I come to the Reacher series knowing almost nothing about it—only that it’s a big hit with the dad demographic and that Tom Cruise as the hero was totally miscast.
I can see why. Jack Reacher is a monster of a man whose brawn and brains get him out of any scrape, whether it’s with the lawman or the knife-wielding criminal. In this season Reacher goes to a knife fight with a trowel and comes out with only a scratched ab.
He throws the criminal from a scaffold and buries the body in wet cement. ‘Wow, Reacher’, says his colleague Dixon, looking at the body disappearing in the cement— ‘When we were kids we would just write our names in it.’ The series is chock-full of these little quips, and anywhere else they would be annoying. But here they’re somehow charming. Maybe it’s Alan Ritchson’s tongue-in cheek performance.
He doesn’t have to act the tough guy— he is the tough guy, but he’s self-aware and occasionally self-deprecating too. Before watching this season I wondered what Reacher was about—what’s his schtick.
They all have one, Jack Ryan, Jason Bourne, and Ethan Hawke. What sets Reacher apart? Perhaps the fact that he carries no baggage, unless you count the toothbrush in his jacket pocket. No phone, no home, no nothing. He sleeps in abandoned flatbed pickups, or roadside motels, or friends’ houses, if he happens to be passing through. ‘Where do you eat?’ asks one incredulous colleague. ‘I eat pies off windowsills.’ It’s a good line.
Reacher and his team are full of good lines, and if they don’t have one ready they’re just as likely to punch someone’s lights out. They spend much of the time punching cops, then running from them after punching them.
But the action sequences don’t feel overdone, probably because you can actually see what’s going on and because the set pieces are unusual and fun. In one scene Reacher approaches the car that’s been following him and instead of smashing the window like any normal vigilante he kicks the car bonnet so hard that the airbag blows up in the driver’s face.
If this were a Mission Impossible film we’d be swept off on a pointless twenty-minute car chase designed simply to demonstrate Tom Cruise’s increasingly mad stunts.
But here, one good kick is enough. Of course, Reacher is hardly a complex character. He likes punching guys and seducing beautiful women as much as the next action hero. But he is a successful spoof of the genre as well.
‘Are you unpacked?’ asks Dixon when they arrive at the hotel. Reacher reaches into his jacket pocket and sets his toothbrush down on the counter. ‘Yep.’ In the opening credits, Reacher says that among our ancestors, there were those who stayed by the campfire and there were those who wandered.
Reacher himself is ‘a direct descendant of the wandering type.’ He appeals to our instinct to keep moving, to explore and to live each day without knowing what it might hold. With nothing but the clothes on his back he bears no responsibility, and has no dependants. He doesn’t even have a mortgage. No wonder dads love him.
The one thing he does have is the love and loyalty of his former army unit. As a major, he commanded the 110th, a carousing, quick-witted special investigative unit. As season 2 opens, the former members of that unit are dropped one by one from helicopters, captured and killed by an unknown malevolent agency.
Reacher and his second, Frances Neagley (played charmingly by Maria Sten), team up to find out who’s behind it all. It seems the bad guys are after them too, determined to wipe out the entire 110th.
But why do they want Reacher and his crew dead? Could it have something to do with a $65 million inside job at an Atlantic City casino? That’s the only lead so far. By the third episode the cop whose car Reacher totalled has caught up to him, and they square off— until they realise they’re both after the same guys.
This Reacher meets with overwhelming approval from critics and fans, who it seems are delighted that Amazon Prime has stuck more faithfully to Lee Child’s description of the hero himself. ‘The Big One’, he’s called. So why on earth was Tom Cruise cast as Jack Reacher in the previous films? Obviously the studios thought they needed a big name, not a big man. But thankfully Amazon relied on the popularity of the source material (which is enormous) and they’ve been rewarded for it.
In its first three days, Reacher Season 2 reached 1.84 billion minutes of viewing—more than any other TV show on the streaming service. It’s approaching Netflix’s biggest viewing figures too. It is comforting to know that a good script and good casting can still rake in viewing numbers. The mountainous Alan Ritchson is perfect, batting around quips and exposition as easily as he batters criminals. Reacher isn’t just the muscle—he’s the brains too, and Ritchson is equally believable as both.
Millions of dads all over the world will be eager to hear of a season 3, and if Amazon keeps the same winning formula, you can bet this show will run and run.