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What is it about Jack Ryan? This series marks the fifth new actor to play Tom Clancy’s CIA agent which, while hardly on a par with, say, Hamlet in the multiple interpretations stakes, is still pretty good going. Certainly, he’s been rebooted with enough regularity to suggest Hollywood (and now TV) execs believe he has the potential to hit big, even if the two most recent attempts prior to this have fizzled out without managing to spark a franchise.
The latest Jack Ryan is John Krasinski, which initially seems like an offbeat choice. Especially if you’re most familiar with him as Jim (the US equivalent of Martin Freeman’s Tim) from The Office: An American Workplace. But it turns out to be a casting masterstroke — Krasinski is perfect as the desk-bound CIA analyst unwillingly thrown into field work. Especially as he’s at home with the nerdier elements of the character that Harrison Ford (Patriot Games; Clear And Present Danger) and Chris Pine (Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit) struggled to convince with. And that Ben Affleck (The Sum Of All Fears) couldn’t get close to.
This is a decent beginning, and one that’s admirably non-flag waving.
The set-up (for Ryan aficionados) is pretty standard — although updated to reflect present world peace-keeping concerns. As in The Hunt For Red October (Ryan is an expert on the traitorous Soviet sub captain) and The Sum Of All Fears (Ryan has written a paper about the surprise new Russian premier), Ryan is here brought into the field because he’s the only man who understands the data that uncovered new Islamic activist Suleiman (Ali Suliman). Of course, he’s just an analyst in the same way Steven Seagal was “just a cook” in Under Siege. A former Marine, he gave it up after an incident in a warzone (details of which are left tantalisingly vague, presumably for a reveal further down the line) that left him badly injured and happy to switch to office work. What it does mean, is that he’s combat-ready should the situation arise. Which it quickly does. And Krasinski doesn’t let us down here, either — convincing with a gun in his hands in a manner that demands he’s considered for more of these roles.
All of which is extremely promising, but where Jack Ryan stumbles is in its B and C stories, dedicating far too much time to apparently incidental characters to bulk out the running time. Perhaps the plot thread that sees the wife of the main antagonist trying to escape the terrorist compound with their kids will pay off in a meaningful way, but as it’s happening it feels like a 24-style time filler (the kind seen while Jack Bauer was travelling between locations).
It’s the only real misstep, but it begins to hurt the flow of the episodes. Otherwise this is a decent beginning, and one that’s admirably non-flag waving. While 24 was a reflection of its time, with its Bush-era terrorism fearmongering (cheer as Jack Bauer tortures information out of a suspect!), Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan doesn’t fall into step with its current government — it understands the United States’ role in creating many of its enemies. And what’s more, the series re-imagines Ryan’s boss Jim Greer (Wendell Pierce) as Muslim. That really doesn’t feel like Trump’s America.