Because Amazon’s Hunters isn’t just any show, TV Fanatic enlisted both Carissa Pavlica and Kerr Lordygan to watch and discuss.
Hopefully, this approach will offer a wider opinion on what you’re committing to watch. A team of hunters rooting out Nazis living in an America that welcomed them is heavy stuff, but it’s entertainment with a message.
Al Pacino stars as a Holocaust survivor named Meyer who takes the grandson of an old friend under his wing after the death of his grandmother. Logan Lerman is Jonah, a young man with his head in the sand regarding the horrors his grandmother suffered, who gets an eye-opening awakening in the wake of her death.
With a talented ensemble cast, the story unfolds with a lot of panache and some nausea-inducing barbarity making Hunters a unique and always entertaining watch.
Kerr: Having just watched Al Pacino in much of The Irishman, it hadn’t occurred to me that this was Pacino’s first foray into a TV series. I mean, The Irishman was as long as a limited series, for cryin’ out loud!
I usually enjoy Al’s performances, but I have to say I was really excited to see Carol Kane’s name in the credits. And she did not disappoint.
I look at some of these series that are like Hunters as very long movies, really. Mainly because they all drop on the same date and we, of course, try to binge the series as fast as we possibly can. But I think Pacino carried his weight as a series lead.
Carissa: I agree. My only complaint is that I often feel Pacino plays the same characters frequently. Maybe it’s because he’s so iconic that saying it’s a Pacino vehicle comes with specific connotations.
I don’t think he could ever pull off a Tatiana Maslany in Orphan Black, for example, because he has limited range even though he’s terrific at what he does. And it bothers me that I feel like an American traitor suggesting that.
So, while I enjoy his character, he’s not doing anything I haven’t seen him do before. I will say that the nature of Al Pacino in the role of Meyer did allow me to by lines like this one, “The Talmud is wrong. Living well is not the best revenge. You know what the best revenge is? Revenge."
Logan Lerman is quite impressive in the lead role as a teenager thrust into his grandmother’s worst nightmare.
He does a great job as someone sheltered from the atrocities of the holocaust who finds himself carrying the torch for his Safta to finish the job she had started years earlier -- revenge on Nazis who had infiltrated America.
I also really enjoy Tiffany Boone as Roxy Jones. She is a quintessential blaxploitation character in the middle of a Jewsploitation vehicle, and I love it.
As I'm not a Grey's Anatomy fan, I didn't have any expectations for Jerrika Hinton's Millie, but as probably the only character not fully on one side or another, she's carrying a lot of the weight of the series on her shoulders.
And I’m not sure I could have cast better villains. Dylan Baker is always slightly off kilter, but he takes it to extremes as Nazi Biff Simpson, and his biggest ally, Travis Lietch, is played to frightening cold perfection by Greg Austin.
It's a strong cast all around with every actor doing a lot to breathe life into their character. The characters themselves, at one point called Jewper Heroes, are like a Jewish Justice League each with their own very special set of skills.
Kerr: I wasn’t sure what Pacino was trying to do accent-wise. He sounded more New York Italian mixed with Russian, with his trilled Rs. Germans don’t trill their Rs – those Rs sit in the back of the throat, not the front.
And the series shows Pacino’s character, Meyer, in a Berlin concentration camp. But when someone asks him about his ability to speak German, he answered that there were some things picked up during imprisonment. So I might just be confused as to where he’s from, or maybe I missed it.
But regardless, our Al wasn’t consistent with the accent – whichever one it was that he was attempting. Those Rs just kept fluctuating! Maybe his dialect coach needed firing. Or maybe he’s just not one to pick up accents well (which is what I’m thinking given past attempts).
Jeannie Berlin as Ruth Heidelbaum -- the safta (grandmother) of lead character Jonah, played by Logan Lerman – did sweet, wonderful work. When we see Pacino after we see a Berlin scene, we might be slightly disappointed at the different levels of authenticity.
Kane, of course, was great, as usual. Perfect role for her.
Only having seen five episodes, I think, so far, every character is fleshed decently. And since you brought up flesh, some of these characters are brutally violent!
Carissa: Hunters is a unique combination of thrilling grindhouse action and intense violence interspersed with the raw atrocities of the Holocaust. They shouldn’t work so well together, but they do. It’s a tricky business to introduce the Holocaust to a new generation in a way that is both entertaining and informative.
