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Hunters review: good at killing Nazis, and very bad at most other things

The Jordan Peele-produced series is definitely not the show you’re expecting

Amazon Studios, Prime Video

Hunters has a premise that feels like a double entendre. Amazon’s Jordan Peele-produced drama about Nazi hunters in the 1970s feels made with this specific moment when white nationalist sentiment gets parroted by government officials and in the national news. Characters are constantly saying things in a way that winkingly acknowledges the camera: Did you know the Nazis are here, among us? Did you think the war was over, or that they’d lay down their ideals of white supremacy? You have thought wrong, my friend. The delivery always sounds like a dick joke, but the dick is Nazis.

The slow-burn premiere introduces Jonah Heidelbaum (Logan Lerman), a Jewish teenager who lives in Brooklyn with his grandmother. When said grandmother is murdered in their home, Jonah discovers something she hid from the world: she was a member of a secret fraternity of Nazi-hunting vigilantes, exacting revenge on those conspiring to bring about a Fourth Reich.

Headed by the wealthy Meyer Offerman (Al Pacino), the Hunters (if they sound like a superhero team, that’s intentional) methodically vet and seek out their victims and dole out painful justice on them, making sure they know exactly what crimes they are asking for. Interspersed throughout are interludes and flashbacks to concentration camps and the atrocities committed therein, lest the viewer start to feel that the Hunters are being a little too cruel.

There are also strange diversions into dance, Guy Ritchie-style title cards but with a Yiddish exploitation twist, and fourth wall-breaking sketches. The villains monologue and salute a long-deceased Hitler with tears in their eyes. Hunters is in the business of hurricane-force whiplash.

Christopher Saunders/Amazon

The only real anchors in all of this are the show’s two leads, Jonah and Offerman, and unfortunately, only one of them works. Despite being the de facto protagonist, Jonah doesn’t offer much to latch on to as a character. We get brief glimpses of his personal life — his friends, his crush, the anti-Semitic bully who tries to cheat Jonah out of the drugs he has to sell in order to help his grandmother pay the rent — but it’s all in the service of the plot. If we meet a person in his life, it’s because they’re going to ferry him to wherever he needs to be for the next scene to happen.

This makes all of his big moments feel like they occur in a vacuum — especially when he’s paired up with the other Hunters, all of whom have a disappointingly small amount of screentime. Pacino is great. Everyone else makes you wonder what their deal is. (Also, Josh Radnor is on this show... why?)

The five episodes that were made available in advance to critics leave things at a critical juncture halfway through the 10-episode season. Some of Hunters’ biggest thematic questions revolve around whether ends justify means or if the pursuit of vengeance risks corrupting those who seek it. These are familiar questions, perhaps even tired ones, but it’s possible that Hunters comes up with an interesting answer.

This is the upshot of a show as tonally uneven as Hunters: there’s no telling how it’s going to end. It’s hard to be optimistic. While the show does a lot of different things, one thing it doesn’t do is spend its time well. The first episode is nearly an hour and a half long; each of the four that follow clock in at about an hour. An inordinate amount of that time is spent mulling over a missed opportunity, longing for moments with the barely expressed rage of Pacino’s Offerman, or following any of the other Hunters instead of Jonah. It’s telling that, for all its stylistic quirks, the show is at its best when it’s playing it straight: the fourth episode, which tells twin stories of a bank heist and a couple’s desperate escape from a concentration camp, is among the best of the bunch and is delivered in a simple fashion.

Like the eponymous team it follows, Hunters has a list of goals, and some of those goals are in conflict with one another. It wants to be a harrowing remembrance of the suffering of the Holocaust, a satisfying revenge fantasy, a sensational period piece, and a dark comedy. These can all be achieved together with skill, but only if the tension between them is acknowledged and addressed. Instead, the show shifts from tone to tone, more temperamental than genre-bending thrill ride.

It’s frustrating because even the ridiculous, preening Nazis of Hunters share a trait that real-life fascists have: they know what they want. A show about the people who fight them should, too.