Streaming on Amazon Prime
One of my tactics for judging the potential quality of a series is the three-episode test; if I find myself engaged enough to want to know what happens after the third episode, then the show has earned my attention. The one platform where this has proven itself to be the most challenging (often annoyingly so) is Amazon Prime. While I appreciate Amazon for providing a universal platform for all kinds of content from many levels of creators (despite their business practices being less than ideal, to put it mildly), much of their original content hasn't proven worthy of my engagement. Either due to terrible execution of a fascinating idea or getting deprived of a satisfying conclusion in favor of aggressive sequel baiting.
*cough* The Tomorrow War *cough* Upload *cough*
Lately, however, it seems that Amazon has finally found its strength in military-oriented dramas. Finding their footing with the first season of Reacher (a show based on the Jack Reacher mystery book series by Lee Child), they have struck gold yet again with an adaptation of The Terminal List by Jack Carr. A show that not only tells a compelling story but also showcases how far Chris Pratt appears to be stretching himself as an actor. It's delightfully surprising on all fronts, minus the bits of graphic violence here and there (all of which is in service to the story and not just there for the sake of being there).
The story follows Navy Seal Commander James Reece (Chris Pratt), who loses most of his squad in an ambush during a covert operation in the middle east. After returning home with the few survivors, things around him become less reliable, including his mental state. His recollection of recent events appears muddled and inconsistent. Not helped by the extra emotional trauma of his friend's recent death, shortly followed by his wife and daughter's murder. Desperate for answers, James goes off the grid in search of why someone would want to kill his comrades and family, making a list with the names of those responsible and marking them off one by one. The only question is how much can we trust James Reece's recollection of events given his troubled and discombobulated state?
The show makes the audience question the narrative within the first three episodes, engaging you with the mystery and eager to find the answers. When the truth is revealed (which I will not spoil here), the story evolves into a compelling yarn that questions the line between justice and vengeance. Showcasing how sometimes the two need to co-exist for better or worse.
The show doesn't do anything brand new or anything that hasn't been done before in a story like this, but that ultimately doesn't matter. As I have stated, you don't have to be original; you just have to be engaging. Have a story worth telling, an overarching theme worth investing in, with characters we can care about, and the rest will follow. It's not rocket science; it's basic human storytelling.
Chris Pratt delivers a surprisingly remarkable performance. While I would not go so far as to proclaim he's reached the echelon of superb actors like Andrew Garfield just yet, he appears to be on his way there. His performance is further enhanced by the superb supporting cast delivering equally surprising performances, including Taylor Kitsch as James's brother.
The action is also well-executed with decently staged shoot-outs, visceral hand-to-hand combat, and probably the scariest use of oddly-shaped hatchets I've seen in a series like this.
The MVP award goes to Constance Wu for playing an intelligent and capable journalist character in a genre that usually doesn't handle them well.
Probably my only nitpick is with the sound design. While it doesn't suffer from the lack of dynamic range between quiet and loud scenes (forcing you to constantly change the volume every ten minutes), it does suffer from another ever-annoying terrible habit: assuming muddled dialogue equals an extra-dramatic presentation. While there are ways to add proper drama to dialogue delivery, if your present technique forces me to activate closed captioning on my TV, it's not working!
While the graphic violence may turn off some viewers (understandably so), The Terminal List is a welcome and well-crafted feather in Amazon's hat. Its engaging story and compelling characters make it a must-watch for those with a Prime subscription. Here's hoping they continue to improve their line of original content like this in the future.
Amazon, while you are not yet forgiven for the atrocity that was The Tomorrow War, you are well on your way. Keep up the excellent work.
Ladies & gentlemen, I am TheNorm; thank you all for reading.