Why the Reacher show works

I’m a Reacher fan. It’s absolutely a guilty pleasure. Lee Child writes like Eric Clapton covering Robert Johnson – plugged into some kind of deep Americana that he doesn’t understand. He creates a world in which a huge dude with brains and brawn can outsmart the nastiest of the nasty, all while anchoring us in a kind of gritty, small-town America that few have been able to recreate with any sense of reality.

But when Amazon announced their own mini-series based on The Killing Floor, I was pretty wary. I had been duped before by the silly Tom Cruise movies that shrunk Reacher down to the size of berries and cream lad.

First, Alan Ritchson is nearly the perfect Reacher (he is a little too jolly, but I’ll get to that). His size and big mug are just perfect. The rest of the cast – the smart guy, the love interest, the villain, the country boys hired by the villain – are also perfectly cast and it’s important to note that I don’t know their names or even the actors who played them. In Reacher-world, Reacher is the main focus and everyone else just stumbles around and says that they know how to shoot a gun, forcing Reacher to show them that the safety is on with a smirk.

Further, the multi-part series did the book justice, including Lee Child’s tendency to send Reacher on field trips during his capers. The studio paid for enough settings to make the whole thing interesting, including the flashback moments in Japan and France. The whole thing followed perfectly, an important consideration when bringing something like this to the screen.

Then there’s the important thing: the developer, Nick Santora, knew that this whole thing was a farce. Reacher coming into town and solving a big mystery was firmly in Columbo/Murder She Wrote territory and not an adventure. Reacher gets away with loads of stuff and you love him for it. He smirks his way through the show like the Cheshire Cat, aware of the silliness of the plot but never willing to derail it with melodrama.

In other words, the show is just like Lee Childs’ books: cotton candy for the brain. Child is a genius at plotting and setting and this show does him justice. I only hope more writers get the same evenhanded and understanding treatment as more and more books are turned into series.

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