty, Lone Survivor, American Sniper, etc., Jack Ryan’s action and settings start to feel overly familiar. I’ve seen these plots now, many times. I watch TV for new stories. Or at least old stories with unexpected twists and turns. Jack Ryan delivers that second thing. The credible blending of action and smart detective work, plus the love-hate relationship of the protagonists gives Jack Ryan something unique compared to what has become mundane. (I hate saying ‘mundane’ because I know real people are fighting and dying in the conflict which Hollywood simplifies for entertainment’s sake. I mean it only as a consumer of entertainment.)
Improvement Areas? Maybe?
If I really wanted to stretch, I could find some issue with how the show used women. Cathy, Jack’s romantic interest is taken from the books and movies, but I have no idea idea if she’s been adapted very much. She wasn’t a big deal in the movies I saw and here she’s given little to do here as well. A medical doctor, Cathy specializes in epidemiology, which matters later in the story, so there’s that. But that’s Cathy’s big contribution to the story. The other main female character is Hanin, Suleiman’s wife. Without giving too much away, she has a huge, difficult decision to make and then has to spend several episodes living with it. In both cases, the female character has one thing to do, she does it, and then isn’t asked to do much more. I’m not sayin’, I’m just sayin’.
Quibbles aside, watch this show. I give it an A. Amazon spent money on this and it shows. The sets and locations look great. (Were they in Syria or just a dune in eastern Cali? I have no idea!) The writing smartly modernizes characters born of cold-war era roots (see Greer). The cast… the most recognizable faces fill the marquee roles, we all understand that, sure. But as you watch, you’ll see guest star after guest star in character-roles that you recognize from other shows. All of these final comments add up to Amazon having invested wisely on a well-crafted season of television.