When I started watching "Hunters," I totally had no idea what it was going to be about. The first scene was set in a colorful outdoor barbecue party sunny day in June 1977. Then suddenly, the Polish wife of one of the guests began to get hysterical, accusing the affable host, President Carter cabinet member Biff Simpson (Dylan Baker), as a Nazi butcher. Things then escalated into a bloody massacre -- fast. This shocking first scene would just be the first of many over-the-top, darkly comic and sadistically violent scenarios involving Nazis in this 10-episode 2020 Amazon Prime series.
The story was told in the point of view of a Jewish teenager and math genius Jonah Heidelbaum (Logan Lehrmann), whose grandmother Ruth (Jeannie Berlin) was shot and killed in her NYC home. The embittered Jonah was befriended by Ruth's old friend, the mysterious millionaire Meyer Offerman (Al Pacino). Jonah would soon learn that Ruth was actually a key member of a group whose main objective was to locate and bring to justice Nazis who had secretly immigrated into the USA after the war -- the Hunters.
The Hunters group was interestingly all-inclusive, a collection of personalities way before its time. Aside from Offerman and Ruth, they also had a rigid former MI6 operative Sister Harriet (Kate Mulvany), a master of disguise actor Lonny Flash (Josh Radnor), a sexy single-mom skilled fighter Roxy Jones (Tiffany Boone), Vietnam vet Joe Mizushima (Louis Ozawa) and an elderly husband and wife electronics and coding team Murray and Mindy Markowitz (Saul Rubinek and Carol Kane).
The Nazi organization in the US is called Fourth Reich and was led by the sinister Colonel (Lena Olin) who had planned an elaborate, nationwide yet mercilessly insidious operation of cleansing the gene pool. Of her numerous operatives, the scariest one was this ruthlessly and relentlessly bloodthirsty American neo-Nazi Travis Leich (Greg Austin), who consistently chilled the screen with his particular brand of crazy in all 10 episodes.
Millie Morrison (Jerrika Hinton) was a pioneering African-American lesbian FBI agent who began to suspect about Nazi presence in the US during her investigation of the death an old woman in her own shower stall which had been converted into an Auschwitz-like gas chamber. Relying on her intuitive detective skills, she was eventually able to track down both the Hunters and the Fourth Reich.
We had seen the World War II tragedy of the Jews in many other movies (like "Schindler's List") and television series (like "Holocaust") before. However, I had never seen it told from this angle or style before. There was realization of pride in Jewish traditions, told with flashbacks of atrocious tragedies and tough decisions made during the war. There was a fascinating expose on the highly-classified Operation Paperclip, a secret post-war arrangement between the US government and the scientists of the Third Reich. The last time I've heard of "Paperclip" was when it was tackled in an episode in Season 3 of "The X-Files."
The strategy game between the Hunters and the Nazis was very well encapsulated by the opening credits sequence depicting the characters as chess pieces on a chessboard. Like many of these gritty violent crime dramas created for this millennial generation, the cinematography and production design were of high standards as story seamlessly went back and forth in time. The musical soundtrack was peppered by a number of high-energy rock and pop numbers from bands as diverse as the Rolling Stones and Velvet Underground to Roy Orbison and the Stylistics.
Throughout the whole series was a heated debate on how to deal with these Nazi immigrants. There was a powerful scene between Offerman and Simon Wiesenthal (Judd Hirsch) that discussed that contrast solidly from both sides. This controversial issue of morality underlying the show's disturbing display of excessive cruel violence, pushing its luck all the way to the final episode and its shocking (problematic?) twist as only Al Pacino can spin it. Your own sense of ethics and politics will determine how you will like this polarizing series or not.
This review was originally published in the author's blog, "Fred Said."