This article contains only light spoilers for Reacher episode 1.
Lee Child’s Jack Reacher franchise has become something of a big deal. Across the last couple of decades, the crime-thriller series has garnered hundreds of millions of dollars in combined sales between books, movies, and merchandise. The titular protagonist has garnered a cult following for his combination of masculine fortitude and wily problem solving.
It’s the type of setup that really deserves long-form storytelling, and that’s why the film adaptation of the novels was disappointing for fans of Child’s work. The casting of Tom Cruise in the role of the titular Reacher was also unpopular, as he has the acting chops to play the character well, but his physical attributes to play the crime-solving behemoth were woefully lacking.
That is why so many people were ecstatic to find out that Amazon Prime Video would be premiering a television series based on the franchise early in 2022. The show gives a chance for a reset. Alan Ritchsen (previously of Blue Mountain State and Titans fame) has been tabbed for the pivotal role of everyone’s favorite buff vigilante. The first season is based off of the book Killing Floor released in 1997.
Within minutes of the opening, we are introduced to the hero of the story in classic who-dun-it fashion. Jack Reacher enters the town of Margrave, Georgia and is arrested for a murder that he didn’t commit. Reacher is mute for the first 15 or so minutes of the episode, leading a new viewer to wonder whether that is part of his modus operandi. Reacher is then put in prison with another man named Hubble (Marc Bendavid) who admits to the crime despite not being guilty either.
Many action sequences ensue in the prison before both men are released, the local law enforcement deciding they will move on to other suspects. The two agents who Reacher comes into contact with and starts to immediately grow into relationships with are Finlay (Malcolm Goodwin) and Roscoe (Willa Fitzgerald).
The former reluctantly admits to himself that Reacher may not be the villain of this plot, but that the big brute may certainly be of help in finding the actual perpetrator. Roscoe is a bright-eyed, high-tempered blonde who clearly takes a romantic liking to our hero, but may or may not want to act on it.
The first major plot twist occurs at the end of episode 1 and twists become a hallmark of the ensuing episodes, with a new plot paradigm shift supposedly adding on to the tension each time the camera goes to black. The problem with that intended result is that none of the turns are all that revelatory. When you don’t have that much time to get acquainted with the surrounding cast, the truth bombs being dropped don’t really hit the same as in a slow-burn drama. Plot points come racing at you as fast as Reacher’s fists, leaving something to be desired if you don’t take a breath and try to figure out what’s important and what is fluff.
That doesn’t mean the show isn’t pleasurable to watch, quite the contrary actually. Thrillers like Reacher are some of the best binges on TV, especially during the streaming era we’re living within right now. It’s the perfect show to settle into your living room on a lazy Saturday afternoon and turn off your brain from a long work week. You may not have the mental capacity to figure out the potential culprits or the characters who are switching allegiances, but you’ll sure as hell love the charisma of Ritchson’s portrayal.
Fans of the novels will surely appreciate the machismo and charm of Jack Reacher as a character in these eight hours of on-screen interpretation. Ritchson towers over everyone else, letting the viewer know who is in charge at all times. It makes the watcher comfortable to know that the bad guys will always be caught, stabbed, and hung (sometimes by a necktie), never to get away from their evil acts.
This also can, unfortunately, erase some of the potential friction that would be created by a more vulnerable protagonist. Similar shows, like the Harlan Coben adaptations on Netflix, feature suburban family men who often look just like you or your neighbor. These characters are always running from something foreboding, and there’s a good chance they won’t get away. On the other hand, Reacher is so physically and symbolically invulnerable that the writers leave no doubt for his eventual triumph.
It really shows that characters like Jack Reacher, the fixer/assassin-for-hire/swiss-army-knife badasses of the world, better belong in the background than in the forefront of the story (think Mike Ehrmantraut of Breaking Bad/Better Call Saul fame). These roles support the meatier, more complicated stars who push forward prestige storytelling. They aren’t really three-dimensional enough to make an entire show about.
This means that if you are going to do so, the plot of such an idea must be taut and rife with drama. Reacher tries its hardest to do both of these things, stretching itself too thin and leaving you slightly unsatisfied. Like eating a couple quarter-pound cheeseburgers and a large fry. In fact, that’s the perfect analogy for this program. It’s the comfort crime show that you can go to when you want something, anything, to put on the screen and while away the time. You’ll enjoy it while it lasts, but you know there’s healthier, more worthwhile options out there.