*Amazon was happy to share the first five episodes of Hunters with Talkies Network, so remember there is more to the story than what I’m reviewing in this article.
Whether it be in a fictional alternate history or real life, the world can’t seem to rid itself of Nazis – or at least people who share similar beliefs to them. David Weil’s new Amazon Prime series, Hunters, follows a group of Nazi hunters in 1977 as they seek to cut the head off a long gestating Third Reich conspiracy. Jonah Heidelbaum (Logan Lerman), the series POV character, is the grandson of a holocaust survivor who, following a tragedy, finds himself drawn into the world of secret Nazi conspiracies and those who hunt them.
The group of Nazi hunters is led by Al Pacino’s Meyer Offerman as they do their best to both stop Nazis from starting a new Holocaust, and to also punish them for the atrocities committed during the Holocaust. Jonah is the new recruit, and through his eye’s audiences are introduced to an ambitious and thematically relevant fictional world that is – surprisingly – actually rooted in some historical fact.
Hunters has one thing going for it, a solid central concept that will always be thematically relevant. The idea of the Third Reich never really dying and trying to thrive in the 1970’s is a great metaphor for the persistence of hate. This is also because Hunters does not limit itself to anti-Semitism, tackling homophobia and racism as well. The series, despite having killing Nazis as it’s core premise, is not much of a revenge fantasy. The violence is uncomfortable and not without its consequences. I don’t enjoy watching the hunters kill Nazis because despite the over the top nature of the violence, Hunters acknowledges that violence takes a toll on the individuals involved. While I do admire the ambitions of the creative team behind Hunters, the execution of their lofty ideas needs improvement.
To be honest, Hunters is bit of an oddball web series. It embraces the influence of superhero comics and exploitation films, which it acknowledges in the very first episode.The show’s resulting quirky and over the top nature lead to some humorous forth wall breaking moments that feel don’t work tonally and aren’t really that funny. Exposition is exposition, even if the writers think they are being funny, and musical numbers (yes there is one) are an odd fit for a series dealing with Holocaust survivors and Nazis. Hunters’ over-the-top nature also conflicts with the difficult subject matter it deals with, namely the Holocaust.
The flashbacks to the Holocaust, as some characters are or knew survivors, are powerful and for the most part representative of the atrocity as it occurred in real life. They, along with Jonah’s conversations with Al Pacino’s character, are some of the highlights of Hunters’ first five episodes. There is however one scene within the first five episodes that just doesn’t work. The flashback in question does show the cruelty of the Nazis and the dehumanization of the Jewish people during the Holocaust, but it’s way to over the top, almost coming off as comedic. This scene is one example of how Hunters can become a tonally confused mess. It’s difficult to understand what show the writers of Hunters are trying to create.
Hunters features an ensemble cast led by Al Pacino – who does an excellent job at playing the wise old mentor. Pacino’s performance balances a sense of humor and deep seated anger quite well, with Meyer Offerman coming off as the most developed of the supporting cast in these first five episodes.
Jonah is the central character in Hunters, acting as the point-of-view for the audience as they both enter the world of government conspiracies and Nazi hunting. It’s a standard and effective storytelling tool that’s has one interesting wrinkle – Jonah is also introduced to the horrors of the Holocaust. Through the survivors involved with the Hunters, Jonah learns about the horrors committed by the Nazis and the lasting trauma that those who lived carry with them. Lerman’s performance is strong, making Jonah feel like an everyman without having the character seem bland. I will say, it’s during his history lessons with Al Pacino’s character, Meyer, that Jonah truly. The characters and actors have a great dynamic, something I hope gets more emphasis in later episodes.
The supporting cast of Hunters around Jonah and Offerman are fairly underdeveloped characters — at least in the first five episode. For the most part they are two dimensional character archetypes that any viewer would struggle to invest in. While the two dimensionalality of the supporting cast is true of Offerman’s group of hunters, there is one exception among the supporting cast.
Millie Malone (Jerrika Hinton), an FBI Agent investigating murders connected to the hunters. Hinton’s performance is good, and although her character can fall into cliche at times, she actually has personality, unlike any of the hunters. I did start to notice the scripts start to flash out two of the hunters in the fifth episode, Lonny Flash (Josh Radnor) and Sister Harriet (Kate Mulvany), so hopefully the sixth episode delivers some satisfying character beats.
Greg Austin’s character, Travis Leich, is going to be the breakout character of Hunters if the series proves to be successful. Travis is a messenger\hitman for the Nazis, and though little is revealed about Travis within the first five episodes, his psychopathic and rather violent devotion to the Nazi cause makes him a highly entertaining character to watch. I also enjoy that the other Nazis who rank above Travis dislike him because he is American, a plot thread I look forward to seeing the pay-off for by season end.
Other than Travis, there aren’t any villains of note. Except for one Nazi, who’s screen time is brief, the rest of that horrid brood are essentially supervillains with no discernable or memorable characteristics. Whenever they aren’t being killed by the hunters, the Nazi characters are boring and at times made me gravitate to my phone to check Instagram.
The secret Nazi plot is similarly bland, involving Nazi and their cohorts infiltrating the societal and political fabric of the United States. Despite the very apparent metaphor for the persistence of hate (and not just anti-Semitism), I can’t help but feel like I’ve seen this story play out before – and in far more compelling ways.
Hunters is an ambitious series, but it has too many storytelling deficiencies. The character work isn’t consistent, and the central conflict is generic – both of which had me fall asleep during an episode. Thus far the first season is a mess, but there’s a good show buried in there somewhere. Hopefully the series writers found it in the remaining episodes of season one, because so far, the series has failed to hold my attention so it can impart its very important message.