TOM CLANCY’S JACK RYAN
Starring: John Krasinski, Wendell Pierce, John Hoogenakker, Abbie Cornish, Ali Suliman, and Dina Shihabi
Written by: Carlton Cuse, Graham Roland, Stephen Kronish, Daria Polatin, Patrick Aison, and Annie Jacobsen
Directed by: Morten Tyldum, Daniel Sackheim, Patricia Riggen, and Carlton Cuse
Based on Characters Created by: Tom Clancy
”Do you often do this? Grab innocent people off the street and interrogate them?”
”Actually, you’re my first. How am I doin’?”
Tom Clancy’s paramilitary polymath gets a slick and emotional TV adaptation in Amazon Studios’ Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan. Anchored by the “aw, shucks” charm of John Krasinski and the immortal unfuckwithability of cable TV’s own William “The Bunk” Moreland (The Wire), Wendell Pierce, Jack Ryan finally gives Clancy’s characters and plots a warmth and a neat balance between pulp and high drama that the recent movie adaptations have lacked.
It also doesn’t hurt that showrunners Carlton Cuse and Graham Roland have skimmed through the staffs of shows like Counterpart and The Americans to give the show true bonafide espionage drama and generous character work. Taking the “rah-rah” jingoism and rampant Mary Sue-ism of the novels and replacing it with charm, wit, and an empathetic eye toward the people on the ground, fighting the “war on terror”, Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan is the rare modern adaptation that manages to outshine it’s source material, while keeping the spirit of said source alive and well.
Meet Jack Ryan! He’s has a doctorate in Economics and is former Marine! He also works as an analyst for the CIA! Thankfully, Amazon’s Jack Ryan is a far more relatable character than the guy who ran roughshod over dozens of novels. He acquires skill after skill that the plot depended on like some kind of Mary Sue black hole. A large part of that stems from the show’s scripting and characterization for Jack and other Tom Clancy-verse staples, Jim Greer (Wendell Pierce) and Dr. Cathy Mueller (a razor sharp and endlessly charming Abbie Cornish).
The writer’s room, headed by Lost and Bates’ Motel maven Carlton Cuse and Fringe’s Graham Roland, really goes the extra mile to make Jack a much more relatable protagonist than he was on the page. They keep him constantly interacting with Jim and Cathy, both major players in the Clancy-verse. This keeps their relationships crackling and to bring Jack way, way, WAY back down to earth. The show is all the stronger for it.
Better still, the show’s main plot is really engaging and has a real empathy toward its players. Not based on any one certain Clancy book, the show centers around Jack stumbling across the vast criminal network of a pair of brothers, radicalized by a bombing raid early in their childhood. The brothers have been amassing large amounts of cash and evidence points to them planning a large-scale attack to draft wayward Muslims to their cause. The violent destruction of the West.
I know how not great that sounds on paper, AND I am wildly disappointed that Jack isn’t fighting Russians. (He does in the super ludicrous but wildly entertaining Red Rabbit, a prequel novel about Jack’s early days as an analyst.) The scripts take a more humanist and emotional look at extremism and how it affects society and the families of extremists. This plot is graced with a real propulsion from the scripts and heart wrenching dramatics, thanks to actors Ali Suliman, who plays the mastermind, and Dina Shihabi, who plays his wife Hanin. Peppered with wry, bone-crunching action scenes and dark, but never exploitative dramatic turns, the show’s first six episodes really primes a powder keg. It never forgets, or lets the audience forget, that there are real people in the blast zone.
BUT, all the good scripts in the world wouldn’t mean a thing without actors to bring them to life. Thankfully, Jack Ryan has a strong core cast that brings the words and new versions of these literary heroes to vibrant life. John Krasinski may not have gotten a chance to be Steve Rogers, but his turn as Jack Ryan gives him the next best thing. Unabashedly dorky and emotive enough to sell the “reluctant action hero” vibe that is integral to Ryan’s book characterization. Krasinski really charms and proves throughout these first episodes that he is more than capable of shouldering a whole damn prestige streaming drama.
Right alongside him in the show’s version of James Greer. A disgraced former CIA station head, who finds himself demoted to Ryan’s section as his new boss. Given unexpected new depths as a lapsed Muslim by the scripts, Wendell Pierce gives us all the grit and vinegar that we loved from him in The Wire, but with a new well of heart underneath Jim’s tough, world-weary exterior. His unflagging sense of justice given a new fire by Ryan’s idealism.
Rounding out the American (kind of) cast is Abbie Cornish, portraying Ryan’s future wife (spoilers, I suppose? For 30-year-old books?) Dr. Cathy Mueller, an expert in viral and infectious diseases. Krasinski and Cornish have immediate and natural chemistry. Cornish doubles down on thanks to her steely, sharp-tongued take on Cathy. Cathy instantly sees through Jack’s boy scout routine. She sees the nerdy, baseball stat loving goon beneath the intrigue, making their attraction seem to much more natural and satisfying than it was on the page.
Verdict: Watch It.
With all eight episodes hitting Prime on the 31’s, Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan stands as a compelling and rewarding binge watch adaptation of your dad’s favorite books. Blessed with class actors, snappy direction, and engaging scripts that don’t paint with the broad brushes. Jack Ryan is sure to impress both die-hard fans of the Clancy-verse (fingers crossed for a certain CIA backed mercenary friend of Jack’s showing up by season’s end) and those looking for a new show to fill The Americans sized hole in their hearts.