I’m halfway through Hunters and I’m still not sure how I feel about the show.
Set in the late 1970s, it follows a team of no-nonsense nazi hunters who begin to unravel a network of nazis living in America and devising some Big Plot. The first episode is shaky and frankly upsetting. Call me a liberal snowflake all you want, but [SPOILER ALERT] watching two female Holocaust survivors being murdered by nazis in the first ten or so minutes of the pilot was a viscerally upsetting experience. And then, watching a third woman get gassed in her shower was equally as upsetting. I also did not enjoy watching the main Jewish character get tortured by another nazi. Oy. Put best by this Twitter thread by screenwriter Avishai Weinberger, the pilot feels like a show made by people who hate nazis, but don’t necessarily love Jews.
Despite the things that make me upset or uncomfortable, I can’t stop watching. I’m not sure if what I’m feeling is enjoyment, or just the refreshing feeling of seeing Jews being (for the most part) accurately portrayed on screen. Though not particularly fleshed out, the Jewish characters feel firmly Jewish. The dialogue is sprinkled with Yiddish and Hebrew words in a way that sounds natural about 95% of the time (I’m still not over a random woman saying Baruch Hashem instead of Baruch Dayan HaEmet,) Watching one of the main characters, Jonah, navigate inherited Holocaust trauma as the grandchild of a survivor, hits incredibly close to home.
As a show, it has its flaws, its main one being its weak characterisation – it never feels completely whole or real. It doesn’t lean into the pastiche hard enough, and a lot of the time it’s as though it’s unsure of what it wants itself to be; it’s not as deep as it thinks it is, not as funny, nor as thought provoking.
The acting, on the other hand, is great (Logan Lerman is an underrated Jewish treasure; Al Pacino is a surprisingly good Jew) and that Amazon-money production value makes it easy to watch. Though it does a good job at avoiding the Helpless Jew trope constantly found in Holocaust narratives, it does so to its own detriment; the flashbacks to concentration camps are perhaps the show’s weakest link — they’re ahistorical, over the top, and feel both unnecessary and at times exploitative.
Perhaps what feels so off for most of the time is that the show’s central thesis feels almost antithetical to Judaism. In the first episode Al Pacino’s Meyer dismisses the usual adage of ‘living is the best revenge,’ insisting that ‘revenge is the best revenge.’ Correct me if I’m wrong, but the Judaism I live and love doesn’t advocate for revenge. Justice, yes, but never revenge. And I think it’s this framing that makes me feel the most – for lack of a better word – iffy about it all thus far.
About the author
Shoshana Gottlieb is a writer who has no idea what she wants to do with her life. An avid TV and movie fan, she dreams of writing romcoms and Hallmark Chanukah movies. Her favourite TV shows at the moment are The Good Place and Big Little Lies, and her favourite movies of all time are Spotlight and Short Term 12. You can find her movie reviews at shoshanagottlieb.wordpress.com and her inane musings on twitter @TheTonightSho.
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