Amazon Prime’s new series HUNTERS turns Nazi hunters in 1970s New York City into comic book heroes, resulting in a series that has oddly compelling qualities, not least of which is the great Al Pacino chewing the scenery, but is also strangely exploitative and misses out on the true evil of the Third Reich.
The story starts with Jonah, a Jew who stumbles upon a Nazi war criminal living in New York. When this goes sour, he gets help from a secretive group of Nazi hunters and joins them. The Nazis are living among us, it turns out, and they are ruthlessly bent on turning America into the Fourth Reich.
I’m three episodes into this–I’m not entirely sure what this is–and shelved it in favor of more promising TV shows like BABYLON BERLIN and the next season of KINGDOM. What a strange bag HUNTERS is. It’s like Quentin Tarantino had a fever and made a mashup of INGLORIOUS BASTERDS, schlocky 70s exploitation films, and comic-book superheroes and supervillains. It’s super violent, nasty, emotional, and of course, as I mentioned, it has Al Pacino at his Al Pacino best.
Unfortunately, it’s not quite working for me. The Hunters are supposed to be ultra cool but aren’t, the comic relief isn’t comical, and the protagonist comes across as whiny, resulting in titillation but not a lot of empathy. The empathy engine is the Holocaust, where we’re shown atrocities that never happened and get every emotional string yanked hard, resulting in the show feeling exploitative, a bad taste in the mouth that goes along with the fresh tortures in the present.
Another major flaw is the Nazis are presented as monsters (though sadly actually kind of boringly two-dimensional). The thing is, the Nazis were monsters, but they weren’t inherently evil. What was truly, truly terrifying about the Nazis, and what this show entirely misses, is how average and, well, dumb many of them were, how they committed evil acts because these acts had become normalized in their country. This was what Hannah Arendt discovered during the trial of Eichmann, how bland and boring and pedantic he was, leading her to coin the term the “banality of evil.” In other words, the potential for evil is in all of us, the nice neighbor next door who loves dogs, anybody, once evil becomes normalized.
So overall, HUNTERS is engaging, like I said oddly compelling for many of its constituent qualities, but overall the final product comes across as exploitative of a horrifying tragedy, and while I love seeing Nazis get theirs as much as the next guy, it would have been far more powerful if the Nazis weren’t comic-book, two-dimensional villains. I have to wonder what this show would have been like if it had left the attempts at comedy, the schlock, and the comics at home, and played it straight as a Nazi hunter series that rolled out like MUNICH.