Based on the killer concept and top-tier talent assembled on either side of the camera, Prime Video’s Hunters should have been a much bigger and better show.
Created by David Weil, executive produced by Jordan Peele, and featuring a star-studded ensemble cast headlined by Al Pacino in his first-ever recurring role on the small screen, the basic premise finds a band of intrepid Nazi hunters recruited to take down the final remnants of the Third Reich in the 1970s, by any means necessary.
The timing probably wasn’t ideal, with the 10-episode first season dropping in late February of 2020, right before the world ground to a halt to leave everyone with other – and much more important – things on their mind. Pacino did land a Golden Globe nod for Best Actor – Television Series Drama, but that was about as deeply as Hunters managed to puncture the zeitgeist.
The second and final run drops tomorrow on Prime Video, and in the world of blockbuster-sized television, 35 months is an eternity. As a result, Hunters should really kick off with a bang and maintain a breakneck pace throughout in order to remind people why it was such a hot topic of conversation for a minute or two in the pre-COVID era, but despite only consisting of eight installments this time around, it always feels as though something is missing.
Picking up two years after the season 1 finale – which revealed that Pacino’s Meyer Offerman had been hiding in plain sight all along as former SS officer Wilhelm “The Wolf” Zuchs, the Hunters have been scattered to the four winds. However, given that the finale revealed Udo Kier’s Adolf Hitler to be alive and well in his palatial Argentinian estate, it’s obviously time to get the band back together.
The premiere opens with new recruit Jennifer Jason Leigh’s Chava, who’s been operating her own Nazi-killing program for years. Inevitably, she’s eventually revealed to have a direct connection to Logan Lerman’s Jonah Heidelbaum, but it’s such a transparent reveal you can spot coming from a mile off that there’s no real need to dedicate so much screentime to the buildup.
The first season came in for criticism due to its inconsistent tonal approach, rife historical inaccuracies, and handling of sensitive real-world issues in an admittedly heightened fictional context. If that put you off, then the sophomore set of episodes aren’t going to do anything to change your mind. Hunters returns as more of the same, for better or worse, without really anything to speak of in terms of an evolution or reinvention.
Incredibly, perhaps the worst decision showrunner Weil made was to bring back Pacino, which hampers things significantly when the narrative criss-crosses back and forth over a period of years to tell an origin story for the titular group we didn’t need to see. We get it, if you can put Al Pacino in your TV show then it’s better to have than have not, but his arc was definitively closed after 10 episodes, and we don’t really need the blanks filled in through another eight.
Thankfully, though, the cast remain excellent across the board, even if it regularly feels like every single one of them is performing in a completely different project. Lerman’s added ruggedness makes Jonah a more formidable prospect, while Leigh is exactly as wonderful as you’d expect, luxuriating in living in the spaces between commitment and scenery-chewing.
Josh Radnor’s Lonny Flash is a cocaine-fueled mess, Jerrika Hilton’s FBI agent Millie Morris wrestles with the balance between professionalism and settling a personal score, Tiffany Boone’s Roxy Jones anchors the team with real warmth, and Kate Mulvany’s Sister Harriet gets several standout moments, leaving poor Carol Kane without much to do in the most egregious oversight.
On the villainous side, Louis Ozawa’s Joe Mizushima is a brainwashed doyen of the Fuhrer, Greg Austin gives good ham as the exaggeratedly malevolent white supremacist Travis Leich, while Lena Olin is a scheming delight as Eva Braun, who seeks to supplant the elderly, failing, and pale shadow of his former self Hitler in an effort to establish herself as the new figurehead of the Fourth Reich.
Whereas the first season was a breath of fresh air due to the sheer insanity of seeing so many big names battling against the threat of Nazis 30 years after World War II ended, the novelty wears off pretty quickly in season 2, but there isn’t enough meat on Hunters’ narrative bones to offer a substantial enough meal as a consolation prize.
It’s easy to imagine that the decision was made for the second run to be the last after production had already started, seeing as the announcement was only made back in November that Hunters would be bowing out imminently. There’s a lot going on, but too much time is spent on Pacino’s pointless flashbacks at the expense of driving the story forward, with little sustenance to be found when it comes to the overarching plot thread of Hitler being located, tracked down, and ultimately brought to justice.
Avoiding the easy crowd-pleasing pop of going full Inglorious Basterds in the end, Hunters instead ends on a different and altogether more poignant note, which is always where the series is at its strongest. Obviously, imbuing pathos and markers of the Jewish experience in a conspiracy thriller revolving around a central conceit that’s as impossible as it is ludicrous remains a very tough nut to crack in an entirely satisfactory fashion, but the gung-ho scenes of action and bloodshed don’t hit anywhere near as hard as the smaller, introspective asides to offer the best of both worlds on a consistent basis.
Seventh episode “The Home” is an idiosyncratic delight, and Hunters would have benefited immensely from several additional swings on such a scale, because it proves to be a home run and the arguable highlight. As it stands, then, the two-season globetrotting curio ends its short-lived existence by never truly managing to maximize the boundless potential of its own premise.
Season 2 of 'Hunters' definitely has plenty of great moments, but the rushed pacing and disjointed tonal balance sends the Nazi hunters out with polite applause, rather than a thunderous ovation.