While Amazon Prime would, of course, like to be seen as a one-stop shop for all kinds of content (and like its competitors, the headache-inducing number of shows and films being spewed out does mean that there really is something for everyone), there has become a notably strange sweet spot for the streamer. The retailer’s first show might have been Joey Soloway’s intimate family drama Transparent, exploring gender and sexuality with sensitivity, and its most awarded might be The Marvelous Mrs Maisel, a female-fronted comedy about female comedy, what’s being most watched continues to be a very different story.
For it’s the red-blooded, dad-would-like action narratives that seem to have connected the most, from the long-running success of Bosch to the much-watched Tom Clancy adaptations Jack Ryan and Without Remorse to the impressive numbers for the army v aliens thriller The Tomorrow War to, most recently, the record-breaking viewership of Lee Child’s Reacher (one could superficially nestle The Boys alongside for those who haven’t quite grasped the show’s pretty easy-to-grasp satire). It’s not all been bad per se but it’s mostly been indistinctive, a gung-ho formula of guys and guns that offers very little in the way of surprise. The Terminal List is an inevitable algorithmic amalgamation of the above with The Tomorrow War’s Chris Pratt heading up an adaptation of a Jack Carr novel, whose military adventures file next to both Clancy and Child, writers he’s expressed admiration for. But it’s familiar to a fault, a tired and tiring series unfurling on Independence Day weekend for those looking for a low-stakes post-barbecue watch, a slab of barely heated red meat that’s all extremely hard-to-chew gristle.
Pratt plays James Reece, whose life is turned upside down after his platoon of Navy Seals is killed during a botched mission overseas. Upon returning back to his family (an adoring wife and a young daughter he takes hunting) memories of what happened shift and Reece convinces himself that some sort of conspiracy is afoot, one that might threaten the lives of those that he loves.
In a recent interview, Pratt, who on the same press tour has shown understandable annoyance over Twitter voting him “the worst of the Chrises”, revealed that the allure of a return to television was the ability to see a story that would have felt rushed and shallow at 90 minutes get the expansive eight-hour treatment, allowing ancillary characters depth and development. What’s most head-scratching about this reasoning, which has oftentimes turned good stories into great ones, is just how much this particular tale suffers from the long-form format. The Terminal List is the kind of straight-to-Redbox three-beers-deep actioner made by the dozen, usually starring Chad Michael Murray or Bruce Willis or Chad Michael Murray and Bruce Willis, that works best with little to no thinking time. When spread across eight, punishingly dull episodes, all of its many, many cracks star to tear the whole thing apart.
Drably directed in part by Antoine Fuqua (who, since Training Day, has specialised in anonymous point-and-shoot action fodder), it’s astonishingly pedestrian and aggressively unexciting stuff, a flat and all-too-easy-to-predict revenge saga that plays by the basest of rules, our embittered hero violently working his way through the bad guys like he’s in a video game, all the way up to the boss level (hilariously he does cross them off on a hand-written list which allows for the unintentionally incredible line: “Stay off my list!”). What the show fails to reckon with is just how deranged Reece’s mission ends up being, his methods often hewing closer to those of Jigsaw (a torture scene involving intestines is as gratuitous as it is stupid) and quite often possessing not an iota of interest in how many other, innocent lives could be affected. A more interesting script would have grappled with his sadistic selfishness but creator David DiGilio is far too busy cheering from the sidelines (at one point a character says of Reece: “Guy’s a legend, total patriot”).
It’s a passion project for Pratt, who hasn’t been shy about his military obsession, but you would not know from watching the actor giving arguably his laziest performance to date, lethargically shuffling through scenes like he’s just here for the cash, unable to bring any real shades of humanity to an admittedly half-a-note character (how Carr has turned Reece into a five-book franchise is a genuine mystery). What made Pratt such a revelation in Guardians of the Galaxy was his ability to transplant his well-trained sitcom timing to a genre that can often feel rigid and humourless, a leading man that prized freewheeling goofiness over staid stoicism. But his choices have since lost any of that fizz, turning him into yet another bland gym lug, promise squandered. There’s little of interest for anyone else to do, from a mostly unconvincing Constance Wu as an exposition-spouting journalist to a cartoonishly evil Jai Courtney as a big tech baddie to Taylor Kitsch slumming it as a quippy soldier pal to a bizarrely thankless role for the wonderful Riley Keough on wife duty. The only real fun is watching Jeanne Tripplehorn as secretary of state, relishing a much-deserved second career wind.
If Amazon’s recent history is anything to go by, this will probably be an easy win but for those who might have curiously added it to this summer’s watch list, I’d recommend crossing it straight off.