The good news: Amazon Prime creates fewer original programs than Netflix, so we rarely have the chance to lead these roundups with its latest series. The bad news: It’s Hunters.
Al Pacino makes his TV series debut as Meyer Offerman, a super-wealthy New Yorker — “Bruce Wayne rich”– in the words of young mentor Jonah (Logan Lerman), one of the many, many comic-book references and clichés that jostle for screen time with more serious subjects like, oh you know, the genocide of 6 million people in World War II.
Hunters is set in 1977, or more than 10 years before creator David Weil was born. The other timeline, of course, is wartime 20th century. In other words, Weil is twice-removed from what he’s dramatizing. That wouldn’t be a problem if his series wasn’t so exploitative and opportunistic.
He claims to base the drama on stories from his maternal grandparents, survivors of concentration camps. The real inspiration seems to be Quentin Tarantino, especially the let’s-kill-Hitler denouement of Inglourious Basterds. Weil takes the wish fulfillment of that movie and triples down on revising and trivializing historical facts. In Hunters, Pacino’s Offerman is the leader of eight “colorful” characters (a British nun, a hot black chick with a big Afro, a “master of disguise,” etc., including the fine actors Carol Kane and Saul Rubinek as an old married couple). They’re searching for Nazi war criminals secretly living in the United States. Jonah joins them after the death of his grandma (Jeannie Berlin), the Uncle Ben to his Peter “Spider-Man” Parker.
In this cartoonish riff on Munich, the writing is juvenile, pocked with endless pop references that Weil likely lifted from Wikipedia: Shaft, Foxy Brown, Kojak, Son of Sam. there’s a TV Guide with Farrah on the cover in every living room, and we hear the theme song from Three’s Company. Plus, of course, Wagner throbs on the soundtrack when a Nazi pops up on-screen.
The Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum has already criticized the show for a scene featuring concentration-camp prisoners forced to play a live, fatal version of chess. It’s as historically inaccurate as the Russian roulette scenes in The Deer Hunter. Hunters is relentlessly violent in a self-satisfied endorsement of vigilante justice. It’s willfully gory and snickeringly nasty. An unrelated Amazon series, The Boys, had a similarly snide tone, but its tale was one of cynical superheroes and corporate greed in a parallel reality. It didn’t carelessly juggle sensitive historical events like Hunters does. Honestly, in our looking-glass world of “alternative facts” and “fake news” (both of them lies), it’s dangerous.
Saying that, I should note that Hunters has good people attached, not only Pacino, Kane and Rubinek but Lena Olin, always welcome but cast here as the leader of the Nazis. I felt as bad for them as I did for myself during the 2.5 hours I spent watching. I leave the remaining eight hours to others. I understand that a later episode includes a scene of our righteous octet forcing a Nazi to eat feces during interrogation. Feel free to report back to me on that. Better yet, don’t. I’m out.
NETFLIX | I Am Not Okay With This
The new seven-episode I Am Not Okay With This has, like Hunters, a comic-book energy, but here it’s legitimate. It’s derived from the graphic novel by Charles S. Forsman. Netflix also adapted his End of the F***ing World, one of my favorite streaming series in the past few years. That show’s writer-director, Jonathan Entwistle, returns with Okay. Yet again, it’s an edgy, beautiful thing.
The terrific Sophia Lillis plays Sydney, a high-schooler from a grubbier pocket of Pennsylvania who’s smack in the middle of growing pains. She’s like any other girl . . . except she absolutely is not. Some of the usual teendom mortifications have gripped her: zits where no zits should be (“I am straight-up disgusting,” she confides in her diary) and a nonexistent social life, partly due to her father’s recent death. And she’s starting to think that she may have more than just friendly feelings for her one and only pal, Dina (the charming Sofia Bryant). And a few strange events around her make her suspect she may be a nascent Carrie, Stephen King’s telekinetic teen outcast.
Home life with her kid brother and mom offers little relief. “Mom and I could sit in silence for the rest of our lives, and she’d still annoy the crap out of me,” Syd writes. But as viewers, we see the needless, petulant snark Syd slings at her mother, who’s really doing all she can to keep their small family afloat. Besides Dina, the other main person in Syd’s life is classmate Stanley (Wyatt Oleff, Lillis’ costar in the It films, and a buoyantly nerdy delight). A showboat dresser and stoner, he’s as much of an outsider as Sydney, and their status draws them together.
The episodes fly by at about 20 minutes each, and they all contain surprises. The plot itself is engrossing, but it’s the acting that sells Okay. The three young leads are tremendous, especially Lillis, who has one of those expressive, translucent faces that reveal every flutter of delight or, more typically, mortification and self-disgust.
NETFLIX | Locke & Key
The nuance and appeal of the young actors in Okay underscore one of the big problems of Netflix’s sprawling 10-episode fantasy series Locke & Key, based on graphic novels by Joe Hill, Stephen King’s talented novelist son. (Hill pops up as an EMT employee in the final episode.)
