At any point in TV's history, which includes both the past and the future, a series about in-hiding Nazis being hunted and killed is going to ruffle some feathers, to say the least. As such, no one's jaws should be hitting the floor when discovering that Amazon's new hyper-violent and darkly comedic drama Hunters is already one of the most polarizing TV shows of 2020 and beyond.
Having released on February 21, Hunters was already causing a critical stir in the days ahead of its premiere thanks to the gaggle of reviews that hit the Internet with the force of Al Pacino's Devil's Advocate speeches (even though Pacino himself barely taps into that manic energy over the course of the first season). The din has only gotten louder in the days since Hunters arrived on Amazon, too.
Let's take a look at the arguments being made for and against Amazon's Hunters across both sides of the aisle.
The People Who Did Not Like Amazon's Hunters
For a quick summary, the '70s-set Hunters follows a diverse group of New York City citizens who discover that hundreds of high-ranking Nazi officers had secretly moved to the U.S. after WWII and began a plan to introduce the Fourth Reich to America. The group, under the tutelage of Al Pacino's Meyer Offerman, sets out to upend the Nazi's grand scheme while eliminating the threat by any means necessary. It's unapologetically confrontational, but also at times seems unsure which genre it's most comfortable playing around in.
The tonal imbalance is on the lighter side of some viewers' complaints. Take this opinion from The Guardian:
It’s too cool and self-conscious for its own good, and seems to revel in any and all deaths on screen, regardless of whether the victims are 'guilty' or not. . . . Hunters' part-pulp sensibility frequently veers into hamminess - and that's on top of the discomfort arising from taking this approach to a historical trauma the size, weight and fathomless depth of the Holocaust.
Regardless of one's tastes or enjoyment, Hunters is an aggressive meshing of comic book movie standards with 1980s action movie violence and modern horror fetishism. Without getting into spoilers, Hunters' first scene is emblematic of the above critique and others, in that it's a picturesque setting coated in candy colors where smiling faces quickly give way to terror and bloodshed, all while the deliverer or said bloodshed gets a cynical quip or two off.
That sentiment was shared by the review in the New York Times as well.
It never quite gets the blend of dramatic intensity, comic-book embroidery and cathartic action that it seems to be going for. Hunters, like the hunters team itself, is less than the sum of its parts.
And this blurb from Forbes' review:
The show often doesn't seem aware of what it wants to be. It might be campy, pulpy, even absurdist at times, while taking a misaimed stab at drama at others, and being nauseatingly violent throughout.
Of course, the larger issue explored in the more negative Hunters pieces has to do with the show's sometimes lax approach to the extremely serious subject matter being discussed and shown. Many had problems with how Hunters handled its approach to Holocaust war crimes and victimizations.
The biggest and most damning piece of criticism came from the official Aushwitz Memorial in Germany, whose representatives shared a scathing post about the Amazon show's pointed inaccuracies. In those words:
Auschwitz was full of horrible pain & suffering documented in the accounts of survivors. Inventing a fake game of human chess for @huntersonprime is not only dangerous foolishness & caricature. It also welcomes future deniers. We honor the victims by preserving factual accuracy.
Creator David Weil responded to those claims, saying that the human chess game and certain other elements of Hunters were conjured up specifically for the TV show, as he purposefully did not want to depict any of the actual torture techniques that Nazis used on prisoners in the Holocaust.
It doesn't appear that certain viewers' opinions would have been changed by any excuses, though. Take this, from Vox:
Hunters' scenes of implausible revenge seem teleported in from an unbelievable fever dream of over-the-top Nazi sadism and Jewish heroics - and thanks to the overly saturated color palette, they often look that way, too.
Not that everyone flat-out hated Hunters. More than a few viewers have given praise to various elements within the show, but can't quite go all the way forward on recommending it. From The Atlantic:
What's most maddening about Hunters is that much of it works in individual pieces, even though the whole is a sweaty, overseasoned smorgasbord.
At only eight episodes, Hunters has obviously proven itself to be worthy of everyone's attention, even if not everyone will want to maintain that focus on the brutality. Let's look at some of the people who did enjoy fixating on the show now.
The People Who Liked Amazon's Hunters
On the flip side of all those dismissals and sometimes back-handed compliments, one will find an equally large section of the viewership heaping praise and adoration onto Hunters. Considering it’s on the same streaming service that gave the world the murderously savage superheroes of The Boys and the Nazi antics of Man in the High Castle, it’s only fitting that Hunters taps into the same enjoyment for viewers who are perfectly fine watching shows where literally everyone is reprehensible in one way or another.
Take this review from Salon, which invokes a name that many reviewers used in both glowing and glowering reviews, Quentin Tarantino.
Such viewers may appreciate the jauntily presented violence and frequent tributes to (or, depending on one's mood, rip-offs of) Quentin Tarantino. Those moments come off precisely as you'd expect of a series that literally has a nun, a Vietnam vet, four Jewish folks, a Black revolutionary, and a guy played by Ted from How I Met Your Mother delivering payback to Third Reich officers who tortured people in concentration camps. It's ridiculous, satisfying, jaw-droppingly savage, and oddly pleasurable, often all at the same time.
For those looking for positive-leaning Star Wars comparisons, then the Hindustan Times has you covered.
Jonah is essentially Luke Skywalker and Meyer is Obi Wan; the neo-Nazi is Kylo Ren. The proposed Fourth Reich is the First Order, and Hunters is, regardless of its iffy ethics, Star Wars with the SS.
If Hunters is missing anything, it's probably a scene where Logan Lerman's Jonah takes a Nazi's head off using a lightsaber, and then basketball-tossing it into a trash can via the Force.
By and large, many of Hunters' biggest compliments went to Al Pacino for his role as Jonah's mentor, as well as how heavily the show embraces its B-movie aesthetics. For those already inclined to watch series in Hunters' vein, the shocks and violence were less of an drawback than necessary window dressing.
Similarly to how some of the more negative critiques went, more than a few favorable Hunters reviews also took note of the shortcomings, acknowledging they weren’t sizable enough to skew their opinions completely. Take this one, from Entertainment Voice.
At times it can seem like the plot is being stretched out too much for TV length, but there are worthy ideas and themes here. The show goes down various avenues, sometimes all at once, but they are engaging.
We'll end things on an opinion that, while positive in nature, reads as much like an objective view as anything else aimed at Hunters' first season.
Blunt times call for blunt stories - and this story is interested in making blunt impacts in every single direction.
At this point, Amazon has yet to go public with any decisions about Hunters' future, so it's not yet clear whether or not we should start anticipating/dreading the blunt impact that Season 2's arrival will bring.