Peak TV is a glorious thing, but it’s far from perfect.
Example A: “Hunters,” the new Amazon Prime series starring the legendary Al Pacino. The ‘70s set thriller reveals a network of Nazis infiltrating our corridors of power. Enter a gang of Nazi hunters, ready to crush this network with methods that would make Jack Bauer blush.
It’s a tonal Hindenburg – Tarantino-esque one minute, “Schindler’s List” the next. For those aghast at the comic detours taken by “Jojo Rabbit,” this is infinitely worse, sloppier and crude.
That’s not the only problem for the show, debuting Feb. 21. “Hunters” is alternately glib and dull, a pastiche of emotions, tones and styles that alternately bore and disgust.
The show opens badly as an undercover Nazi is exposed with bloody repercussions. Dylan Baker, certified gold as a soulless creep (see “Happiness”), is part of a larger network of surviving Nazis promising the Fourth Reich.
It’s a silly setup based oh, so loosely on the truth. Nazis did hide in plain sight in America during the 1970s. The reasons behind their survival are far more interesting, and complicated, than anything shown here.
We soon meet Jonah (Logan Lerman), a surly Jewish teen who sounds like he’s minoring in Moral Relativism. Jonah even has a soft spot for Darth Vader. He’s immediately unlikable, sullen and Millennial-like despite the time period.
Even Pacino’s character takes notice.
“You’re what they call a little sh**,” Pacino’s Meyer Hoffman growls. Meyer is a “Jewish” Bruce Wayne of sorts, a millionaire funneling his cash to hunt down the remaining Nazis.
On and on it goes for the first two episodes, veering from ghastly Holocaust flashbacks to fourth wall-breaking winks.
Pick a lane, please.
Even when the show embraces its pulp roots it’s a snore. Or, more precisely, a sadistic snore. Both the heroes and villain revel in torture, although only one side does it for the “right” reasons. Jonah is the only character who winces at the techniques. He’s outnumbered, though.
“It’s not murder, it’s a mitzvah,” Meyer explains.
“Hunters” dabbles in Nostalgia Porn when it isn’t indulging in Torture Porn. It’s not enough to hear countless ‘70s songs and see a plethora of sideburned heroes. We’re also force-fed closeups of the same TV Guide magazine with a radiant Farrah Fawcett smiling on its cover.
Every third character has that same edition! Isn’t time passing in the story? This was a weekly magazine, remember?
And did TV Guide truly have that level of market penetration? You ask these questions because the story unfolding is a dud.
— Telegraph TV & Radio (@TeleTVRadio) February 15, 2020
The first two episodes lack the clunky anti-Trump rhetoric this critic expected. The closest to progressive messaging is a character noting, “The truth matters now more than ever,” a platitude the Left loves to share sans irony.
It’s possible the show will get political before season one wraps. The storytelling so far is dutifully on the nose, making those kinds of transitions feasible.
A few tantalizing bits emerge from the “Hunters'” wreckage. A chess-inspired Holocaust scene is like body horror on steroids. A monologue Pacino delivers near the end of episode one strikes an emotional chord without bloodshed or bravado.
The series’ score, haunting, majestic and with a kiss of chamber music, feels wildly appropriate. And Pacino, God bless him, doesn’t nibble on any scenery, at least during the first two episodes screened by this critic.
The stilted dialogue and contrived situations still reek of 21st century awareness.
“She’s as excited as a white girl at an Engelbert Humperdinck concert,” one character quips. Later, we see a child with a peanut allergy, a trend that exploded more than a decade after the show is set.
There’s something symbolic about a prestige streamer, teamed with an “it” producer (Jordan Peele), releasing “Hunters” at this time. The rise of Trump, we’re told, sparked a white supremacist renaissance.
It’s one reason the “Charlottesville Lie” endures -- to prop up that feeble narrative.
That may have set the creative fuse behind “Hunters.” It still doesn’t explain away the torturous nature of the first two episodes.