TV Review: Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan (2018) – A great show that’s titled and marketed poorly
Amazon Prime’s newest
original series adaptation of the Tom Clancy franchise, Jack Ryan, takes a minute to figure out what it’s supposed to be. Ultimately, it ends up being pretty interesting.
What seems like forever ago, Amazon Prime announced their latest original series, Jack Ryan, with triumphant fanfare. The series stars John Krasinski ( of The Office fame), who most recently received major critical acclaim for writing, directing and starring in one of the year’s biggest hits, A Quiet Place.
After multiple movie adaptations of the source material that saw stars like Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford, Ben Affleck and, more recently, Chris Pine all play the same character, it was now ‘funny man’ Krasinski’s time.
The biggest hurdle of Amazon Prime’s Jack Ryan series is the previous incarnations of the characters. Ironically, it’s also kind of its biggest selling point too. Jack Ryan is only a draw because of the established name brand recognition of Tom Clancy’s character, and the various movies already made. But the series attempts something different from those movies, and it takes a while to get used to.
The show follows the desktop adventures of CIA analyst Jack Ryan (John Krasinski) who uncovers an Osama Bin Laden-level of terrorist through his own hunches. Getting the attention of formerly disgraced CIA middle management and now his boss, Jim Greer, (Wendell Pierce) Ryan is pulled into an adventure where he’s asked to live a life he thought he left behind.
“…for a show about Jack Ryan, Jack Ryan doesn’t really Jack Ryan enough.”
Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan works wonderfully as an engaging political spy thriller. The performances are tight, the writing is capable and the tension builds to keep you engaged through till the end. It’s not overly high end, in the sense that there aren’t many mind-blowing ‘gasp-shock!’ moments, but the suspense is more subtle and therefore, more effective. Where Jack Ryan gets a little confusing, is its approach, and how it differs from the movies.
When titling the show after a character, there is an implicit expectation of the show being led, containing, and heavily focusing on that character. Sherlock Holmes, House M.D. and The Flash, are but a few examples. But, as a friend of mine recently described it: “for a show about Jack Ryan, Jack Ryan doesn’t really Jack Ryan enough.”
Jack Ryan is a complete ensemble show about multiple characters with their own story arcs that are expertly depicted by a group of incredibly talented actors. And not only do we experience the world from the perspective of the spies trying to stop the terrorists, but even the terrorists themselves. The main antagonist Suleiman, (Ali Suliman) has arguably a better backstory and more focus during the entire Season 1 than Ryan himself. And it’s surprisingly beautiful. Other minor characters get great subplots in between episodes where other aspects of the whole, hunt down a terrorist-angle, is further explored.
It’s everything that you would expect from a regular television show that needs to focus on its supporting characters, have multiple storylines and be a compelling and rich story overall, instead of milking one premise or gimmick throughout the season. The problem is that Jack Ryan was marketed as a show about Jack Ryan, capitalizing on all the movies about Jack Ryan that we know and love. So I expected a lot of Jack Ryan. But there are entire episodes where Krasinski is mostly in the background.
The show itself is actually pretty great once you stop waiting for Jack Ryan to Jack Ryan. It’s a compelling story that features more of the intelligence aspect of terrorism and trying to thwart a world-ending plot, than the Seal Team 6, night vision goggles and intense action that is featured in other content of this genre. The actual bad guys’ plan is even pretty innovative itself.
My only other complaint would be that Krasinski is stripped of his innate charm and likability by being given a dark and traumatic backstory that doesn’t really add much to his character. The wide-eyed idealism that is usually associated with the Jack Ryan character comes off as angry and obsessive in this portrayal.
I recommend Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan for audiences who are interested in the whole spy-thriller genre. However, I would also suggest to temper expectations to include an overall great show that features multiple characters, multiple story arcs from different perspectives, instead of just being a one-man show featuring the funny man from The Office who has abs now.