If you’re looking for the television equivalent to “The Hunt for Red October,” “Jack Ryan” doesn’t quite rise to the occasion. However, it is a well-executed spy thriller that packs each of its eight episodes with plenty of action and plot twists.
Each new incarnation of Tom Clancy’s bashful Central Intelligence Agency analyst gets a makeover to fit the times. In this version, Ryan, played by John Krasinski, is a Marine veteran with a PhD in economics who left a career on Wall Street to work as a financial analyst in the Terror, Finance, and Arms Division (T-FAD) at Langley.
Krasinski is joined by Wendell Pierce as Jim Greer, who has recently been bounced back to the CIA headquarters as chief of T-FAD after a mysterious incident in Karachi made him persona non grata. Greer and Ryan get off to a rough start, but it isn’t long before they bond over their haunting pasts.
Ryan identifies some mysterious bank transactions, and suggests to Greer that they may be looking at a new terrorist leader on the level of Osama Bin Laden, called “Suleiman.” Like all Jack Ryans before him, this one pushes the envelope on CIA procedure, and the bosses all pretend to be mad, but before the end of the first episode, Greer and Ryan find themselves in Yemen, where supposed bodyguards of the mysterious Suleiman are being held.
Suleiman is planning unprecedented terrorist strikes across the world, and only Ryan and Greer’s combined aptitude and cunning can stop him. Ryan is also courting Kathy Mueller, played by Abbie Cornish, a successful DC doctor who happens to be the daughter of his former Wall Street boss. Ryan attempts to keep his thrilling CIA life a secret from Kathy, but as the plot brings the threat closer to home, Ryan’s secret career becomes the least of his concerns.
While never particularly deep, and somewhat predictable, “Jack Ryan” has everything a television spy series should. It’s exciting, the story is coherent and uncomplicated, and the characters are immensely likeable.
Krasinski brings a boyishness to Clancy’s famous character not previously seen, but it mostly works. He plays a Jack Ryan that is an unpretentious, brilliant character who is willing to fight to death if necessary. The show never digs too deeply into any character’s pain, just shows us enough to let the audience know what’s happening.
The chases are frequent and exciting, with Ryan and Greer zipping through Yemen, France, Syria, and Washington DC. Pierce revives his Bunk Moreland swagger to play Greer, which entertainingly plays off Krasinski’s sheepish qualities.
Reading a Tom Clancy novel is a deep dive into the technical elements of spies and plots against America. Early film adaptations of his books, particularly “The Hunt for Red October,” reflected the reading experience. “Jack Ryan,” however, which is not based on any particular novel, is much more focused on the action than the detail-laden elements that Clancy is famous for.
This is not meant to be a disparaging comment. While the technical details aren’t the primary plot device, the creators of the show seemed to use real CIA history as a template for their story, particularly the days of Alec Station leading up to the events of 9/11.
“Jack Ryan” isn’t covering any new ground for action thrillers, and it doesn’t come close to “The Americans” in terms of gut-wrenching conflict and depth. However, this show accomplishes its goals splendidly, leaving no thread dangling by the time it reaches the finish line.
It is also delightfully un-woke. It portrays a likeable POTUS, features a veteran Marine as its hero main character, and bad guys who are terrorists from the Middle East out to destroy America. These elements combined with the fast-paced story full of adventure and intrigue make the first season of “Jack Ryan” well worth it.