The singular hallmark of this age of peak television is that anything can happen. Great, thrilling, unconventional drama emerges from the fringes and is watched and praised. Another defining aspect of this TV era is the tendency of critics to praise serious-minded content above all else. This is too conventional an approach for a time in which conventions are thrown away.
Hunters (streams on Amazon Prime Video from Friday) is precisely the sort of series that will puzzle some viewers and certain reviewers. It isn’t what’s expected, you see. Presented to the public and heavily promoted as a drama about a miscellaneous crew of regular folks coming together to find and kill Nazis in New York City in the 1970s – and starring Al Pacino as their leader – it is imagined in advance as a propulsive revenge thriller.
It is that, but in tone, style and execution, it uses a mad mash-up of methods to tell its story. Freed from limitations, the makers – the creator is David Weil, who has almost no previous credits, and the executive producer is Jordan Peele – proceed with the narrative, but fill it with wild argumentativeness and appear to be engaged in an ambitious pursuit of a unique tone, one of jokey, cartoon-like deadpan. On the evidence of early episodes (there are 10), it’s as thrillingly unusual as it is thrilling.
The thriller story is the only straightforward element. Jonah Heidelbaum (Logan Lerman), a slacker teen in New York City, is devastated when his grandmother, a Holocaust survivor, is murdered. He’s eager for revenge, which brings him to the attention of Meyer Offerman (Pacino), who has knowledge that a gaggle of Nazis have moved to the United States and organized a cabal that, of course, has nefarious intentions. Meyer has his own cabal, intending to wipe them out. The gang includes a squabbling married couple (Carol Kane and Saul Rubinek) who happen to be arms experts, a nun with ultra-violent tendencies (Kate Mulvany), a Vietnam vet (Louis Ozawa Changchien), an actor who oozes sleaze (Josh Radnor) and a sparkplug named Roxy (Tiffany Boone), who is straight out of a 1970s blaxpoitation movie.
Not one of these characters is fully drawn – and are not meant to be. Even the Meyer character, played deftly by Pacino, is a pencil-drawing of a puppet-master, pulling the strings behind the vigilante force. This doesn’t diminish the quality of the series, once you accept that it is filled with nods to comic-book antics. The tone will puzzle if not bewilder some viewers, as the series also relies on realistic flashbacks to the Holocaust that are unsettling in their depiction of terrible cruelty. The point of these flashbacks is to bolster the zealous search-and-destroy mission of the Nazi-hunters in the main storyline. There is considerable torture on display, and some of the arguments about the end justifying the means feel truncated in order to get back to the action.
In a way, Hunters is indescribable. It has a propulsive quality that will take many viewers on a binge-watch. It’s a bold experiment, visually ostentatious, and its illustration of late 1970s New York City is almost as vivid as the 1950s setting in Amazon’s The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.
Also airing this weekend
CBC Docs POV returns after a long absence with nipawistamasowin: We Will Stand Up (Sunday, CBC, 9 p.m.). It is Tasha Hubbard’s unnervingly tender doc about the matter of Colten Boushie, a 22-year-old Cree man who was fatally shot by farmer Gerald Stanley in 2016, on Stanley’s farm near Biggar, Sask. Hubbard’s aim, which she executes wonderfully, is to stick with the Boushie family as they experience Stanley’s trial, the intense news coverage and the corresponding social-media onslaught. Sometimes, it’s a fly-on-the-wall documentary, simply observing the tensions around the trial and the verdict. Sometimes it allows the Boushie family to just talk and talk, at first unable to find the right words, and express their grief and bafflement. Highly recommended.
There are two major returning shows, as well. The Walking Dead (Sunday, AMC, 9 p.m.) starts the second half of its 10th season, one that was energized by the appearance of Alpha (Samantha Morton) and the Whisperers – and their demonic rage. This batch of episodes will also see the departure of Danai Gurira as Michonne. First up, our heroic characters are trapped in a cave with a nasty horde of zombies. And whither Negan, now that he has teamed up with Alpha and the Whisperers?
Better Call Saul (Sunday, AMC, 10 p.m.) is back for its next-to-last season. At this point in the prequel to Breaking Bad, Jimmy McGill (Bob Odenkirk) is quickly evolving from hustling, newly minted lawyer to crooked man with few scruples or friends, one Saul Goodman. There is a sense of menace about the first new episode, but like all before it, it moves slowly, almost icily examining Jimmy’s descent into the void. That void is, you might say, America itself, where damaged, insecure men make foolish decisions daily.
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