NEW YORK (CNS) — Celebrated actor Al Pacino’s many fans have waited more than five decades for him to make his episodic television debut. So it’s disappointing that “Hunters,” the program that features his first turn within the format, isn’t worth viewers’ time.
In questionable taste, the depressing and tedious limited-series drama began streaming on Amazon Feb. 21. The 10-episode program starts with a 90-minute installment, followed by hourlong ones.
Jordan Peele (“Get Out”) executive produces the series, which David Weil created. Set in Brooklyn in the summer of 1977, the show first focuses on Jonah Heidelbaum (Logan Lerman), a 19-year-old working-class Jewish American who considers dealing pot the only means by which he and his beloved “safta” (grandmother), Ruth (Jeannie Berlin), can survive economically.
When Ruth is murdered during an apparent home invasion, bereft, now entirely solitary Jonah determines to obtain justice for her. While sitting shiva, he encounters someone from Ruth’s past, her fellow Holocaust survivor, Meyer Offerman (Pacino).
A wealthy businessman, Meyer has established an organization to hunt Nazis believed to have resettled in the United States. Unsurprisingly, Jonah very willingly joins forces with him.
Meyer’s comrades include action actor Lonny Flash (Josh Radnor), black-power activist Roxy Jones (Tiffany Boone), former MI-6 British intelligence officer-turned-nun, Sr. Harriet (Kate Mulvany), mercenary Joe Torrance (Louis Ozawa) and husband-and-wife communications specialists Mindy (Carol Kane) and Murray (Saul Rubinek) Markowitz.
These seasoned veterans are concerned that Jonah’s inexperience will hinder their operations and endanger their safety. This is all the more worrisome because those they are pursuing are plotting an imminent attack, one they hope will establish a Fourth Reich.
An enigmatic, shadowy figure known only as The Colonel (Lena Olin) seems to have a pivotal role in this proposed uprising. Other participants include Biff Simpson (Dylan Baker), a Maryland businessman with Carter administration ties, and foot soldier — and true believer — Travis Leich (Greg Austin).
FBI agent Millie Morris (Jerrika Hinton) is drawn into the clandestine conflict after being assigned to investigate the murder of NASA scientist Gretel Fischer (Veronika Nowag-Jones). Gretel was killed by poison gas pumped through a shower pipe.
Besides the mature themes and violent elements already mentioned, “Hunters” also showcases other mayhem, such as torture and a graphic suicide. Anti-Semitic slurs and offensive humor, moreover, pervade the dialogue.
While nudity in the context of the Holocaust is historically justifiable, the explicit portrayal of a gay encounter and a grossly scatological scene cross the line. Many Catholic viewers also will object to the depiction of Sr. Harriet as foul-mouthed, with both guns drawn. But, on analysis, this tough persona is really just a cover for her true identity.
The fact that Millie is both a devout Catholic and an active lesbian is another challenging aspect of the plot, one that requires mature discernment in light of Church teaching. More fundamentally, “Hunters” is at variance with Gospel values in its acceptance of vigilantism. In fact, its “good” characters at times sink to the depraved level of those they’re hunting.
Thus, on balance, the show’s objectionable ingredients outweigh its edifying ones. That’s a shame because Pacino is, of course, a welcome addition to any cast — as are the charmingly idiosyncratic Kane and the ever-reliable Rubinek.
With real-life anti-Semitism disturbingly on the rise, a program about the grim legacy of the Holocaust has the potential to be both timely and salutary. “Hunters,” unfortunately, fails to qualify as such a contribution to the culture.
— By Chris Byrd, Catholic News Service. Byrd is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.