TV Series Review: ‘Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan – Season One’

The Blu-ray cover for Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan: Season One two-disc set. (C) 2018 Paramount Television and Amazon Studios

Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan – Season One (2018)

Based On: Characters created by Tom Clancy

Created for Television by: Carlton Cruise and Graham Roland

Starring: John Krasinski, Wendell Pierce, Abbie Cornish, Ali Suliman, Dina Shihabi

Rating: 4 out of 5.

On August 31, 2018, Amazon Prime Video released the first season of Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan, a web television series in the espionage-political thriller genre based on the fictional CIA analyst created by the late Tom Clancy. Set in Clancy’s “Ryanverse” – which is a fictional rendition of “present day” America and depicts many of the foreign and domestic threats of the modern world, the eight-episode Season One is a soft reboot of the Jack Ryan story and depicts his first out-from-behind-the-desk mission as he and other CIA operatives hunt a mysterious new Islamic terrorist to prevent a major terror attack on the U.S. homeland.

Starring actor-director-producer John Krasinski (The Office, A Quiet Place, 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi), Wendell Pierce (Suits, Treme, Waiting to Exhale), Australian actor-singer Abbie Cornish, Arab Israeli actor Ali Suliman (The Looming Tower), and Dina Shihabi (Daredevil), the series was created by Carlton Cuse (The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr., Lost) and Graham Roland (Prison Break),

John Krasinski as CIA analyst Jack Ryan (Photo Credit: Paramount Television and Amazon Studios)
Wendell Pierce as James Greer, former CIA station chief, Karachi, and presently head of Terror, Finance, and Arms Division (T-FAD). (Photo Credit: Paramount Television and Amazon Studios
Abbie Cornish as Dr. Caroline (Cathy) Mueller, MD. (Photo Credit: Paramount Television and Amazon Studios)
Ali Suliman as Islamic terrorist Mousa bin Suleiman (Photo Credit: Paramount Television and Amazon Studios)

When CIA analyst Jack Ryan stumbles upon a suspicious series of bank transfers his search for answers pulls him from the safety of his desk job and catapults him into a deadly game of cat and mouse throughout Europe and the Middle East, with a rising terrorist figurehead preparing for a massive attack against the US and her allies. – Amazon Prime Video blurb, Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan – Season One

‘Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan – Season One’ Episode List:

Note: All eight episodes were available for streaming in Amazon Prime Video on August 31, 2018

  • Pilot: In the series premiere, CIA analyst Jack Ryan uncovers a series of suspicious transactions that take him and his boss James Greer out from behind their desks into the field to hunt down a powerful new threat to the world. Hanin begins to question her husband’s affairs after he brings a mysterious outsider into their home.
  • French Connection: Jack and Greer decode a fresh piece of intel that takes them to Paris and one step closer to the elusive Suleiman. Hanin’s husband returns home with a renewed fervor for his secretive mission, leaving her unsure of their family’s future.
  • Black 22: Drone pilot Victor struggles with the immense responsibility attached to his job. Jack and Greer join French Intelligence officers on a mission to track down Suleiman’s brother. Hanin is forced to make a dangerous decision for the sake of their children.
  • The Wolf: As Jack and Cathy grow closer, Jack’s double-life is put to the test. A show of force from Suleiman adds to his ranks and brings him one step closer to his next attack.
  • End of Honor: After the horrific Paris church attack, Jack and Greer discover a deeper strategy behind Suleiman’s actions, forcing Jack to suggest an unusual trap for him. Hanin faces new challenges in her quest for freedom.
  • Sources and Methods: Jack’s moral code is tested when he and Greer use a Turkish criminal to help them track down a high-value target who may be able to lead them to Suleiman. Hanin tries to evade her pursuers and keep her daughters safe. Cathy investigates an outbreak of a virulent form of Ebola that may point to something more ominous.
  • The Boy: Jack and Greer try to convince their superiors to lead a covert ground assault to capture Suleiman. Jack’s double life costs him an important relationship.
  • Inshallah: Jack and Greer fear Suleiman’s next attack could be on U.S. soil. They must figure out how to stop him or risk enormous costs.

