TV Review:
Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan
Alex Hall, 11-30-2018

John Krasinski as Jack Ryan in Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan on Amazon Prime Video
Amazon Prime Video
It’s possible that John Krasinski’s name will never be mentioned without also mentioning Jim Halpert, his character in the U.S. version of The Office, but he continues to take on roles that display his depth as a performer, and Amazon Prime’s Jack Ryan, an eight-episode series based on author Tom Clancy’s Ryanverse, is no exception.

Even in the couple of years after The Office debuted, Krasinski was not able to secure much in the way of a non-comedic role. A leading role in George Clooney’s Leatherheads and the voice of Lancelot in Shrek the Third hardly indicated a serious dramatic turn for the actor, but his role opposite an equally standout performance from Maya Rudolph in Sam Mendes’s Away We Go turned heads for certain. He later wrote and directed Brief Interviews with Hideous Men, based on the short story collection of the same name by David Foster Wallace, which advanced to the US Dramatic Competition at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival. He would also co-write the screenplay for the Gus Van Sant-directed Promised Land with co-star Matt Damon, which, like Away We Go, was based on a story by Dave Eggers. Krasinski continued to garner attention for his performance in Michael Bay’s 13 Hours, but more recently his work as the director and co-writer of A Quiet Place, in which he starred alongside his wife, Emily Blunt, showed the range of this impressive artist.

Considering his background, Krasinski’s success in the role of Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan should come as little surprise, but series creators Graham Roland and Carlton Cuse also deserve some of the credit for having created a series that allows the actor to shine. Roland has written for FOX’s Prison Break and ABC’s Lost, and served as co-creator and writer on FOX’s Fringe, while Cuse is well-known for having helmed Lost besides Bates Motel, The Strain, and more. Together, Cuse and Roland wrote five of Jack Ryan’s first eight episodes.

The basic premise of the series’ first season is that Ryan, a CIA analyst, discovers suspicious financial transactions that he believes may be connected to an infamous terrorist. His immediate superior (The Wire’s Wendell Pierce) brings Ryan to Yemen to attempt to question a man tied to the transactions along with the man’s bodyguard, but the bodyguard is rescued when attackers storm the American base where he is being questioned, and it is later revealed that the bodyguard was in fact the terrorist. In the episodes that follow, Ryan must attempt to thwart an unknown terror plot, all while cultivating a romantic relationship with a doctor who herself becomes involved. Meanwhile, the terrorist’s backstory and radicalization are detailed, and his wife escapes to assist the CIA in his capture.

If all of this sounds a little cliché, it’s because it is, but the characters drive the action in such a way that the series is completely binge-worthy, particularly in its easily-digestible eight-episode season arc. It helps that each actor delivers a performance that will keep even the pickiest viewer coming back, including Krasinski and Pierce, but especially Ali Suliman, whose portrayal of the terrorist Mousa Bin Suleiman manages to solicit sympathy from the audience in flashback sequences. Fans of the Showtime series Homeland will see similarities to Jack Ryan, but may appreciate not only the lack of Claire Danes’ ever-quivering lower lip, but also the quick pacing of the series thanks in part to much less emphasis on the political underpinnings of the CIA operation and a careful balance of plot development that favors narrative over its conflict with certain character traits.

Apparently Jack Ryan was renewed for a second season and filming began even before the first season premiered, so Prime banked on its success early on, a decision which seems to have paid off, as the series has been well-received by critics. Season Two moves the action out of the Middle East and into South America, promising a likely summer 2019 premiere.

For Krasinski, while Jack Ryan may be yet another line on an already impressively varied résumé, the series may move him one step closer to a legacy that doesn’t necessarily begin with a mention of The Office, but is also indicative of his considerable skill as an actor. While he portrays the title character, however, his cast mates and the series creators, among others, are part and parcel of the series’ success, and if the second season delivers in the way that the first has, audiences and critics are going to be very happy.

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