"TOM CLANCY'S JACK RYAN" — Amazon Prime, starts Friday, Aug. 31, TV-NR
Amazon Prime's newest original series, the much-hyped "Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan" opens its pilot not with Jack Ryan himself, but with a pair of brothers in Lebanon in 1983 whose town is bombed by Westerners.
This sets the tone for the rest of the first six episodes that were screened for the press, which give an empathetic back story for Ryan's Middle Eastern antagonists. These developed characters end up being the highlight of the show, overshadowing the titular hero played by John Krasinski.
In the past few years Krasinski has proven his abilities beyond his breakout role as Jim Halpert in the hit NBC sitcom "The Office," playing Jack Silva in Michael Bay's "13 Hours" in 2016 and earlier this year as director and star of the horror hit "A Quiet Place." But, unfortunately, due to a script that never gives Krasinski enough to build a fully developed character, his turn as Jack Ryan falls flat. He feels almost too wholesome to be believable as a hardened, troubled action hero.
Tom Clancy created Ryan's character in the 1984 novel "The Hunt for Red October." The CIA analyst and former Marine is the hero of many other Clancy thriller novels and has been portrayed in film by Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford, Ben Affleck and Chris Pine.
Amazon's new television series puts Ryan in the 21st century — he's an Afghanistan War veteran who's concerned about preventing another Osama Bin Laden as he monitors the finances of possible terrorists in Yemen. He quickly proves his abilities as more than just an analyst who sits behind a desk, using both his smarts and his combat abilities to try and take down a new terrorist mastermind, Suleiman (Ali Suliman).
But compared with the depth and complexity given to Suleiman and his wife, Hanin (Dina Shihabi), Ryan feels two-dimensional. Part of the reason why is because Ryan, although the hero of the show, is not its focus. Instead of centering the drama on Ryan and his complicated life, the Amazon series seems more like a vehicle for exploring contemporary issues — America's relationship with the Middle East, what led to the creation of terrorists and the tragic circumstances of refugees — than a thriller about a talented CIA agent.
This kind of depth in an action movie would be a nice change of pace, but only if that depth were consistent for all the characters — especially the one the series clearly wants us to root for. Instead, much of the series is devoted to exploring Suleiman and Hanin's back story and problems, and every time the plot does return to Ryan, the tension drops and the story feels less emotionally sincere.
This is largely because the show glosses over Ryan's background or gives it out in small snippets. Many viewers will already know his story from Clancy's books and previous movies, but at times the writers seem to hint at Ryan's past as though it is a mystery, which of course it isn't anymore than Batman's background is a mystery. Even if the show is planning to put a twist on Ryan's well-known story, it would have been more effective and given the character more depth to simply talk about Ryan's past up front, so the audience could understand what he was feeling and connect with him as much as we do Suleiman and his family.
The first six episodes also introduce Ryan's love interest, Cathy Mueller (Abbie Cornish), but the romantic tension between them is all but nonexistent, and their spontaneous nude sex scene does nothing to help convince viewers of their feelings for each other.
Speaking of which, "Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan" adds a large helping of gratuitous violence, gore, nudity, sex and profanity to storyline that didn't need it. Some scenes of terrorist violence are so upsetting they should probably have trigger warnings. One particularly disturbing nude sex scene in episode three has almost no connection to the plot, and yet the director left it in, perhaps to make the episode more edgy. But instead, it just makes the show feel messy and like it's trying too hard to appeal to a certain demographic.
All in all, "Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan" is worth watching if you're interested in getting the human side of Middle Eastern terrorism — how xenophobia and racism in the West led to its creation and how innocents, particularly women and children, in those countries are often the first and worst victims. However, if you're hoping to catch some fun, classic Jack Ryan action thrills, you might be better off pulling out one of the old movies.
'The First' — Hulu, starts Friday, Sept. 14
"House of Cards" creator Beau Willimon sets his new drama in the near future as Earth prepares for the first human space mission to Mars. The trailer does a nice job of teasing the action without giving much away, leaving watchers with a female voice delivering this ominous line at its end, "Any time people venture into the unknown, there is a cost." Sean Penn and Natascha McElhone co-star.
'New Amsterdam' — NBC, Tuesday, Sept. 25
NBC is bringing back medical procedurals with the return of "Chicago Med" and "New Amsterdam," a new show based on the oldest public hospital in the country, the Bellevue in New York. Produced in part by Dr. Eric Manheimer, the show is inspired by his 2012 memoir, "Twelve Patients: Life and Death at Bellevue Hospital," which details his time working at the hospital.
'A Million Little Things' — ABC, Wednesday, Sept. 26
Drawing comparisons to NBC's "This Is Us," this ABC drama series follows eight friends in Boston who are drawn back together when one of them suddenly dies. The show's website states that this unexpected death provides "the wake-up call the others need to finally start living." Fans of "Psych" will recognize James Roday among the cast.
'God Friended Me' — CBS, Sunday, Oct. 7
It's a premise that could only work in these social-obsessed times: An outspoken atheist gets a friend request from God on Facebook. When Miles Finer, played by Brandon Micheal Hall, looks into God's friend suggestions, he finds people who need his help. The hopefully funny and heartwarming new series also stars Violett Beane and Suraj Sharma.
'Charmed' — CW, Sunday, Oct. 14
Yet another '90s reboot, "Charmed" is coming back to the CW (though it was called the WB back when it initially aired). This time the three witch sisters have names that all start with "m" — Mel, Macy and Maggie —and live in a fictional college town, Hilltowne. Staring Melonie Diaz, Madeleine Mantock and Sarah Jeffery, the show comes from the writers of CW's "Jane the Virgin."
'The Kids Are Alright' — ABC, Tuesday, Oct. 16
Set in the 1970s, this comedy follows the mishaps of a large Irish-Catholic family — eight boys — and how they must cope with the changing times. Veteran TV actors Michael Cudlitz and Mary McCormack star as the parents who oversee their sons' growth, mishaps and triumphs, including the shock of their oldest son who returns home from the seminary and informs his parents that he's decided not to become a priest.
'The Conners' — ABC, Tuesday, Oct. 16
Now that Roseanne Barr is out following her controversial Twitter mishaps, ABC is replacing what was her TV revival with a spinoff featuring everyone in the cast but her. Her former co-star John Goodman revealed recently that ABC plans to kill off Barr's character, which will likely guarantee that viewers will tune in for the first episode, at least.