“Hunters,” the new Amazon Prime show which premiered Feb. 21 and was created by David Weil and produced by Jordan Peele, connects the familiar with the unfamiliar. Starring actors Logan Lerman and Al Pacino, the series has a carefully orchestrated cast — one that seems talented and deliberate. The titular hunters of the show are a ragtag team of people with one goal — to hunt the Nazis that infiltrated the United States after the end of the Holocaust.
“Hunters” takes place in 1977 in New York City during the Summer of Sam, a period where a serial killer orchestrated eight shootings starting in the summer of 1976. The feeling of paranoia is present, and is almost a character of its own on the show. There always seems to be something ominous looming around the corner, like the viewer is in a room where it is just too quiet. From the opening scene, it is clear something is going to go left because what’s on screen looks too pretty, or too perfect. The pilot begins with a seemingly normal barbecue outside of the nation's capital, but almost as soon as the scene starts, the terrified screaming of a woman brings it to an end as she recognizes the Nazi officer who murdered her family is in hiding as an American statesman.
The show follows the story of 19-year-old comic book store employee Jonah Heidelbaum, played by Lerman, who is just trying to avoid bullies and anti-semites in his daily life. After the murder of his grandmother, he is recruited by her friend Meyer Offerman, played by Pacino, to use his talent of seeing patterns and breaking codes to join the Hunters. There is a very comic-like vibe in Weil’s world-building in the show. The Hunters themselves make a sort of Justice League of Nazi hunters, where Meyer is the Batman to Jonah’s Robin.
The title of the show brings a question — who are the real hunters? Is it the team of niche Nazi hunters? Or is it the Nazis themselves as they seek to find the team? These questions also point to another character who is hunting everyone, but just doesn’t know it yet — FBI field agent Millie Morris, played by Jerrika Hinton.
A television show cannot be removed from the context of the socio-political environment in which it is taking place. “Hunters” is no exception to this rule. The timing of the show comes at a critical point in our own world in which white supremacist violence is making a resurgence in the public sphere, and where changing demographics have encouraged groups with certain affinities to begin inciting violence.
It is hard to pinpoint why “Hunters” feels so genuine, but part of it is the Weil’s willingness to push the envelope to make places and dialogue feel accurate. For one, the cast is seemingly very diverse, but is actually on par with the real demographic breakdown of the New York population in 1977. Compare this to the popular sitcom “Friends,” which also takes place in New York. It does not feel real because of its casting — even with minor characters and extras, there are only a handful of non-white characters, which is weird because people of color are the majority in New York City.
In just the first episode, there is an addictive quality to “Hunters.” Even when the plot becomes unbearably horrific, there’s a sense that you cannot stop watching. Many recently-created shows and films favor the model of showing a snapshot of a world where the plot does not seem to be driven by anything. “Hunters” does not have this fascination — if anything it is extremely plot driven, so it feels like a roller coaster that never ends. If the rest of the season looks anything like the first episode, Amazon Prime definitely has a gem on their hands.