When developing a character such as Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan (John Krasinski) for the screen you have to be careful not to make him too capable or smart because he serves the role of everyman despite being able to foil terrorists and enemies of America while still being the guy you could go down the pub with for a few cold ones while talking about sports. He’s the guy you want watching your back because you don’t have to placate him with platitudes for what he does, he just wants to live his ‘normal life’. The problem with that is to make him seem normal and still impressive, everyone else in this first season seems to be thicker than an oak tree.
Jack Ryan follows the titular analyst on his first foray into counter terrorism as he hunts a man calls Suleiman (Ali Suliman) who intends to gain retribution against the west for events from his past. While trying to hunt this man he is also attempting to live a normal life back in Virginia as he meets an impressive doctor called Cathy (Abbie Cornish), a woman who brings him back to reality despite his life taking a turn for the unusual.
Having watched all 8 hours of the first series I can honestly tell you that despite the fact Jack is intelligent and slightly traumatized from an event in his past, there seems to be nothing else to the man. In fact creators Carlton Cuse & Graham Roland seem to think the most interesting thing about Ryan is his mind and while his deductive reasoning is sharper than the average character in this bloated series it leaves much to be desired in terms of actual human beings. Ryan is, for lack of a better word, an idiot. He is just smarter than the rest of the characters we are forced to follow.
Super villain Suleiman comes up with plans that would put Wile E Coyote to shame as being both simplistic and easy to predict. In fact the main problem with Ryan’s opening story is the fact that it seems to be coming at us 10 years late. While the middle salvo of episodes tries its hardest to convince the audience that this isn’t a rehashing of other, better stories, the end lets it down with a ‘death to the infidels’, Michael Bay mentality that doesn’t do Ryan justice.
A production of half measures, Ryan is an incomplete attempt at telling what could have been a satisfying story. While Ryan himself is never really fleshed out enough, the supporting characters, from Wendell Pierce’s James Greer to Dina Shihabi’s Hanin are worth devoting the time to. Shihabi in particular is a treat to follow as Hanin contains within herself a dry sadness that can only comes from a winning performance. The reason the 2nd act of this story works so well is the time it devotes to building the world around Ryan and Suleiman so when these characters virtually disappear by seasons end there is a gaping void felt by the remaining characters.
There is no doubt about it though that this is popcorn television. A show designed as a yearly event that kicks off quickly and carries you through to the end at the same pace. The action is gripping and lively while having that luminescence that comes from a Michael Bay production and considering his producer credit and the attention to detail with the action at least its hard not to imagine he had a significant hand in moulding the look of the show. This might also be where the shows problem lies as the overly patriotic rhetoric that Bay effuses all his films with seeps into all sides of Ryan’s personality despite the fact that his understanding and empathy are what make him interesting, not his action hero bravado.
If anything, this is half a story masquerading as a complete tale and while its nice to watch something mindless every now and then to pass the time I can’t see myself checking back into Ryan’s orbit for the 2nd go around that is currently in production. While the story may change and the characters may evolve, I still feel that a big part of what made Jack Ryan special on the big screen is missing here. It’s no fault of John Krasinski who does an admirable job considering what he’s given to work with but the idea of Jack Ryan isn’t portrayed here instead opting for a gung-ho thug with a brain protecting his country, not protecting whats good.