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Web-series ‘Hunters’ is a bit too risky in a world full of Holocaust conspiracy theorists

The ‘Hunters’ team is led by the super-rich, super-resourceful Meyer Offerman, played by Al Pacino (centre).

The ‘Hunters’ team is led by the super-rich, super-resourceful Meyer Offerman, played by Al Pacino (centre).   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Is the pleasure of watching Al Pacino pull off complicated Yiddish phrases worth it?

You’re a real-life Jew-perhero now,” goes a line from Amazon Prime Video’s Hunters, the alternative history thriller series that premiered last month — it’s a significant line for a show that directly references superhero comics in nearly every episode. In a way, it betrays both the strengths and the weaknesses of the story; it has the raw energy of a comic-book adventure, but at crucial moments, its style seems dissonant with the truly horrific Holocaust accounts it presents.

The premise is simple (even if its plot fluctuations are not): in 1977, a group of New York-based Jews assemble and form a Nazi-hunting team, dedicated to capturing and killing the proverbial wolf in sheep’s clothing — former Nazis living in the U.S. under new identities. The team is led by the super-rich, super-resourceful Meyer Offerman, played by Al Pacino (the iconic actor’s first appearance in a series since HBO’s Angels in America in 2003). Other notable members include moviestar and master of disguise Lonny Flash, played by the perfectly cast Josh Radnor (better known as Ted from How I Met Your Mother), plus Saul Rubinek and Carol Kane teaming up to play Murray and Mindy Markowitz, the team’s middle-aged electronics and signals experts, respectively.

Too much flair

All the actors turn in fine performances, with Pacino and Radnor leading the way. Hunters is also well served by its crew: the action scenes are superbly shot, the Holocaust flashback set pieces crafted with more than a touch of flair. Indeed, some would say too much flair at times: the first episode has a scene with a fictional SS officer playing on a giant chessboard with human pieces — if the piece dies, the person dies as well. Apart from this one off-putting scene (which for some reason channelises medieval monarchs) the flashbacks are, as a rule, very effective indeed.

Hunters is part of a well-documented tradition in British/ American books, movies and television — ‘what if’ stories involving World War II and the Nazi regime. Philip Roth’s masterful novel The Plot Against America, Quentin Tarantino’s 2009 film Inglourious Basterds and Amazon Prime’s own previous show The Man in the High Castle (based on Philip K. Dick’s novel of the same name) — all were very well-received by both audiences and critics.

What gives, then, with Hunters? Why did Stephen D. Smith, Director of the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, condemn the show, demanding that Amazon cancel it? Smith’s argument is simple, and I must say, quite iron-clad: a show like Hunters, which plays fast and loose with history, is simply too much of a risk in a world where holocaust conspiracy theorists are still legion (“its pernicious blend of fact and fiction risks being weaponised by Holocaust deniers”). In some places, the show’s writers present real personalities like Simon Wiesenthal (Judd Hirsch) with a remarkable degree of historical accuracy. But in other places, well, human chessboards abound.

Smith writes: “The problem is the premise. Survivors of the Shoah sought justice, not revenge. Not so in Hunters. The series’ specious spectacle of eye-for-eye justice (a term one of the ‘Hunters’ uses verbatim in the fifth episode) collapses all meaningful differences between victim and perpetrator.”

And that, really, is the kicker: in a world rampant with ‘both-sideism’, do we really want to provide additional fodder to bad-faith commentators, trolls looking to downplay (or worse, outright deny) one of the darkest chapters in human history?

Is the pleasure of watching Pacino pull off complicated Yiddish phrases worth it? I’d say no — but the ball is in Amazon’s court.

The writer and journalist is working on his first book of non-fiction.

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Printable version | May 29, 2020 4:17:20 AM |

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