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In a perfect TV world, you’d want everyone you know to have already seen Patriot or The A Word or Back or Perpetual Grace, LTD, allowing the lot of you to go on and on about it at parties.
But the reality is that people are super busy and you’ll just take it and be happy if they’ve seen Succession and Fleabag. It’s a good compromise.
Air date: Nov 01, 2019
In that kind of world, you are often surprised that your friends have found plenty of time for other series — baking shows, really old international stuff you recommended and a couple of network shows they “heard weren’t too bad,” etc. See, everybody likes a guilty pleasure or, to be more fair, a solid show where you don’t have to think too much or rewind it nine times because the dialogue was amazing and inspiring.
It turns out critics fall into that group as well — we all have a few series where we just want to be entertained but not groan with annoyance in the process. I was all too happy to binge — and love burning through both — Hanna and Jack Ryan, two Amazon shows that fit the bill as mentioned above.
And now Jack Ryan is back for season two and it hasn’t lost any of its appeal, deftly letting John Krasinski grow into the more sarcastic and confident side of his Ryan character while leaning almost immediately into the we have an emergency situation vibe that keeps the accelerator pressed down.
Created by Carlton Cuse and Graham Roland, Jack Ryan had a big hurdle it needed to leap over (and will need to leap over again, one would assume, next season, since it’s already been renewed by Amazon): to equal the complexity of the self-contained plot from season one, where we first met the desk-bound analyst-turned-badass field operative who managed to take down a terrorist in the Middle East.
That season skillfully set up Krasinski, best known for his work as the funny, mild-mannered guy from The Office, to be just the latest funny guy (hello, Chris Pratt!) to buff up and take on an action role. And it worked, no matter how dubious it might have been on paper. Krasinski is immediately likeable, and that first season it was easy to see him as an eager guy following a paper trail that might reveal (spoiler: it did) a major terrorist cell operating under the radar. Once he was in the field, despite viewers being told he had military experience (but not how much), Krasinski was compelling enough (and buff enough) to sell the transformation.
In season two that evolution isn’t necessary, so Cuse, Roland and what looks like a huge writing staff have set up a scenario where Ryan didn’t take up the offer from his former boss, James Greer (The Wire and Treme vet Wendell Pierce, still killing it in every scene), to relocate to the Moscow field office. Instead, Ryan has stayed local and started working for a U.S. senator (Benito Martinez, The Shield). But when things get hazy internationally — and that happens pretty damned quick — the world is going to need Ryan on the scene, and the series has set up a believable circumstance where Greer and Ryan figure things out roughly at the same time and end up in Venezuela, looking for clues that might lead to nukes, Russian military aid or who knows what.
Once there, Jack will cross paths with three new players on Jack Ryan this season, in the form of Noomi Rapace (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo) as either a spy or a rogue spy; Michael Kelly (House of Cards) as the CIA’s Venezuelan station chief Mike November — about the most Tom Clancy-approved name you’ll find; and Tom Wlaschiha (Game of Thrones) as a for-hire assassin.
Why Venezuela? Well, you can probably figure that country will be used in countless future spy/military stories on film and television because it’s considered unstable by the U.S. government, has more desirable natural resources (oil and gold) than any other worrisome country and is embracing support from nations that the U.S. doesn’t approve of (except Russia but, hey, that’s way too complicated for a TV review right now). Also, Venezuela is prickly (it didn’t like the Jack Ryan trailers for season two, worrying how it would be portrayed — which is as corrupt and destitute) so it fits the narrative of what American cinema and TV will be looking for.
For Jack Ryan, that means getting deeply involved in an election down there, going black ops with military people and trying to end whatever world-on-the-brink situation that will come from these eight episodes (I watched four, which was plenty enough to conclude that, yep, Jack Ryan is still fun, despite being a little bit ridiculous and predictable). And you can fold your clothes to it. Not all the events described above make perfect sense and there’s definitely some bloat here storytelling-wise, but that never seems to cut into the pacing. It’s a strong, appealing cast and an entertaining story — the same successful formula as the first season and a welcome return visitor to the living room.
Cast: John Krasinski, Wendell Pierce, Noomi Rapace, Michael Kelly, Jovan Adepo, Jordi Molla, Francisco Denis, Cristina Umana
Created by: Carlton Cuse, Graham Roland
Streaming now on Amazon Prime
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