Episode Synopses: Internet Movie Database (IMDb.com)

The CIA’s T-FAD Task Force at Langley. (Photo Credit: Paramount Television and Amazon Studios)

My Take

I first watched Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan two summers ago not long after it premiered on Amazon Prime Video. I “binge watched” the entire eight-episode season on my computer, a first for me since I am still pretty much rooted in old-school TV watching habits and prefer to watch dramas either on a weekly basis – the old broadcast/cable television model – or on home media such as DVD or Blu-ray.

We didn’t yet have a Roku for the living room TV set, and I figured it would be a while before Amazon and Paramount (the two major studios behind the show) would release Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan on DVD or Blu-ray, so I sat, transfixed, as I watched John Krasinski – who I knew best as The Office’s Jim Halpert – take on the role of the late best-selling novelist and conservative commentator Tom Clancy’s iconic character John Patrick Ryan, thus becoming the fifth actor to do so.

(In case you lost count, the previous actors who played onscreen versions of Jack Ryan were Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford, Ben Affleck, and Chris Pine.)

I’ve been a fan of Clancy’s novels since I was in college in the late 1980s; I have almost all of the books that the “Master of the Technothriller” wrote between 1984 and 2013 (the one book I skipped was his attempt to co-create a separate franchise with author Peter Telep, Against All Enemies), as well as several novels that continue the various Ryanverse series (Jack Ryan, The Campus, and Jack Ryan, Jr.) authorized by the Tom Clancy Estate and are written by other writers, including Clancy’s last two co-authors Mark Greaney and Grant Blackwood.

Without giving too much of the plot away for readers who have not seen either of Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan’s two seasons, Season One is an alternate take on the origins-of story of America’s best-known fictional CIA agent.

Like 2014’s Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, the series’ first season examines Ryan’s early days at the Central Intelligence Agency. We don’t see – as we did in Kenneth Branagh’s feature film – his recruitment at CIA.

When we first meet Krasinski’s incarnation of the ex-Marine-turned-stockbroker-turned Ph.D in history-turned CIA analyst, he has already been at CIA headquarters for some time; not long enough to be the legendary “Jack Ryan” from the novels – which don’t exist in this iteration of the Ryanverse – but certainly enough time for Ryan to have a “cover story” in case he is ever asked what he does for a living: he is ostensibly a State Department logistician.

Also like Jack Ryan:Shadow Recruit, this version of the Tom Clancy universe is not specifically based on any of Clancy’s books. Certain “facts” from Ryan’s biographical details from 1987’s Patriot Games are cherry-picked, such as Jack’s strained relationship with Joe Mueller, his former boss from his days as a stockbroker and his romance with Mueller’s daughter Cathy. Ryan’s brief career as a Marine second lieutenant are also part of the stalwart analyst’s CV, although in this version of the origin story he leaves the service as a result of an IED explosion aboard his Marine helicopter during a tour of duty in Afghanistan.

Two of the supporting characters from Clancy’s novels – James Greer and Cathy Mueller – have substantial airtime in Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan, although they have undergone quite a few changes.

Whereas Clancy’s (and the first three feature films’) Greer was a U.S. Navy rear admiral who served as Deputy Director, Intelligence (DDI) at the Central Intelligence Agency, the Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan version of Jim Greer (Wendell Pierce) is a former Chief of Station recalled to Langley after Pakistan declares him persona non grata as a result of a mission that went sour. In the web series, Pierce’s Greer is younger, more acerbic, and initially clashes with Jack when he becomes Ryan’s boss at CIA’s Terror, Finance, and Arms Division (T-FAD) in the series’ Pilot episode

As for the future Mrs. Jack Ryan? Well, Cathy Mueller isn’t quite the same character as in Clancy’s novels, most notably Patriot Games and the later titles in which John Patrick Ryan is President of the United States: in the books and at least the Harrison Ford movies, Cathy is an ophthalmic surgeon; in Jack Ryan, Abbie Cornish’s Cathy is an epidemiologist.

