Huge slab of muscle turned detective Jack Reacher was invented by popular thriller novelist and aquatic Cork infant Lee Child. Child made ex-military police veteran Reacher a giant strong man. Weirdly, Reacher was played in previous movie adaptations by diminutive thespian Scientologist Tom Cruise. Presumably the casting options at the time were Tom Cruise, R2D2 or one of the Smurfs.
Thankfully, in the new Amazon TV series (streaming from Friday) they've worked off descriptions in the actual novel and so Reacher is played by Alan Ritchson. Ritchson is, and the Irish Times style guide directs me to use these specific words for clarity: f***ing massive. He has a rectangular head, wide chest, corrugated abs and bouncy biceps. He looks like the casting director strapped a load of Tom Cruises together with a belt.
Ritchson’s competition for this role could only be a wall with a face or, possibly, the moon. The only way for Tom Cruise to credibly appear in a Reacher adaptation post-Alan Ritchson is if we introduce a quirky nephew for Reacher in the vein of Scrappy Doo or Godzooky or Éamon Ó Cuív (possibly an idea for season 2?).
As soon as Reacher turns up anywhere people take one look at his great geeky height and his bulging Poindexter biceps and they assume they will easily best him in combat
Reacher starts with a confusingly shot murder. Then we see our hunky hero alighting from a bus to casually stroll into the generic southern town of Margrave, the deathplace of a blues guitarist he likes. His personality is that he is a man who likes the blues. I know a lot of middle-aged men, so let me tell you: this is one of the recognised four personality types for men.
Reacher also likes strolling. He does lots of swaggery strolling in the series. He rarely runs, possibly because his muscle mass is too great, but also because he’s so relaxed about everything – danger, logic, being arrested for a murder he didn’t commit as soon as he arrives in town – that he’s not in a hurry. So the nonchalant stroll is his main means of transportation.
Eponymous television protagonists are generally invented nowadays by attaching a common first name to a random noun and if Lee Child was a literalist he would have named his protagonist “Jack Stroll” and this show would be called “Stroll”. I mean, we rarely see Reacher “reaching” for stuff, possibly because his muscled arms are too heavy to lift above his head. I’d love to have seen more dramatic beats involving high shelving units. “Damn my heavy muscley arms!” he could cry after spotting a big clue with a question mark on it atop a kitchen cabinet. (Full disclosure: I don’t know how muscles work).
The story focuses instead on man’s inhumanity to hunk. As you might imagine, large hunks like Reacher are a constant target for bullies. As soon as Reacher turns up anywhere people take one look at his great geeky height, his huge nerdy fists, his bulging Poindexter biceps and his dorky terrifying stare and they assume they will easily best him in combat. More fool them! Reacher is great at violence. Eyes are gouged, hands are slammed in car doors, wrists are snapped.
He beats up many different kinds of people. In the first three episodes alone he faces off against an opportunistic prison gang, an assassination squad, some South American soldiers, a large boxer in a bar, some local rednecks, a man in an office who he asphyxiates with a phone cord, and a group of children (in fairness, the child-beating was undertaken in a flashback when he was himself was a child; though I’m sure if a 10-year-old were to give adult Reacher some cheek he’d also deliver street justice).
Reacher is entertaining because it follows a predictable pattern: introduce fresh idiot, have Reacher deliver comeuppance to fresh idiot, rinse and repeat
Before this series is finished, Reacher will have administered educational beatings to all of the peoples of the world. Strangers never tire of trying to attack Reacher because most people in this programme are complete idiots. Whenever some new bunch of fools decide to target him I find myself yelling with glee “KILL THEM REACHER!” and then he makes his persecutors crunch and squelch and I laugh myself sick.
Of course, he's not just a fighter. Reacher is freed from jail only to discover his brother Other Reacher has also been murdered. He begins investigating this murderous conspiracy with the help of two allies, one of whom he flirts with (giant sociopaths need love too!) and the other whom he smugly patronises because what's he going to do, fight him?
That's when we learn that not only is Jack Reacher good with fists and with guns but his mind is also a fist and his brain is a gun. He shoots brain bullets at people with his thought cannon (his mouth). He's what Sherlock Holmes would be like if Holmes was completely swole and also liked to batter people. Reacher is entertaining because it follows a predictable pattern: introduce fresh idiot, have Reacher deliver comeuppance to fresh idiot, rinse and repeat.
If you're looking for something more thought-provoking, then the ever-reliable Mary Beard has a series on BBC2 called Forbidden Art (Thursday). In this week's episode, Vile Bodies, she explores how social mores around depictions of the body change over time. She starts by looking at ancient erotica from around the world, my favourite being a statue of an erect penis with wings that also has its own penis (someday this will make a great corporate trademark for some lucky corporation).
She quickly moves on to examine more contemporary works that confront contemporary taboos around death, frailty and the body. She talks with artist Daphne Todd about a portrait of her mother's corpse. She looks at Buddhist drawings depicting decomposition. She discusses war artist Peter Hausen's painting of sexual assault during the Bosnian war.
She talks to Tracy Emin about how her works have dealt with her experiences of assault, abortion and illness. Beard takes the discussion beyond the question of government censorship and encourages viewers to consider their own limits and views on what's permissible in art. Emin, in particular, makes a strong case for the importance of being upset by culture from time to time.
Towards the end of the episode, Beard interviews the sartorially idiosyncratic Martin Creed about his films Shit and Sick in which various individuals are filmed in the middle of a white space doing what those titles suggest. These films are quite something. I'm not sure if they prompt more thoughts in me initially than: "I suppose that is where poo comes from" but the level of disgust they raise is fascinating nonetheless.
In an era when TV companies are constantly searching for old projects to endlessly remake, I hope to see Shit and Sick adapted as multipart television series any day now. Come on Netflix, you cowards, make Shit and Sick! It would put a whole new meaning to the term streaming services.