This show ain’t for gun porn or armchair general types, that’s for sure. If you’re looking for a spoiler-free review, I suggest checking out this post over at the Castalia House blog.
We open with a happy go lucky family living in the not so lucky days of Lebanon 1983. With no context for the action, we see only fighter jets bombing the hell out of a peaceful village of muslims, one of which grows up to no one’s surprise to be the villainous Sulieman. Fine. It provides motivation, and the details of the ruination of Lebanon don’t matter to the story anymore than they do to Hollywood writers or NYT reporters in the middle-east anyway.
Jack Ryan is fit, and he is smart as shown by his knowledge of international finance. For the dumb people in the audience, he is really smart because he knows all the Jeopardy questions, too. Hey, Jack Ryan is smarter than most shows, allows things to develop, and doesn’t always spell everything out for the cheap seats, we can forgive a few lapses.
Like the clear sympathy the camera has for the poor put-upon wife of the mad bomber. Clearly concerned about the grubby men building massive bombs in her basement, it’s yet to be seen how she factors into the show. The jury is out on that plot thread.
The biggest beef that I have with the show is the typically dumb main set piece in which four technicals assault the main gate of a secure compound. RPGs are heavy artillery, mortars are zeroed immediately, and no one is assigned to watch the flanks or rear of the compound when the shooting starts? Come on, now. You’re stretching belief here – a belief already stretched by the way in which Team Evil’s super-competent man of action snuck in to the base. You get one giant lapse in security, and with a second you’re really asking too much of the audience. Even the full frontal assault can be forgiven for the sake of simplicity, production costs, and visual appeal, but that just adds a third nit for pickers like me, none of which would be that hard to have prevented in the first place.
I’m also docking the show points for once again making the only clear bad guy the white old Wall Street guy whose greed serves as a dark mirror by which we can see Jack Ryan’s virtue – as though his actions alone won’t? Again, we can forgive the writers because they’ve set up the love interest, and thrown the bankster in as an obstacle for Jack to overcome on his way to winning her heart. But again, presenting the one representative of American business as somehow less worthy of our respect and understanding than the middle-eastern rich guys building bombs echoes too much modern media for my comfort. It’s cheap and it’s lazy and it’s going to cost them my eyes if they go down the usual path with that plot thread.
Up against those demerits is a lot of slow build mysteries, and a script that doesn’t take the viewer by the hand. There are a lot of moments where I paused the action to talk through what we were seeing, in part to explain to my teenaged co-viewers, and in part to check my own assumptions. We traded theories and resumed the show, and sometimes the theories were right and sometimes wrong.
Overall, this show gets a solid recommendation based on the pilot. The cracks in the façade aren’t deal breakers, but they are warning signs to keep one finger poised over the big red “Abort” button.