As the marketing machine kicked into gear for Reacher, the series found itself in the curious position of having to weather a bit of internet backlash from fans of the Tom Cruise films, despite the fact that those films dealt with their own backlash from fans of the novels. It’s a fickle fandom, and transition of fan members, when a franchise is criticized for Tom Cruise’s stature and for the casting of someone who is at least much closer to the original description in the novels (I’m not sure Reacher is quite as muscular as Alan Ritchson).
I mention this because Reacher may well come down to one’s expectations of it. Alan Ritchson’s size may not actually play an important role, but Cruise’s Reacher was a little “slicker,” and his “diagnosis of the situation” patter leaned a little more toward Sherlock Holmes dinner party than Ritchson’s field op analyst. Similarly, Cruise’s stature does factor into the fight scenes, which means they better end quickly, while Ritchson’s allows for a semi-realism if things carry on a bit more. Both characters work, the first film is surprisingly good, but expecting one and getting the other may be off-putting.
The series is an adaptation of the first Reacher novel, which means we find Reacher sauntering into Margrave, Georgia, on a trip that we will soon learn is the result of his random wandering. His brother mentioned an old blues singer and Reacher hopped on a bus. He’d hardly made it to the diner when he found himself arrested for murder. Clearing his name becomes a winding path and leads him down a rabbit hole that reveals this tiny, newly-revitalized town has a lot to hide.
It’s as energetic and tense a show as you’ll find, mixed with perhaps too much expository downtime, and it all blends with the truest hallmarks of the franchise – the undeniable attraction to nearly sociopathic “straight-shooting,” and the stranglehold that is conspiracies that eventually seem to involve everyone at every level. The positives that come with the name are buoyed further by some of the rest of the cast, and most of the writing. Unfortunately, another part of the cast, the writing behind their characters, and most of the action seem to be working at cross purposes to everything that delivers so well.
Malcolm Goodwin‘s Chief Detective is slightly overplayed, especially at first, but he becomes a decent foil for Reacher and helps carry the intrigue when things eventually move “beyond the beyonds,” mostly because one of Goodwin’s strongest abilities is acting irritated. Willa Fitzgerald, as the Margrave officer who has Reacher’s back, but doesn’t want protecting, is as much the driving force of the show as anyone, which is a good move for the series. Much as Ritchson is capable in the role, he can’t carry it alone, largely because the show goes a bit goofy at times. When these three are focusing on each other, or the investigation itself, the show is very nearly a 10/10 effort that deserves almost limitless expansion. There is ultimately a casual comfort between them all, playing off each other like actors tackling season seven instead of episode 5 of a limited run.
Unfortunately, the moderately serious, decidedly intense action-drama is sharing time with an action-packed spectacle that has its villains and fight scenes battling to out silly the other. As the series opens, events remain straightforward, and while we certainly know some of the town’s more dastardly players, their later mustache twirling is lazy and delivers nothing. Likewise, where the first two episodes leave fighting to kinetic scenes that have a certain Reacher-like flavor, we are ultimately left wondering why people aren’t aware that “hangman science” is indeed a delicate and precise affair, and more generally, what the series thinks it’s getting out of having someone take ridiculous amounts of punishment and keep coming. Exciting quickly becomes comic.
Still, if nothing else it’s a series that will leave you wanting more, even if you hope a few adjustments are made. Ritchson carries what he can and pretty deftly attempts to maneuver through the odder choices. There’s real chemistry pulling you along, which is a good thing because you need it to overlook things, depending on your point of view on slimy villain porn. Meanwhile, if Harvey Guillén had about 15 more minutes in the series it might easily be worth knocking this up a grade.
It’s one to recommend for a bingeable good time that just won’t let you go, but the next installment could become a viewership behemoth and I suspect if the series would just believe in itself.