Amazon's 'Reacher' Wants You to Know Jack Reacher Is a Very Big Boy
Let's see those Thanksgiving turkey hands, baby!
Canonically, Jack Reacher is a large man. The protagonist of Lee Child's 26-and-counting novels is often discussed in terms of his massive size: his "supermarket chicken hands," his knuckles "like walnuts," and his biceps "like basketballs." And those are just descriptions of his arms. With a semi-erotic flair, Child's prose paints an image of Reacher in the reader's mind that's like a combination of an NFL player, Paul Bunyan, and the mystical talking trees from Lord of the Rings. His body, which he uses to dismantle a never-ending array of foolish attackers, exists in a strange metaphysical space beyond reality and human comprehension. It provides a challenge that Amazon Prime Video's new series Reacher attempts to confront head on.
Inevitably, Reacher's physical stature presents a problem for any attempt to adapt Child's work for the big or small screen. In the first go, 2012's Jack Reacher, Tom Cruise did a respectable job of channeling the character's wit, confidence, and gruff charm, and director Christopher McQuarrie brought an admirable old-school finesse to the action movie mechanics of the story. (It helps that Werner Herzog played the villain.) The sequel, 2016's Jack Reacher: Never Go Back, was less successful than its predecessor. Either way, many fans rejected the 5-foot-7 Cruise for failing to live up to the idea of a 6-foot-5 giant they'd built up in their heads. As effective as Cruise was in the role, the grinning daredevil of Mission: Impossible was always going to be an odd fit.
If you know one thing about Amazon Prime's new series Reacher, it's that the actor now playing Jack Reacher is a big boy, specifically a big boy named Alan Ritchson. The star of Syfy's short-lived Blood Drive and Hawk on the DC superhero series Titans, Ritchson stands at an almost Reacher-like 6-foot-2 and has a muscular physique like John Cena. The posters and trailers make a point of emphasizing his considerable stature, and nearly every review of the show, including the one you're reading right now, opens with a discussion of his shape. The show itself encourages this line of thinking, giving Ritchson an opportunity to remove his tiny-looking t-shirts in nearly every episode.
Almost every aspect of Reacher, which was developed by veteran TV writer Nick Santora (CBS's Scorpion, Quibi's The Fugitive), feels designed to please longtime readers of the books. Where in the Star Wars or Marvel universes fan service takes the form of easter eggs, Reacher fan service is a bit more brutal: He snaps wrists, cracks legs, and busts skulls. But the character, a retired US Army police officer who now wanders the country solving elaborate mysteries in small towns, is more than a blunt object. Reacher appreciates the blues, loves a slice of pie and a black coffee, and enjoys traveling on the bus.
Reacher's transient nature lends itself to episodic storytelling. Like Amazon's Bosch, still the peak of recent airport novel adaptations, Reacher (the show) draws plot elements from Reacher (the books) and stretches them across a full season, allowing Reacher (the character) to slowly pull together the strands of a conspiracy. The first season is based on the first Reacher novel The Killing Floor, which finds Reacher arriving in Margrave, Georgia, and immediately getting arrested for a murder he didn't commit. Reacher's brother also gets murdered, so it becomes—you guessed it—personal, and he must work with a buttoned-up detective (Malcolm Goodwin) and a beautiful local cop (Willa Fitzgerald) to solve the mystery and hunt down the bad guys.
The plot is needlessly complicated, packed with gruesome deaths and ponderous flashbacks, but that comes with the territory. The what and the why of the larger narrative don't really matter as much as the small details of how Reacher goes about solving the mystery. He uses the chemicals in a packet of ketchup to reveal an essential clue at a crime scene, he knows what time it is without looking at his watch, and he places toothpicks in the hinges of a door to give himself extra time in case an intruder breaks into his hotel room. In these moments, the show captures the methodical appeal of character. Similarly, Ritchson has a pleasingly deadpan delivery and grasps the absurdity of the character. When a snotty bureaucrat asks who the hell he thinks he is, Reacher responds, "A pissed off drifter with nothing to lose." That's the stuff.
Does Reacher offer surprises or twists on a familiar formula? No, that would be silly. After Reacher delivers the drifter line, he chokes out the annoying guy getting in his way with a phone cord, the type of physical action that's as cheerfully goofy to watch as Reacher snapping zip ties with a quick jerk of his meaty wrists. This show knows what it's doing. It feels designed to slot right in between Bosch and Jack Ryan in Amazon's ongoing effort to put our nation's paperback reading fathers (and the children who love them) in an eternal streaming chokehold. If you're so inclined, allow yourself to be smothered by Reacher's beefy embrace.