Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan marks the entry of yet another CIA/Anti-Terror show following the likes of the fantastic Homeland and numerous other not so great shows. Right at the outset, let me say that this is no Homeland, not yet at least. Though, what works for Jack Ryan is the fact that what it does, it does with a lot of panache.
Jack Ryan works at the CIA and is an ex-marine. He discovers some financial transactions which start this roller coaster ride for his character to uncover the plan laid down by the enemy. The good part about the story is that the show never takes sides outrightly. Not all terrorist are bad and not all American soldiers are war heroes. This distinction is laid out early on in the season and this sets the tone for all the episodes to follow. The show also puts forth some new age scenarios as well. For instance, James Greer is the Deputy Director of the CIA but is also a converted Muslim, and even open about it. This was nice to see.
John Krasinski plays Jack Ryan but actually, he is more or less playing himself. That is because the character of Jack Ryan has been very poorly written. There is hardly much to go on for John to really make the character come alive. There is a troubled backstory and physical injuries associated with it, that's it. Oh and also that he is a CIA Analyst. He reiterates that too often so must be important to his character. Maybe they wanted to show the mental conflict of a guy who sits behind a desk and is suddenly thrown into the field. Does not matter what they wanted to bring out, because there is no conflict.
It pains me to write this but despite having John Krasinski, Jack Ryan is the weakest part of this season
Now that we have Jack out of the way, let's get to the good stuff. Almost like how the season goes too :). The big strength of the show is undoubtedly the scale. It is huge, never feels short of a big budget Hollywood flick with loads of action scenes including things blowing up in the background. It may be silly to some, but having things blowing up in the background makes people in the foreground look like a total badass.
I thoroughly enjoyed the extravagance of the show, almost as much as the creators
Another big plus for the season is the supporting cast. Wendell Pierce (Suits) James Greer delivers an extremely strong performance and saves Jack Ryan's character from looking like a schoolboy who has lost his way. He uses his physicality and his powerful voice to great effect. He is the only reason you do not start rooting for the bad guy to win.
On the other side of the table is Ali Suliman who plays the terrorist Suleiman. To my surprise, the writing in Suleiman's case is top notch. He is not America's enemy just for the sake of it or having been brainwashed by another. He gets a legitimate backstory that even makes you feel sorry for Suleiman. If writing can get you to dislike the terrorist and yet make you feel sorry for him, the job is done. Suliman excels in getting the audience into that space, of feeling for his character, his helplessness, his anger, his frustration. One more actor deserves immense applause here, Dina Shihabi. She plays Hanin, wife of Suleiman and is just extraordinary.
Dina has exquisite screen presence and plays Hanin with utmost conviction
She also offers an endearing parallel story arc to the main storyline which lends much-needed emotional depth to the narrative. She gets immense support from her children, Nadia Affolter (Sara), Arpy Ayvazian (Rama), and Karim Zein (Samir). Dina and the kids are so good that at times you feel like you are watching an offbeat, emotional film and not frivolous entertainment.
Like I said earlier, Jack Ryan is no Homeland. It does not have the focus or the depth that made Homeland a classic. However, I don't think the makers were trying to create another Homeland. Jack Ryan is first and foremost a popcorn entertainer and the creators were going for exactly that. So watch it if you are looking for a good show to escape your daily woes. You can watch it without too much fuss about the intricacies of the story and just enjoy the simple narrative of one man against the world, but done with just the right kind of swagger.