Picture a stereotypical father. He’s wearing a flannel and a pair of reading glasses he insists he doesn’t need. Perhaps he’s just finished barbecuing chicken on the grill and has cracked open a light beer after giggling to himself over the worst joke you’ve ever heard. Now, he plans to sit down in his chair, kick up the footrest, and turn on his latest favorite show. It’s another straightforward tale of the hero with a thousand faces, a lonesome wanderer who keeps finding that he’s the only thing standing between a group of innocents and those that would seek to harm them.
Thirty years ago, this show might have been Walker, Texas Ranger on CBS, and ten years before that it may have been Knight Rider on NBC. Starting this month, it will be Reacher, a new show based on Lee Child‘s acclaimed series of novels, streaming on Amazon Prime.
Over the course of eight episodes, Reacher checks off pretty much every box that its genre requires. We’re introduced to a quiet, pie-loving man’s man with more muscles than any shirt could adequately contain. His past is a secret, his emotions are cut off, and his proficiency with a gun is seemingly unmatched. He is portrayed as a force of good, who always knows what he’s doing and never does anything wrong. If he ever gets close to committing a crime, he probably has a good reason for it. He’s flanked by skeptical companions that do most of the talking and opposed by bad guys who’ve never met a line they won’t cross.
There is soft-hearted romance, tough-guy bromance, criminal conspiracy, damsels in distress, and plenty of violence to go around. The general plot is mostly predictable, even if the central mystery is not, and you can pretty much guess how the season will end before it’s done beginning. It’s easy reading, better as a light rational dessert than a full mental meal. Yet, in spite of the entire preceding paragraph, I actually think the show is pretty enjoyable.
Though he may not carry the same name recognition or star power as Chuck Norris or David Hasselhoff before him, the headliner behind the titular man of action is a big part of why the show works as well as it does. Alan Ritchson gives a stoic performance as Jack Reacher, slipping a surprising amount of acting into the motions of the strong, silent type. He’s exactly the kind of lead a show like this wants to build itself around; charming, authoritative yet somehow able to make the audience feel safe while delivering bad news with gruff curtness. His buddy-cop banter with Malcolm Goodwin‘s straight-laced detective character makes for a few good laughs, even if his romantic sub-plot with Willa Fitzgerald feels a little forced at times. A testament to Ritchson‘s likability in the role can be found in the way nobody really outshines him for the duration of the series, despite the fact he’s often given little to do in the script outside of spitting facts and taking names.
The show occasionally succumbs to a handful of superficial low-budget television tropes, like poorly choreographed hand-to-hand combat and background fire that feels a little too obviously fake. Luckily, the events of each episode prove to be engaging enough that none of it matters all that much. There are some genuinely surprising twists and turns as the story goes on, and I found myself pleasantly surprised by how interested I was in what would happen next. In fact, some of the season’s cheesier moments play as fairly self-aware, breaking away from an intriguing conversation or important plot development for a corny one-liner or an action shot out of an early Stallone film. If you’re in the right state of mind, it might just make you smile.
Ultimately, Reacher proves to be a completely serviceable television series, and maybe even a better adaptation of the source material than the pair of Tom Cruise movies that came before it. There may not be enough spark to garner attention from a wide range of Amazon viewers, but those who gravitate towards it will probably find pleasure in a series of episodes that are exactly what they expect. If not, perhaps, a little bit better. At the very least, your old man will probably love it.