Al Pacino and Logan Lerman in a scene from the TV series Hunters.
Al Pacino and Logan Lerman in a scene from the TV series Hunters.

Wild new TV show is totally bonkers

After the likes of Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts made the move to smaller screens, what was to stop Al Pacino?

In a 50-plus-year career, Pacino has never done episodic TV before - previously, he had done one miniseries (with Streep!), three TV movies and a 1968 episode of N.Y.P.D.

So it's fitting that his first foray into a regular TV role is in such a wild series.

Because Hunters is wild. Bonkers. Brazen. Even bewildering at times.

Streaming on Amazon Prime Video from Friday this week, Hunters follows a group of fictional Nazi hunters in 1977 New York.

Pacino is the lead hunter, an Auschwitz survivor named Meyer Offerman. He amassed a fortune after the war and now puts his resources to seek vengeance against those who escaped justice.

Hunters is Al Pacino’s first regular TV role
Hunters is Al Pacino’s first regular TV role

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In the world of Hunters, a secret group of Nazis have infiltrated all levels of influence across the American power establishment, covertly working towards the formation of a Fourth Reich. Following their hate-filled ideology, the group, led by a Colonel played by Lena Olin, are planning something and the deadline is moving closer and closer.

Nineteen-year-old Jonah Heidelbaum (Logan Lerman) is drawn into Meyer's world after he witnesses a family tragedy and police inaction lead him to extreme actions. Jonah becomes an asset to Meyer's ragtag group of vigilantes - including characters played by Josh Radnor, Louis Ozawa Changchien, Kate Mulvany, Tiffany Boone, Saul Rubinek and Carol Kane - because his brain deciphers patterns like a codebreaker.

Weapons experts, ex-spies, and masters of disguises make up Meyer’s team of Nazi hunters
Weapons experts, ex-spies, and masters of disguises make up Meyer’s team of Nazi hunters

Separately, FBI agent Millie Malone (Jerrika Hinton) is assigned to a curious case of an old woman killed in her shower - if the neon pink grouting against black tiles wasn't crime enough for the death sentence, the victim may have had a secret past.

It puts Millie on a path that will intersect with Meyer and his group, and the Nazis.

Hunters creator David Weil has laid in homages to grindhouse and exploitation movies from the era which his show is set, specifically the stylistic violence.

The opening sequence immediately drops audience into it with a shocking confrontation at that most suburban of settings, a backyard barbecue - but it lets you know straight away that Hunters will not spare you from the uglier truths of the people it's drawing attention to.

The question is whether the hyper violence of some scenes actually distracts or distances the audience from those truths - and it's not just perpetuated by the Nazis. Of course, Nazis make the perfect villains on-screen because, in theory, there is nothing you can do to them that crosses a line.

You'll still be behind the heroes, because, well, that's a Nazi, so go ahead and gouge out that eye.

Jerrika Hinton plays an FBI agent destined to cross paths
Jerrika Hinton plays an FBI agent destined to cross paths

It's an effective reminder of who the villains are (in real-life too, because it seems some politicians have forgotten), but it does undercut the show's earnest attempts to interrogate the nature of vigilante justice.

Hunters spends a lot of time arguing with itself in justifying its characters' actions - for example, the effects of generational trauma - or asking whether there are clear-cut white hat/black hat dichotomies.

The show's major flaw is that it hasn't quite hit the tonal balance between these sombre discussions about revenge and faith with the ultra-violence of someone's face getting smashed in with a bowling ball.

However, those pulpy scenes are visually pretty impressive and not that frequent, and Hunters sometimes uses comic genre conventions to really dial it up. Hunters is definitely, at the very least, not boring.

How I Met Your Nazi Hunter
How I Met Your Nazi Hunter

In portraying literal Nazis - and there are loads of flashbacks to the war in which Nazis' sadistic acts are depicted - Hunters wants to remind us that this ideology is not a relic of the past.

In a 21st century in which Nazis feel emboldened to fly the swastika above their house in regional Victoria, or in which white supremacists gather in public with megaphones around the world, Hunters isn't coy in its message or execution.

As two of its characters say - one a Nazi, one a Jew - the war is only over for the dead.

Hunters is available to stream on Amazon Prime Video from Friday, February 21.

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