“Have you had enough? Cause there’s more.”
This line from episode five of Amazon’s “Hunters” is kind of the operating principle of the show, which may not be the best new drama of the year but it is certainly trying to be the most new drama. Executive produced by Jordan Peele and starring Logan Lerman and Al Pacino, “Hunters” feels inspired by Quentin Tarantino’s “Inglourious Basterds” and other darkly humorous grindhouse movies while also being just a straight-up dark examination of the worst of humanity. At times, it embraces its B-movie style, making for a show that can be very clever and fun, but it’s also exhausting, occasionally aggressive in its toxicity. There’s something to be said for a show about Nazis and Nazi Hunters that doesn’t even remotely shy away from the atrocities of the Holocaust, but the abrasive tonal shifts of going from something like “Son of Saul” to something like Tarantino’s work over multiple hours can drain the spirit. I recommend the show—it’s smart and unpredictable—but I don’t recommend watching too many consecutively. It’s a lot.
“Hunters” opens by laying down the gauntlet of intensity, making sure you’re ready for what’s to come. It’s 1977 in America, and a young woman comes to a BBQ with her husband and recognizes the homeowner, played by Dylan Baker, as a powerful Nazi from a concentration camp. He denies it as she starts to shake and point. As she gets louder, he reaches under the grill, grabs a gun and shoots everyone, including his three children swimming in the pool. After all, he couldn’t have his cover blown.
Yes, “Hunters” is about Nazis in America, but this is no “Man in the High Castle” sci-fi. Instead, it's a B-movie imagining of how the most powerful members of the Third Reich worked their way into U.S. culture, impacting politics and even helping us get to the moon. After the terrifying prologue, we meet Jonah Heidelman (Logan Lerman), a young man whose grandmother (Jeannie Berlin) is killed by a mysterious stranger. Looking into why someone would want his kindly grandma dead leads Jonah to her secret life as a part of an elite group of Nazi hunters led by Meyer Offerman (Al Pacino). Meyer and his team, which includes colorful characters played by Tiffany Boone, Josh Radnor, Saul Rubinek, and Carol Kane, have been hunting the Nazis who escaped Germany, torturing and murdering them in creatively intense ways. In the premiere, a woman is gassed with Zyklon B in her Florida shower. In a later episode, a suspected Nazi is literally fed shit. Another Nazi’s eardrums are burst by Little Richard played at top volume. “Hunters” is often viciously creative, satisfying the same vengeful adrenaline that films like “Basterds” and the movies that inspired it into existence once did.
It's also a thriller with multiple players converging not just on the same hunt but on a major upcoming event that seems designed to start a Fourth Reich. Lena Olin plays a power player who can clearly impact U.S. politics; Dylan Baker returns several times, doing a wonderful send-up of Americana seen through the eyes of a monster. And there’s more! As if that wasn’t enough, there’s a dead-eyed sociopath of a Nazi soldier (Greg Austin) who is hot on the heels of the hunters and an FBI agent (Jerrika Hinton) who starts to realize that America has a Nazi problem after the aforementioned shower murder gets dumped in her lap. It’s a lot for one show.
And it's a show that often contains whiplash-inducing tonal leaps. The program regularly flashes back to Auschwitz, filling in the background of Jonah’s grandma and the monsters who worked there. We see horrors of the Holocaust in ways that even Tarantino avoided, and while the attempt to imbue a B-movie with A-authenticity is admirable, it creates a sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach. Perhaps it’s supposed to, and I do admire any show that’s willing to push genre expectations, but it makes for a program that I wish could be portioned week to week. Especially when one considers the length of each episode—the premiere runs 90 minutes—“Hunters” can be exhausting. Even “Inglourious Basterds” wouldn’t have worked at over 10 hours long.
Still, as tiring as “Hunters” can be, it’s never boring. Through the five episodes sent to press, there’s almost no time to breathe, and the outright audacity of it all can be entertaining in its own right. There's so much plot that most of the supporting characters haven’t even been given back stories yet. There’s no time when there are Nazis who have to eat shit.
Five episodes screened for review.