The cast and characters represent many different kinds of people, which should pique enough interest that Hunters is well-received.
But at the same time, it’s also very purposefully reminding us that Nazis are bad and many may not have had a comeuppance appropriate enough to the terrors they carried out on a generation of Jews.
As a non-Jew, I’ve heard often through my life people wondering why Jews didn’t fight back. They had strength in numbers. Hunters does well showing how and why that happened, and why, under different circumstances, the tables turn.
While it’s always thrilling, it's the emotional, gut-punching moments backing the thrills that really give the series a powerful punch.
Kerr: While it is thrilling, I feel like it is paced more along the lines of a psychological drama -- with thrills on top. I’m committed, and can’t wait to see the second half of the season when it drops. I guess you could say the thrills will bring me back.
But the character development is stronger than the thrills, in my opinion. Some of the violence is pretty disturbing -- maybe I’m losing some of my edge in my old age. But the violence is not easily forgotten.
I think the reason these scenes are so unsettling, though, is the situations and circumstances for these characters are already so uncomfortable. Much of it is authentic, but the depictions of the concentration camps don’t seem to be presented as horrid as they really were.
Of course, they do show traumatic situations in the camps – some of which I will likely never forget (I can never look at a chessboard the same way again) – but when we see the prisoners, I feel they look much too healthy.
The tragedy of starved and tortured victims with skin hanging off their bones and faces sunken in pools of inhuman flesh tones is something we see when we watch documentaries on the Holocaust or read up on it.
Maybe the producers of Hunters didn’t think it was necessary to go that far. But I think it’s necessary when the themes of the show are justice and revenge. Show us why this revenge was inevitable. Again, there are scenes that show horrible atrocities, but I didn’t buy all of it when pieced together.
I did feel like the style of Hunters is a bit more successful than that of Jojo Rabbit, where the Holocaust presentation felt more cartoonish, which is disturbing in its own way. Although I almost sort of understand why the Jojo filmmakers went that route. Hunters is more about vengeance, so it has to be presented more cruelly.
When you know the atrocities those who survived – and those who did not – had to endure, we feel relieved that Meyer and his posse seek revenge. Especially when the show makes continued villains of some of the Nazis taking “refuge” in America.
The main theme of Hunters is vengeance. Eye for an eye. I’m not sure there is a moral to be taken out of that, as that sort of justice isn’t quite legal. One incredibly offensive trope these days is to draw some sort of contemporary American comparison to the atrocities of the Holocaust.
While I haven’t seen that in Hunters as of yet, there may be some hints that comparisons may be referenced at some point. I hope not, because that would change my entire take on the series.
Carissa: I really hope that doesn’t happen, and after reading about creator David Weil’s inspiration for the series, I’ll be surprised if he takes the focus off of the Holocaust or tries to make a connection to slavery, for instance.
For me, the story and the brutality is well-suited to Jonah’s experience as the grandson of a survivor. He is the equivalent of the audience, even going to so far as to question whether the punishment inflicted on those who excelled at it during the Holocaust was just.
It doesn’t need to go farther than that. It works as it stands with Jonah being our moral compass, such that it is.
Kerr: When we first meet Jonah and his friends, they are exiting a showing of Star Wars, discussing the Dark Side and the ethical makeup of some characters they feel have crossed over into it.
When the conversation moves to include comic characters like Batman being on the Dark Side, the foreshadowing of the struggle between good and bad, light and darkness hits us in the face.
Who are the real heroes? Do they have to have a dark streak in order to be successful? Luke Skywalker does not (until The Last Jedi, that is) and Batman does.
When Meyer tells Jonah, “You should read the Talmud; it’s the original comic book,” we get more of that business thrust at us. We may not see until the finale how the plights of the Hunters characters match those of comic book and sci-fi heroes. But it is an interesting conversation, for sure.
Carissa: As a product of the ‘70s and ‘80s, I appreciate the references. I see it all as Weil suggesting to new viewers of both the Holocaust and the late-middle 20th Century that they’re not unique in their framing of the world through popular culture.
For all of the discussion of Star Wars and Batman that goes on today, it’s not new, and people have been pondering the same arguments for decades. And that points directly to the Holocaust and how easily any opportunity to stop it slipped through the collective fingers of the world.
I've seen in other reviews that the cultural references are over the top. The Farrah Fawcett issue of TV Guide is shown in multiple homes, for instance.
