TV Review – Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan
Tom Clancy is the late author who created the character of Jack Ryan, a member of the CIA who finds and fights terrorists. Clancy’s books have been adapted into films. This is the first series incorporating that character. As you watch this series, it’s clear that a lot of the same elements from the movies are present here. It’s spy games, the likes of which we’ve seen patriotically over the past 30 years. In the previous movies, we’ve seen Jack Ryan fight Russians, the Irish, Colombians and Russians again. In books that Clancy published before his death in 2013, he had Middle Eastern conflicts and aggressors, but none of the on-screen adaptations have had Middle Eastern adversaries. Clancy was very outspoken after the 9/11 attacks, but the sociopolitical climate that’s developed over the past 15 years made Middle Eastern adversaries a little problematic, given the pushback that Muslim-Americans were being unfairly bullied and harassed. A couple of TV shows attempted to explore and depict Muslims in a more three-dimensional way and not just as enemy combatants. Showtime’s Homeland is probably the best example of such TV shows.
John Krasinski (The Office) is now the fifth actor to play the role of Jack Ryan. Krasinski has been funny and charming in The Office, but ever since he was cast in Michael Bay’s 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi (2016), Krasinski has beefed up and really become a buff action star. He combines both aspects to craft this version of Jack Ryan who is a veteran of Afghanistan-turned-analyst who bikes to work from Georgetown. He purposefully went from the battlefield to being an economics professor because he doubts if he has what it takes to make decisions in the field. This series tests those doubts as his analyst skills pull him back into battle situations.
Wendell Pierce (Suits and The Wire) co-stars as James Greer, a chief in the CIA. He was working in Pakistan as a chief out there, but he was transferred back to Washington, DC, to head the Terror Finance & Arms Division, which to James Greer isn’t a promotion. To Greer, it’s a step down. He’s frustrated that his job will just be tracking numbers until Ryan highlights some account activity that indicates the rise of another Osama Bin Laden. It’s not underlined too much, but Greer is Muslim himself.
Ali Suliman (Paradise Now and The Kingdom) also co-stars as Mousa, the so-called Osama Bin Laden of this series. He’s not a religious fundamentalist like Bin Laden, at least religion doesn’t seem to be his primary motivation. Like Bin Laden, there are other motivators that are geopolitical in nature, but it’s revealed that Mousa has more of a personal vendetta than cultural or spiritual reasonings. Mousa is Lebanese. His parents were killed during American airstrikes in 1983. He and his younger brother were sent to France where they grew up in orphanages. Mousa went to university and got a degree but had trouble finding work and faced discrimination and bigotry as assimilation for Muslims or Middle Easterners is allegedly difficult or more difficult in Europe. After getting into trouble with the law and being imprisoned, Mousa becomes radicalized.
Mousa then plots several attacks. One is in Yemen. The next is in France and the last is in the United States. Developed by Carlton Cuse (Lost and Nash Bridges) and Graham Roland (Almost Human and Fringe), the scripting and plotting are very well paced. Each episode builds to a really great set-piece, that of Mousa’s attacks. The action in which is also tense and exciting. The directors of each episode also handle those set-pieces extremely well.
The series does fairly well by its female characters too, including Hanin, played by Dina Shihabi (Amira & Sam and Madame Secretary). Hanin is Mousa’s wife. On the other side is Cathy Mueller, played by Abbie Cornish (Geostorm and Sucker Punch) who plays the love interest of Jack Ryan. Hanin goes on a journey of a woman realizing what her husband does and having to choose what she’s going to do about it. Cathy is a doctor and epidemiologist where it’s not just about her being a love interest for Ryan, but she gets to help put pieces of the puzzle together, independent of him, and stand on her own.
There are other great, supporting actors in this series that moved me, even in their limited appearances. Haaz Sleiman (Nurse Jackie and The Visitor) plays Ali, the younger brother to Mousa. Ali is an aspiring artist who does drawings. Ali goes to an older man for help, despite his criminal escapades. That older man might be his former foster-father. His relationship with this older man, as well as his relationship with Mousa, the intimacy and affection were refreshing to see, making Ali surprisingly sympathetic. John Magaro (Orange is the New Black and The Big Short) plays Victor Polizzi, a soldier stationed in Las Vegas. Victor wants to be a pilot but ended up as a drone operator. His reasoning gets pushback, but his expressions of guilt about American missteps in the Middle East are very powerful.
All these characters and the writing for them makes for a very thrilling series. However, it still feels a little derivative of Homeland. In that respect, this series is a rip-off of Homeland, but with a less interesting central character. Jack Ryan isn’t that complex a man here. He’s a boy scout and is called such. He’s dutiful and just wants to stop the bad guys. He has PTSD and some haunting feelings about his time in Afghanistan, but he’s pretty straightforward otherwise. Cuse and Roland don’t complicate him too much, except for the occasional self-blame, which Greer points out is typical.
Running Time: 1 hr. / 8 eps.
Available on Amazon Prime.