MARY REICHARD, HOST: Today is Friday, September 7th. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day.
Good morning. I’m Mary Reichard.
NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. Coming next on The World and Everything in It: Megan Basham’s review of the Amazon series Jack Ryan.
MEGAN BASHAM, FILM CRITIC: These days, when nearly every film or scripted series wears its political affiliation on its sleeve, it’s fascinating to come across one that seems to defy immediate categorization.
Amazon’s reboot of Jack Ryan would have made a lot of headlines even if it hadn’t become the latest partisan Rorschach test. First, it boasts Tom Clancy’s gold-plated name and stars The Office’s beloved John Krasinski. The online retailer also spent massive sums to create a small-screen reboot that puts the production value of 24 and Homeland to shame. But the authentic locations and stunning set design aren’t grabbing critics’ attention nearly as much as it’s muddled political messaging.
In the conservative journal National Review, Kyle Smith says this new Jack Ryan sounds more like—quote—“a Bernie Sanders volunteer who majored in Peace Studies at Hampshire College” than a secret agent. He later asserts the showrunners do everything to make this Jack Ryan more palatable to left-leaning millennials “but give [him] a hankering for avocado toast.”
Scenes like this one suggesting that France may be partly to blame for terrorist attacks explain Smith’s ire.
AUDIO: Okay I understand how a kid with no options, no future gets seduced by extremism…You think a piece of paper changes the way the world sees you?
On the other side of the aisle, Vanity Fair calls the show a “patriotic nightmare.” It chides the plot for being based on the—quote—“unquestioned notion that American-military might—the best-funded killing infrastructure in human history—is helping to save the world.”
AUDIO: Hey, you followed him out of the building with your gun out, and you didn’t shoot…If you pull your weapon to shoot, you shoot.
And that’s even before the review gets to the part about Jack Ryan’s “white male entitlement” presenting a “case study in toxic narratives.”
Phew. What’s that Bible verse about being neither hot nor cold?
The funny thing is, both critics have a point. I couldn’t disagree more with Vanity Fair’s smearing of the U.S. military, but this is a Tom Clancy property. And no author was ever a greater champion of American interventionism. If Amazon wasn’t comfortable with that, then best not pick up Clancy’s famed protagonist at all. Because, as National Review observes, all that tacked-in PC-signaling isn’t enough to disguise the worldview of the original source material anyway.
To their complaints I’d add that the show works overtime to prove it’s part of the edgy new club of prestige cable and streaming dramas. It gives Ryan a far fouler mouth than he ever had in the books or movies and digresses to a couple of ridiculously unnecessary sex scenes.
It’s a bit of a shame, because whenever the show stops running-around half-apologizing for its existence and trying to prove it’s cool kid cred with f-bombs, it actually works. Particularly effective is the family drama that plays out in the terrorist leader’s home and the flashbacks that trace his rise to power.
Also surprisingly effective—John Krasinski’s beta male approach to the character. It truly is as if Jim Halpert suddenly ended up behind a desk at the CIA instead of Dunder Mifflin.
AUDIO: I don’t know, what about Greer…I get so frustrated when people say treasury doesn’t do anything. Okay, let’s do it.
No other Jack Ryan has made us smile so much. It almost makes you wish that in the already commissioned Season 2, Dwight Schrute would get a job as a CIA analyst, too. Because when the plot finally starts firing around Episode 4, we fully believe good ol’ Jim could rise to the occasion to save the world and still have time for a practical joke or two.
For WORLD Radio, I’m Megan Basham.