But that was the power of that magazine, that show, and that actress, and while it seems crazy now for people of so many different walks of life to be influenced by the same source, the world was different then, and instead of 532 scripted television shows dropping in one year, there were two dozen.
I've also read concerns about the necessity of an impromptu Stayin' Alive dance sequence. But where it sits in the series uses the times and the song's titles to good effect. And it's not the only reference to Saturday Night Fever, another 1977 hit. The other is a tongue-in-cheek Pacino reference that's a lot of fun.
The feeling of that kind of pop culture phenomenon will never be felt again, and it’s worth the exploration, no matter how fleeting.
Kerr: Right when the show started, I even wrote to you, Carissa, saying how brutal it was and that I wanted to call my mommy (which I did the next day, by the way – I know you were concerned).
Being an American Jew might make some of this stuff more difficult, though I am pretty sure it’s difficult for most regular people to watch.
And once the series progresses, we do get more accustomed (that’s not necessarily a good thing, right?). So it's not that I disliked much of any of the show, but it is rightfully discomforting.
Carissa: And rightfully so. It does a disservice to treat the Holocaust with kid gloves, and the same would go for a team of hunters driven to expel them as they were once expelled.
As a Polish, non-Jewish, Catholic, I’ve always understood just how close my family was to extermination. There but for the Grace of God go I.
Watching Hunters is very uncomfortable for many reasons, but I wouldn’t want it any other way.
Kerr: I really want to see more revenge enacted in force. Take no prisoners, baby! I’m a good audience member for most shows, as I usually don’t attempt to figure out the ending ahead of time.
I’m sure there will be some more twisty things – in fact, I hope there will be. If I don’t get surprised by something in the continuing episodes, I will be disappointed.
Carissa: We’ve talked about the brutality, but we’ve not talked about the stylized nature of it nor its creativity.
Hunters is a beautiful show, filmed with a lot of flair in obvious deference to Quentin Tarantino while also delivering incredibly creative violence, a creativity that almost makes its savagery a little more palatable. Your mouth hangs open in disgust and respect.
Kerr: Revenge and justice are always pertinent to everybody, at any time. If someone steals your boyfriend or girlfriend, you probably want revenge. If someone talks in the movies – oh, you know you’re going down!
But the revenge in Hunters is so deep-seated in history, in the annihilation of six million Jews, all with families who loved them and had no way to protect them.
I think we need shows like Hunters to make us feel even a little bit of catharsis. But, of course, it’s meaningless as a work of mostly fiction.
When Meyer tells Jonah only 12 Nazi soldiers were convicted to death in the Nuremberg trials (85 others received prison sentences though, but that’s still a disgustingly low number), it makes us thirsty for revenge, too.
I do urge folks to look up real Nazi hunter Simon Weisenthal for the factual version of this story. But sometimes we need to fantasize about more, while we process how such atrocities could have ever happened.
But is it relevant to anything going on today? Elsewhere in the world, we see heinous human rights abuses in the news, absolutely.
But to watch a show that drops these monsters in our midst here in America – in a story that perpetuates that our own country is allowing the destruction of Jews to continue as part of the rise of the Fourth Reich -- is horrific.
Suggesting that Nazis could be hiding in plain sight in a place like Huntsville, AL with no law enforcement agencies bringing them down does cause mental strife.
I guess that does, indeed, make the show a thriller after all. While not for the faint of heart, I recommend Hunters and can’t wait to see how it concludes.
It’s hard to say how much I recommend it, though, until I see how the season concludes. I want to see more Nazis get tortured and brutalized!
Carissa: I highly recommend it. While I agree that it’s ferocious and broaches difficult topics of a very real history, it’s a story of revenge that I’ve wanted the Jews to get for a long time.
For those that enjoyed The Boys, Hunters has a similar feel even if the subject matter is entirely different. The two shows should appeal to the same audience.
Hunters is a beautifully filmed passion project that is not always easy to watch but is always entertaining. That’s not a bad way to get reacquainted with the horrors more than one generation of Jews suffered. “Jewper” heroes for the win!
Hunters premieres on Friday, February 21 only on Amazon Prime.
Carissa Pavlica is the managing editor and a staff writer and critic for TV Fanatic. She's a member of the Critic's Choice Association, enjoys mentoring writers, cats, and passionately discussing the nuances of television and film. Follow her on Twitter and email her here at TV Fanatic.