Review: Reacher Series 2
Screen reviews by Christopher Gist
The face-breaking vigilante with a heart of justice returns to Amazon Prime
We kept checking when Lee Child’s Reacher would be returning on Amazon Prime. The first series (S1) delivered vigilante drifter Jack Reacher’s (Alan Ritchson) origins in a well-paced family backstory as the forward-going story followed Reacher investigating the murder of his brother. In S1, Reacher’s goal was clear, his enemies were on the page early, and his frenemy relationship with the local cops was deployed often enough to complicate Reacher’s investigation. There was a slow-burn romance and bromance with the cops, some great mano-against-many-manos fight sequences, and scenes I hadn’t seen before (in one, Reacher in the back seat of a police cruiser kicks the front seat in, crushing a murderous cop). Above all, S1 was a compelling actioner.
By comparison, this follow-up series risks tilting more towards inactioner. The trademark swift “frontier justice” knee to the toxic nads of abusive boyfriends is there, and there’s no doubt we’re in for a dose of justice-restored. But there are numerous talky scenes that slow things down. There are talky scenes in hotel rooms where Reacher postulates with members of his old military 110th Special Investigations Unit, talky scenes in bars, talky scenes in cars (using budget-saving simulated travel, “sim-trav”), talky scenes at friends’ houses, and talky bad-guy scenes in shiny militaristic warehouses.
Reacher’s goal is clear enough – to identify and stop whoever is killing the members of the 110th over something to do with missile systems – and there’s fun in trying to guess who amongst his team may be a rat, but the plot lacks the drive of S1. Reacher has many more resources to call on in this second series than when he was isolated in small town Margrave in S1, and it feels as if there is less than half the action, and more than double the explanation about what we are seeing: when Reacher and his friends are outnumbered by hit-men bikers, Reacher notes how clever it is of the bikers not to use guns so as not to alert whatever neighbourhood watchers may be hanging around isolated parking lots. Fair enough-ish, except for the sound of breaking bones, screams of pain, and clanks of iron bars and chains to wake the neighbours.
While this second season has been put together by many of the same talented creatives as the first (notably, writer/producer Nick Santora from such shows as The Sopranos, Law & Order, Prison Break), the ratio of chat-to-punch suggests something else is going on. Santora et al know how to serve it up, so I speculate that it may be something to do with what’s been allocated to the “below-the-line” production budget. Main-bad-guy Langston features in a minimum of locations and, most often, the production schedule has him on the phone in the shiny militaristic warehouse. Assistant bad-guy known as “AM” features in more locations but, again, is often shot in budget-saving sim-trav (car in studio) on the phone. For producers, phone scenes and sitting-in-rooms-talking scenes are time-honoured ways of rationalising the budget.
Lovers of Reacher will be glad to know that my take on season 2 appears to be in the minority, with many viewers and reviewers of S2 seeing it as bigger and better. In interview with the Associated Press, star Alan Ritchson says of the two series that “The thing I love is in season one, Reacher was the mystery. We’re getting a chance to see what it’s like when he’s got his family around him and in a way that really ups the stakes as well. But it also makes it a lot of fun to see what he’s like in a more familiar, comfortable environment”.
Nielsen reports that S1 garnered 1.84 billion minutes of viewing time in three days, making it a massive hit. These are comforting numbers from which to springboard further series, and outlets are reporting that S3 has been greenlit. We’ll be back in front of the screen to watch the remainder of S2, and we’ll certainly dip into S3 when it arrives. I just wish there was more of S1’s plot drive in S2 so that Reacher didn’t have time to sit around with a beer in his buddy’s lounge checking over his shoulder for the show to arrive.