Reacher

4 out of 5

Developed by: Nick Santora

covers season 1

There are things you know about Reacher – Amazon’s TV adaptation of the Lee Child books, redoing the Tom Cruise movie variants – as soon as 6’0″+ man-mountain Alan Ritchson stalks on screen as the titular ex-MP. He gets off a bus in small town Margrave and heads to a diner, interrupted on his way in by a mouthy, aggressive boyfriend type pushing his girlfriend around; all Reacher has to do is stare – stare, and not even menacingly – and the boyfriend drops his bravado, and promises not to behave that way again. Into the diner, settling down for pie, and he sense something mid-bite – the approach of the police. So down goes the fork, and he brings his hands clear, waiting to be arrested.

Reacher is a show that will unabashedly wield its main character as a weapon, and do so with an action movie trope-heavy smirk. You know this, Reacher’s writers and directors know this, Ritchson knows this, and we can strap in for the 90s late-night cable comfort of that.

…But there’s a bit more of a high profile required, here, with the book itself bringing some clout to the table, not to mention a clear investment from Amazon in solid production, choreography, and casting, and Reacher delivers on that as well. We can go back to that stare, and the way it’s not accompanied by a one-liner. In fact, Ritchson is silent way beyond the point, way deep into several minutes of events in the first ep’s opening sequences, and when he does finally speak, it’s to-the-point, and also not a one-liner: it’s Reacher off-handedly piecing together clues indirectly offered to him by the interviewing detective (Malcolm Goodwin) who suspects Reacher of a brutal murder from the previous night. The show juggles this effectively throughout, not unwilling to have Jack throwdown (and properly stage how a big, muscle-stacked man like Ritchson might wield his bulk in a battle), but generally after having him think and talk through matters first. At the same time, that 90s one-liner vibe is strong: Reacher is exactly the opposite of an “avoid violence if possible” type, verily promising to punch people out left and right, it’s just that this approach isn’t used as a threat, more as an inevitability. The end result is that we fully believe that Reacher is capable of being both a badass detective and a badass brawler.

The season-long case and its accoutrements are a lot of fun. It’s structured like a hard-boiled mystery in a sense, with a spiraling trail of seeming nonsequitors taking us through a large cast of snarling nigh-villains and red herrings, but it’s paced such that we’re never lost on the journey, always having a clear next step to follow in Jack’s wake, sucked into the job for one reason or another, and teaming up with the detective and his senior cop, Roscoe (Willa Fitzgerald).

Occasionally, the formula does get the best of the show, and farts out some overkill supercop stuff, or a groan-worthy one-liner, but the writers are treading a razor-thin line of smart and stupid-smart, so you have to allow some stumbles sometimes when they leave the smart out entirely; it happens much less frequently than one might suppose.

And Ritchson is the key to all of this, really. While all of the main cast is a lot of fun to watch, bringing weight and believability to their characters, Ritchson is the rare breed who can do this he-man stuff while also pulling off the whip-smart detective vibe, and without the kind of self-aware dunderhead notes charming fellas like John Cena or Dwayne Johnson tend to add in. As soon as he was cast, I was watching, and from that opening sequence, I “knew” I was in a comfortable TV zone. But then when the show pushed beyond that, adding to the formulas variously interesting ways, I also realized I was watching a damn good show.