Overall, the first season of Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan is a solid piece of entertainment that will please viewers who are into smartly-written political-espionage suspense thrillers. Like its literary sources of inspiration, the eight-episode story arc is a globe-spanning story that takes viewers to such places as France, Syria, Turkey, Liberia (briefly), and the U.S.

Again, without divulging too much of the series’ plot, Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan is also a gripping, often melancholic look at why many men in the Islamic world – even those who live in the mostly secular/Christian West – become terrorists. Ali Suleiman, who plays Mousa bin Suleiman, is terrific here as Ryan’s main antagonist; he is ruthless and totally dedicated to his mission to become the next Osama bin Laden-like leader of an Islamic global jihad. At the same time, the series follows his path from an orphaned child in Syria’s Bekaa Valley, to a bright and mostly Westernized immigrant in Paris, and finally to angry and radicalized mujahedin who looks at the mistakes of Al Qaeda and the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and seeks to correct them in an effort to create a true caliphate.

All in all, while I doubt that Tom Clancy might have been pleased with Amazon Studios/Paramount Television’s take on his best-known creation and its “reset” of his established fictional “present day” world, Jack Ryan is worth watching. The scripts are, for the most part, well-written and not dumbed down for the lowest common denominator, and even though they are all-new original stories that form a coherent single arc (like 24 minus the real time conceit), Clancy fans will catch a few allusions to the novels, especially Executive Orders and Patriot Games.

For added realism, the producers shot the series in the U.S, France, and Morocco; French characters are played by French actors, Middle Eastern characters are played by either Arab Israeli or Saudi-Palestinian actors, and for the most part, foreigners talk in their native languages with English subtitles.

The American cast also includes well-known actors with careers that stretch back to the late Seventies and early Eighties, including Academy Award-winning Timothy Hutton, Matt McCoy, and Blair Brown.

This international cast, as well as the series’ overall attempt to lavish the web TV series with production values worthy of a feature film are factors that make this series a must-watch for fans of spy thrillers and military-themed action stories.

A bit of caution: If you have not yet streamed Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan and want to stream it from Amazon Prime Video or buy the Blu-ray, it is rated TV-MA for action-related violence, nudity, and adult themes and language. There are quite a few gun battles, a suicide bombing, a terrorist attack on a Paris church, and a couple of (tastefully filmed) sex scenes.

Published by Alex Diaz-Granados

Alex Diaz-Granados (1963- ) began writing movie reviews as a staff writer and Entertainment Editor for his high school newspaper in the early 1980s and was the Diversions editor for Miami-Dade Community College, South Campus' student newspaper for one semester. Using his experiences in those publications, Alex has been raving and ranting about the movies online since 2003 at various web sites, including Amazon, Ciao and Epinions. In addition to writing reviews, Alex has written or co-written three films ("A Simple Ad," "Clown 345," and "Ronnie and the Pursuit of the Elusive Bliss") for actor-director Juan Carlos Hernandez. You can find his reviews and essays on his blogs, A Certain Point of View and A Certain Point of View, Too.

7 thoughts on “TV Series Review: ‘Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan – Season One’

  1. I sort of half-watched a couple of episodes and it didn’t draw me in. Truth is, I loved Harrison Ford in the role and it was hard for me to get past that. It’s one of those I might try doing an episode-by-episode review which will force me to pay attention to it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Pity. It is an excellent show. I hope that you try and give it another chance.

      Out of curiosity, do you have the same issue with the other post-Harrison Ford feature film actors who play Ryan? The only one who gave me a similar reaction to yours about the TV Jack Ryan is Chris Pine. He did a good job, don’t get me wrong, but he just didn’t quite “look” like the Jack I envision when I read the novels.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. “Based On: Characters created by Jack Ryan”

    I think you mean Tom Clancy there. 🙂

    We’ve finally invested in Amazon Prime and have been watching stuff (Good Omens and Bosch right now) but haven’t tried this one yet.

    We’re going to be trying it at least at some point, though.

    We’ll see whether we agree with you or Patti. 🙂

    Like

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