THE SERIES "Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan"
WHEN | WHERE Starts streaming Friday on Amazon Prime
WHAT IT'S ABOUT Jack Ryan (John Krasinski, "The Office's" Jim Halpert) is an analyst in the terror finance and arms division of the CIA. He also just got a new boss, group chief Jim Greer (Wendell Pierce), an agency careerist who was given this post (and demotion) to make up for some prior missteps. Greer therefore is a little reluctant to pursue a tip by Ryan, who has flagged some suspicious bank transactions in Europe and Yemen. Someone named Suleiman (Ali Suliman) is behind those. A family man, and father, married to Hanin (Dina Shihabi), Suleiman has never been on the CIA's radar before, and Ryan wants to track him. Greer quips (or sneers), "Wow, a brand-new bin Laden on my first day."
A loner by nature — Ryan was the only survivor of a helicopter crash in Afghanistan where he was deployed as a Marine — he eventually makes the acquaintance of Cathy Muller (Abbie Cornish), a doctor and specialist in infectious diseases. She is about to change his life.
This 10-parter — based on various Tom Clancy characters — was created and written by "Lost" alums Carlton Cuse and Graham Roland.
MY SAY Here's a little-known fact about Jim Halpert during the early seasons of "The Office." When he wasn't making sales calls or flirting with Pam, he'd daydream. As he stared out at the Dunder Mifflin parking lot, his mind wandered to the corners of the globe, where he'd be a CIA analyst, saving democracy while meeting exotic, beautiful women. In his mind's eye, he was buff and brilliant, also handy with guns and fists. But that ol' aw-shucks Halpert charm was his primary weapon. Just one quick effortless smile, and hearts — or resistance — would melt.
Snapping out of this happy reverie, he'd glance over at Pam. Why didn't she see this side of him?
This is a little-known fact because as far as anyone knew, the only thing Jim Halpert ever daydreamed about was 5 p.m. But if he did dream, this one just came true. Now fifth of the noble lineage of Jack Ryans, Krasinski brings something both unique and fresh to the iconic role. Let's call it "Halperish-ness." He's the every-bro, with a hint of self-doubt and a splash of self-discipline. He's a Type A, who knows he's a Type A, and softens his considerable edge by affecting Type B. He's likable, also full of blarney. And that smile — that ol' Jim Halpert smile — completes the package. A French intelligence official — an exotic, beautiful one, natch (Marie-Josée Croze) — says to Ryan /, "I think you're a wolf. A wolf who plays at being a sheep."
For "Jack Ryan" to work, it's also vital you forget about Jim. Eventually you will, and "Jack Ryan" mostly does work. This Amazon newcomer makes most of the right moves, and it's actually kind of hard to point to any of the wrong ones. Direction is superlative, casting too. Pierce is perfect as the alt-Ryan. His Greer is embittered just enough (and idealistic just enough) to know the CIA is a cesspool of bureaucratic factionalism. He also knows it's the last bulwark. Rules need to be broken in order to get things done, but his self-preservation instinct doesn't allow him to do the breaking. Instead, this new kid will do just fine.
"Jack Ryan's" larger problem, however, is what might be called an "existential" one. The so-called "Ryanverse" has thrived for decades on the big screen, but on the small one, this Jack's just another Johnny-come-lately. That other Jack (Bauer) long ago worked this territory, and, for one or two seasons anyway, worked it brilliantly. "Jack Ryan" also looks and feels a lot like "Homeland." Ryan is another Carrie Mathison without the crippling neuroses or bipolar disorder. And, by the way, Carrie has already killed off some of the same terrorists Ryan is now battling.
The key, therefore, is Krasinski. Like him, you'll like "Jack," and you'll probably like both.
BOTTOM LINE Solid, engaging, propulsive — and a little bit too familiar.