Amazon Whiffs Big with Silly Al Pacino Nazi-Hunting Series ‘Hunters’

"Hunters."Christopher Saunders/Amazon

People wonder if we’re still living in the era of Peak TV.

For a few years, it seemed no one could do anything wrong. There were blockbuster shows, fresh voices and movie stars who weren’t really stars anymore but didn’t seem to mind because they were starring in “prestige” TV projects with other actors they used to see in the movies. But then the world of streaming TV exploded, executives wrote big checks for the most obscure and half-baked projects, and we were left gasping and horrified.

Now, with Friday’s premiere of “Hunters” on Amazon, it’s fair to say that Peak TV is over.

Created by David Weil, “Hunters” wants to be a thriller about Nazis trying to create a Fourth Reich in the summer of 1977 and the vigilantes who track them, but it also wants to view their activities through the simplistic, heroes-and-villains lens of a comic book. With star Al Pacino dispensing lines like, “You should read the Torah more. It’s the original comic book,” you know “Hunters” is headed for trouble. Weil and his executive producer Jordan Peele also throw in the occasional deranged fantasy musical sequence. Because the main subject is too heavy? Whatever the urge, the shifting tones and conflicting storytelling severely limit any chance for this series to thrill you, let alone keep your attention.

From Amazon’s point of view, the hook is Pacino, fresh off his ninth Oscar nomination for “The Irishman.” No stranger to TV (he has two Emmy awards), Pacino stars as Meyer Offerman, a Holocaust survivor and septuagenarian Bruce Wayne. Employing a guttural German accent, Pacino leads a band of vigilantes that includes fellow Jews and two refugees from the identity politics casting department: an Asian guy (Louis Ozawa Changchien) and a Pam Grier knockoff in an Afro (Tiffany Boone). There’s also an acerbic British nun. Go figure.

The vigilantes are all fired up when one of their own, Ruth Heidelbaum (Jeannie Berlin), is murdered in the Brooklyn home she shares with her 19-year-old drug-dealing comic-book selling grandson, Jonah (Logan Lerman). Our sympathies are meant to go toward poor, abject Jonah, but he is hard to take. Let’s start with his vocabulary. It consists of three words: “What the f–k?” Sometimes he changes it up, as an improvisational comic book bro is wont to do, with “Who the f–k?” Jonah even drops F-bombs when conversing with his grandmother — who does that? Dudes in contemporary Hollywood movies, that’s who. Lerman overacts in so many scenes you just want to tell him to calm down. Let Pacino do the overacting.

As Pacino and Lerman, the Batman and Robin of the piece, zero in on the Nazis, a female, African-American, gay FBI agent (Jerrika Hinton) is investigating the deaths of senior citizens in the South. These separate storylines threaten to come together as Nazi hit man Travis Leich (Greg Austin) knocks off the hunters. Were the creators able to decide which story they wanted to tell, the show would be in better shape, though the execution verges on the turgid throughout. One senses that they saw the rushes and decided to go back to some of brighter locations, like Coney Island, and add a ridiculous dance sequence — where Jonah and his buddies are suddenly grooving to “Stayin’ Alive” — to take our minds off the tedious violence. (One bit of fact-checking: the Bee Gees song did not hit the radio until later in 1977, when “Saturday Night Fever” came out).

It’s a shame that Pacino picked this script as his first regular TV series because there isn’t a superhero out there who can save “Hunters.”

Author: Robert Rorke

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