Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan is just not as good as I wanted it to be.
Let’s be honest. This summer has been rough. And I’ve been clinging to the idea that Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan—debuting Friday on Amazon, right before summer ends—would be the magic elixir for all our woes. It’s a lot to ask of a series, I know. But come on! The series stars John Krasinski and is executive produced by Carlton Cuse. It’s a successful action adventure property. I expected greatness.
Instead, with its faux settings and clichéd characters and storylines, the series unfolds like an episode of NCIS or one of the sub-par seasons of 24. That doesn’t make it a bad show, but it definitely makes it a far-from-great one. I know this isn’t exactly a great critical word, but the show bummed me out.
Set in the present, the series follows CIA analyst Jack Ryan (John Krasinski), who’s unexpectedly pulled into a field assignment when he realizes the financial interactions he’s tracking lead to a new terrorist leader. “I was just following the money, sir,” is a phrase he’s extremely fond of saying. Krasinski is perfect for the role: He’s got the wide-eyed yet not-that-innocent look down. He’s the everyman who gives his colleagues fantasy baseball advice and is friends with the owner of a local restaurant. And I totally bought into the idea that he could take out his enemies with his bare hands. But still, his Jack Ryan lacks any kind of oomph.
Jack’s boss, James Greer (Wendell Pierce), has been mysteriously demoted, and is now heading up Jack’s division after a major screw-up that is not made readily apparent. Abbie Cornish is the requisite love interest, Cathy Mueller, but her scenes with Krasinski lack chemistry. Jack Ryan purports to be a modern reinvention of the franchise, but everything about it seems tired and old.
The show does try to shake things up a bit from time to time, as in the third episode, when we meet drone officer Victor Polizzi (John Magaro). Victor is tortured about the lives he takes and tries to blow off steam by gambling. Suffice it to say, things go awry when Victor meets Stanley (Lee Tergesen) and Blanche (Cynthia Preston) and suddenly finds himself in a sick and twisted version of Indecent Proposal. It’s not entertaining. It’s just odd. And I wish there was some sort of TV rule that if the women on screen are going to be unnecessarily nude and in compromising positions, the men should be, too.
We have lots of shows about terrorists and the good Americans who go after them. The main terrorists here are Sheikh Suleiman (Ali Suliman) and his brother Ali (Haaz Seliman). We first meet them as children and then at different flashbacks to poignant points in their young adulthood, gaining insight into what has led them down this path. Suleiman’s wife, Hadid (Dina Shihabi), fears for her daughters’ safety and wants to escape. Hers is one of the more compelling stories, and the one I most wanted to watch. Shihabi’s expressive face speaks volumes.
Jack Ryan at least seems to know it’s knee-deep in cliché territory as it endeavors to help us understand the ruthless violence Suleiman and his followers propagate. Greer is also a Muslim and is often seen with his prayer beads. “I use it when I’m unable to pray or I need Allah to grant me restraint,” he tells one racist French police officer. Pierce excels at the world-weary character who is beyond caring about the chain of command or proper authority. Not surprisingly, the rapport between Jack and Greer is a highlight of the series. After Jack is lamenting that he could have done more to prevent a terrorist attack, Greer tells him, “You blaming yourself for this, that’s irrational, too. Not to mention narcissistic.”
There are moments when the series gives a peek at how it could have been better. After one terrorist attack, the cameras focuses on the cell phones ringing on the dead bodies. It’s a devastating sequence. In another, Jack communicates with Suleiman in a clever instant messaging scene that provides the first true nail-biting tension in the series.
But more often than not, the show plods along with no real sense of urgency. I often had to restrain myself from scrolling through my phone. I was that bored while I was watching.
Those indoctrinated into the Jack Ryan canon via the books or the movies will find the eight-episode series is faithful to the spirit of all that preceded it. I’m just not sure we needed it at all.
Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan premieres Friday, August 31 on Amazon Prime Video.
Amy Amatangelo, the TV Gal®, is a Boston-based freelance writer, a member of the Television Critics Association and the Assistant TV Editor for Paste. She wasn’t allowed to watch much TV as a child and now her parents have to live with this as her career. You can follow her on Twitter (@AmyTVGal) or her blog .