In this tale of three siblings recovering from their father’s murder, Tyler (Connor Jessup), Kinsey (Emilia Jones) and little Bode Locke (Jackson Robert Scott) move with their mom (Darby Stanchfield) to their dad’s family home, a gorgeous old mansion on the Massachusetts coast (as played by Nova Scotia). They’ve never been there before, and Bode quickly uncovers the house’s main secret. Magical keys abound, each with the ability to confer special powers on the user — to travel anywhere in the world, to astral project, to change appearance, etc. What’s the source of these keys? Who created the magic? It’s never explained. The main plot — in addition to the usual schoolkid dramas — is to keep these keys out of the hands of a pretty lady demon named Dodge (Laysla De Oliveira).
The show is generally suitable for families and kids, except for one of two brief scares. Netflix has clearly lavished money on a well-designed show with decent special effects. But 10 hourlong episodes is a bit of a slog for something that sometimes has a slow pulse, despite the magic. It might be more engrossing if the actors were better. They’re attractive but seldom play more than one or two emotional notes in any given scene.
It’s not just the kids. Stanchfield’s performance is thin, but the worst of the adults is De Oliveira. She comes across as less of a demon and more of a smirking runway model. The show is watchable but feels like something that could have come off the old WB or CW conveyor belt many years ago, just with stronger production values.
NETFLIX | Ragnarok
Farther afield, from Norway to be more exact, comes another teen fantasy (yes, Netflix has a lot of these lately) titled Ragnarok. At six episodes, it doesn’t overstay its welcome, but it’s also pretty middling in its modernized drama about the Norse mythology of the battle between gods and giants. Magne (David Stakston) is the new kid in town, moving back with his single mom and brother Laurits (Jonas Strand Gravli). Yes, it’s the third dad-is-dead Netflix series on the list. Cutting to the chase, Magne (who has an unfortunate resting expression that makes him look less fresh-faced than moronic) discovers he can throw a hammer pretty darn far. Before you can say “teenage Thor,” Laurits starts playing tricks on folks, Loki-style.
The show’s main villains are members of the rich, attractive family that live in a mansion high above town. Strangely enough, the whole clan seems to appear in news clippings and old photos from decades and even centuries ago, looking exactly the same as they do now. Oh, and dad has a habit of stripping naked in the wilderness, killing reindeer with his bare hands and eating the animals’ hot, dripping hearts. Ragnarok — the title refers to the final destruction of the world — is mild fun that builds to a two-person fight that basically serves as setup for a second season. I may check it out when it drops . . . but probably not.
NETFLIX | The Stranger
The latest adaptation of one of Harlan Coben’s page-turners, The Stranger, has probably more plots, twists and reversals in its eight episodes than all the other shows in this roundup. Take that as a recommendation, or not. It constantly strains plausibility but is never dull. Richard Armitage (solid but a little dull) plays family man Adam, who’s approached by the stranger of the title, a young woman (Hannah John-Kamen) who suggests that his wife Corrine’s miscarriage a few years earlier was a sham and that she was never pregnant.
As Adam uncovers more lies, and Corrine disappears, we follow that same young woman as she disrupts other lives with further revelations of unwanted truths. As in many Coben properties, the melodrama unfolds in a leafy neighborhood where all the adults know each others’ secrets and all their kids go to the same drama-filled school. It’s a big soap opera, but it’s expertly made and has the advantage of featuring actor Siobhan Finneran (Downton Abbey) as a detective trying to find Corrine, solve the murder of a local baker and unravel what exactly happened at a teenage rave in the woods, which ended with one young man naked in a coma and a farmer’s pet alpaca beheaded. Yes, it’s that kind of show.
HBO | The Outsider
You might want to check out The Outsider, the adaptation of a book by the person who keeps threading his way through the column: Stephen King. Airing its 10th and final episode March 8, and shot and set in Georgia, the supernatural drama begins with the murder of a local boy and the arrest of a well-liked Little League coach named Terry (Jason Bateman). But there’s a problem. Terry’s DNA is all over the murdered kid, and he was seen near the killing site, but there’s hard evidence that he was far away at an out-of-town conference.
Detective Anderson (Ben Mendelsohn) takes on a case that seems to involve a murderous infection and doppelgangers of innocent people framed for homicide. The show has a slow build, but you’ll want to stick with it at least until the third episode. That’s when the series’ most interesting character, P.I. Holly Gibney, a socially inept savant first introduced in King’s Mr. Mercedes trilogy of books, arrives. She’s played by Tony Award winner Cynthia Erivo, a recent Oscar nominee. You can’t keep your eyes off her. Also likely to keep your eyes on alert: various locales in Atlanta and other parts of Georgia standing in for Ohio and fictional Creek City, Georgia. Don’t watch this one alone. It can creep you out.
NETFLIX | Babylon Berlin
Finally, good news for many of us. After a very long time (more than two years, actually), the 1920s German drama Babylon Berlin returns March 1 with 12 new episodes. The plot — if you’re new to it or need your memory refreshed — unfolds after the hijacking of a Soviet freight train, leaving a haunted cop and a poor typist to uncover a political conspiracy amid the vice and glamour of 1929 Berlin. There goes my Sunday.
Still playing catch-up? Use our February column as a guide.