Think of it as a small-screen Bourne, and you’re getting close to an idea of just how good it actually is.
Action on TV is hard to do, mostly because action costs a lot of money, and TV productions need to be clever about how they spend their budgets, and on what.
Set-pieces are what people go to the big screen for – the sound and fury and giant visuals – and trying to compete on that level on the small screen can sometimes feel like a fool’s errand.
With that in mind, Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan is about to debut on Amazon Prime, and from the first three episodes that we’ve seen, it does feel like the producers behind it have decided to throw out the old rules of action and TV and approach the project like they would as one big long action movie.
However, there are a lot of shadows for the show to come out from under first.
(1) There is the fact that leading star John Krasinski has to compete with a pretty impressive list of former big-screen Jack Ryans in order to make the character his own – Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford, Ben Affleck and Chris Pine have all had a go at the role before.
That is some intimidating talent to stack up against, but Krasinski handles it with aplomb.
We’ve seen him break free of his The Office rom-com typecast in the likes of 13 Hours and A Quiet Place, and here he gives us a nerdy-but-still-ruthless-when-necessary intelligence officer who believes he has found the first breadcrumbs that will eventually lead to tracking down the next Osama Bin Laden.
(2) Which leads us to the next biggie… as a government agent, specialising in intelligence, how does a character like this work in the world of a Trump government? Well, the folks behind it – which range from the writers of Lost, the director of The Imitation Game, and the producer of Fringe – mostly just forget he exists.
Clip via Prime Video
Instead, the US government is closer to the one we’ve seen in many other espionage movies and TV shows, as they attempt to do the right the thing but not without the right amount of evidence, as seen in the figure of Ryan’s consta-angry boss, played by The Wire’s Wendell Pierce.
(3) And finally, in a world of gritty Bond, grittier Bourne, and Mission: Impossible bringing impossible stunts, what is there left for a show like Jack Ryan to tell? Well, intelligently not attempting to keep pace in terms of action sequences, Jack Ryan focuses on the intelligence work behind it all, before blowing it all up come each episode’s final scenes.
The very opening scene of the season features two young boys playing in a serene location… until we’re told that this is actually Lebanon and we’re watching this in the early 80’s. Before long, a group of US fighter jets appear overhead and completely annihilate the surroundings.
From there, we jump to modern day Washington DC, and Ryan is in a cushy office, following a trail of receipts to someone he believes is planning a huge attack. However, being the one who hunted down the evidence, he is dropped into the middle of the action.
He is physically quite capable, but we can tell the entire series of events is leading up to something huge, and as is the case with the end of each of the first three episodes, there is a huge action scene – from a desert-set shoot-out, to a downtown Paris bombing attack, to a Vegas-set drone strike – that will propel the events on to the next episode, each giving new lines of evidence, as well as a better sense of the scale of what they’re investigating in the first place.
The extra time spent with everyone – especially Krasinski and Pierce – automatically means we’re more invested in their outcomes than we would be if we were simply watching a 90-minute movie, which also helps rack up the tension.
Not everything is perfect – it is still to be seen what Ryan sees in his future love interest Cathy (here played by Abbie Cornish), and a long series of scenes involving a weirdly lucky drone pilot seems totally out of place.
But there are some other risks taken that pay off substantially, including one subplot involving the wife and kids of the series’ big bad guy, who slowly come to realise they have a huge terrorist in their midst and begin to make plans to escape.
More than anything else, the show proves that there are still areas that TV can prove itself to be equal to the biggest Hollywood productions, and action movies had better start taking note.
The new Amazon Prime Original series of Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan will be exclusively available on the platform from Friday 31 August.
All clips via Prime Video