Amazon’s hot new television series “Reacher” is remarkable in how unremarkable it is. It’s a straightforward detective thriller in which a strong and resourceful protagonist investigates and takes down a criminal enterprise that’s trying to kill him and those around him.
There’s no woke messaging, no subversion of roles, and no ambiguous morality. Jack Reacher is a good guy because he does good things (mainly killing bad guys and defending the innocent) and is very much a guy (Alan Ritchson has the physique and look of a pro wrestler). Those helping him, Captain Oscar Finlay (played by Malcolm Goodwin) and Roscoe Conklin (Willa Fitzgerald) do their part to support Reacher instead of competing with him. And the antagonists are thoroughly bad and fully deserve the punishment they eventually receive.
So in this regard, “Reacher” is refreshing and easy to watch. Obviously, this is helped by the show’s excellent pacing and plot development. Each episode presents a clear conflict and climax, and is not simply treated as a means to end (which often happens in the era of streaming and binge-watching). Nevertheless, there is a longer plot arc and a steady progression over the course of the series, complete with great cliffhangers at the end of each episode that maintain the viewer’s interest.
It’s also worth mentioning that though there is a fair amount of violence in “Reacher,” none of it feels too graphic or gratuitous. True, the show walks a fine line, as victims die in horrific ways and the gore is clearly visible, but it doesn’t descend into some sadistic spectacle. Rather, the action scenes are done well and feel real, complementing the plot and not becoming its main driving force.
However, even as the show delivers on viewers’ expectations, it is still far from perfect — and some of this is due to its conventionality. The show’s main weakness comes out with its characters, many of whom are either flat or irritating, and its caricatured setting.
The character issues start with Jack Reacher himself. He is big, strong, and crafty … and that’s about it. Even when he’s given something a backstory with periodic flashbacks into his past, his motivations remain pretty simple: kill bad guys and be smart about it.
Part of this can be attributed to the writing for his character, which seems a little inconsistent. Sometimes, he’s a suave, witty crime fighter. Other times, he’s a stoic, pragmatic avenger. And then at other times, he’s a cold-blooded sociopath who slaughters so many people without a second thought.
Part of this is Ritchson’s performance. Although he’s a decent actor, it becomes apparent in places that he’s not used to being the big charismatic hero. It also doesn’t help that he’s playing the same role that Tom Cruise did in Jack Reacher movies and necessarily pales in comparison.
The supporting cast also tends to lack personality. Roscoe is a tough woman who simply wants to help Reacher, and Finlay is a dorky outsider whose main attributes are liking ’80s music, being grouchy, and wearing tweed suits. As for the antagonists, are all forgettable and don’t warrant any serious attention.
Similarly, the setting, small-town Georgia, also lacks personality and is somewhat insulting to those who actually live in the South. If one relied solely relied on “Reacher as an authority,” they would conclude that Georgia is filled with old-fashioned diners serving coffee and peach pie, narrow-minded yokels (if not explicitly racist), and burly politicians who look like Colonel Sanders. There’s even a scene where one of the bad guys calls Finlay a “carpetbagger” — and no, he’s not being ironic.
What makes this especially frustrating is that this could have been an opportunity to give a different, more accurate portrayal of Southern culture. Georgia is much more diverse, cosmopolitan, and progressive, while still distinguishable from the culture of other places — the movie “Baby Driver,” which takes place in Atlanta, captures this surprisingly well. Even if the writers have no interest in the setting, the least they can do is steer clear of the ridiculous stereotypes.
Fortunately, these two issues can be fixed in later seasons, and “Reacher,” a show about a man who drifts across the country looking for trouble, is perfectly primed for many additional seasons. Ritchson can grow into the role and have a new supporting cast and setting that works better. This would make an already solid show into a great one.