Probably the biggest challenge facing writers in modern fictionalized media is telling a story that’s new. Or at the very least, telling a story in a new way or with a unique perspective. Hunters both hits and misses on the latter.
Hit: Jumping right into it. No origin story, no labored build up.
Miss: Just another pseudo sci-fi procedural.
Hit: Some really sharp casting.
Miss: Some really predictable casting (due in part to some really predictably written characters).
Before we go on, here’s a quick bit from Syfy describing Hunters:
“A cross between gritty crime drama and sci-fi thriller, Hunters comes from executive producers Gale Anne Hurd (The Walking Dead, The Terminator trilogy) and Natalie Chaidez (12 Monkeys, Heroes). It is inspired by Whitley Strieber’s best-selling novel, Alien Hunter. The show is about the disappearance of a decorated FBI agent’s wife, which leads him to a secret government unit assembled to hunt a group of ruthless terrorists called “Hunters” who do not come from this world.”
Not bad. I’ll give that an hour a week if it’s interesting. So now that we’re four episodes in, is it interesting? The short answer is yes. The potential here is at a high level. Alien invasion is an oldie, aliens living among us just as old and aliens as terrorists simply plays on current events. All three combined with some smart actors and thoughtful writing and you could have a hit on your hands. But that’s where the edges get a little frayed.
I almost stopped watching after the first episode. It was a cliche riddled story with a weakly presented antagonist. Though you didn’t really get to see the aliens at first, you sure got to hear them, and their overdone Predator-esque mutant-dolphin clicking. Cool idea, poor execution. But I stuck it out. The second episode: much better! Third: another Preditor-ish misstep. Episode four: back on track. Maybe I should just watch the even numbered ones…
What makes it worth watching? There’s a few answers to that question keeping the arrow pointing up for Hunters. Not the least of which is Britne Oldford as the “good” Hunter, Regan. Other than her short stint as a villain on The Flash, I wasn’t familiar with Oldford. But I will be going forward. She does a great job portraying the complicated and conflicted character. Despite being tossed into a highly unrealistic setting she delivers a grounded, all-in performance. Even though she’s an alien, she’s the one you identify with. Her personal struggle is simply with herself and who she really is. She draws it out admirably. If you watch shows for their characters versus their story, she makes it worth your time.
Also delivering on his screen time is TV veteran Julian McMahon. Wow is he born to play the bad guy. Julian does more than give his character, McCarthy, a strong voice, he steals the scene every time he’s in it. Despite the alien’s language playing a large part in the story’s development, it’s what McMahon does away from the dialogue that will have your undivided attention. He does the show’s heavy lifting through the first four episodes.
The third pillar propping Hunters up is the premise. Now, I haven’t read any of the Alien Hunter books the show is based on, but what makes it to the small screen is an interesting take on an old favorite. We enter the story along with its hero, Flynn Carroll. But what really works here is that it’s not at the beginning of the story. The Hunters have been on the government’s Radar long enough for there to already be a specialized task force trying to track them down. The conflict is in full swing prompting you to learn as you go. Just like the characters have to. Smart.
But this is also where the the sweater starts to unravel. Despite a great starting point, solid take on the premise and strong components to the cast, the lens through which you’ll be seeing this all happen is also the show’s weak link: Flynn Carroll. This isn’t an inditement on Nathan Phillips’ portrayal of the show’s lead, more a complaint of the lazy, typical way he’s written. I’m not saying I would know how a man who has his wife abducted and finds out that aliens are real all in the same month should act, but I’m not buying what they’re selling.
A second, more big picture version of that last complaint is the show’s cookie-cutter procedural format. I get it. 9 out of 10 successful stories on television are stuffed into some form of the tried and true cop procedural. But the rapid fire intra-office dialogue that’s always delivered at DEFCON 5 combined with the choppy, quick cutting camera work was overplayed after 24’s first season. It’s ok, we all know that people just talk now. Dial it back down.
The framework Hunters is built on is a very solid one and there’s more than enough talent on the screen to carry the show. The flaws, they can be a little hard to overlook when they come front and center, but that’s not often enough to break your suspension of disbelief. Bottom line: if you like big-picture Sci-fi and have the patience for a story that needs a little time to grow, then Watch This Show! If your DVR is already splitting at the seams and your must-watch list is maxed out, then Wait to Watch. It’ll hit your favorite streaming service by the next time you need to binge something new.
Hunters is on Syfy Monday nights. Click here and take a look at their website for trailers and other behind the scenes goodies.
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