Thursday, May 19, 2022

Jack's Back! A Look at Jack Reacher on Page and Screen

 Yesterday was a happy day for fans of the Amazon Prime show, Reacher. The star of the show, Alan Ritchson, posted on twitter that season two of the hit show would adapt Bad Luck and Trouble. This is - in my opinion - the best book in the series.

For those unacquainted with the glories of the Jack Reacher series, here is a brief recap. Written by British author Lee Child, they follow retired MP Jack Reacher as he wanders across the country. He has no fixed address, preferring to see the country on his own terms. He winds up helping people out of trouble and cracking a few heads along the way. 

The Amazon series is eminently bingeable and perfectly captures the spirit of the books. I watched the whole series in a weekend. 

To celebrate this season two announcement, I invited my friend and fellow Reacher-phile , Karissa Laurel to come and chat about Jack Reacher on the page and on the screen.  

VICTOR: I've been a fan of the Reacher books for a long time, which is a little strange since this is not the kind of book I usually read. But after I read one, I was hooked and proceeded to read the other 20. What is it about the character that drew you in?

KARISSA: I only got into the Jack Reacher books this past year. I decided to pick up the first book when the new streaming series was announced on Amazon Prime. I had seen the original Jack Reacher movie that Tom Cruise was in and liked it well enough. But when they announced that Alan Ritchson would be filling the role of Jack Reacher, I needed to know why someone with such a completely opposite physical appearance from Tom Cruise was chosen for the role. I wanted to go to the source material and find out what the heck was going on. I read "The Killing Floor" and was instantly hooked.

I'm a huge fan of The Punisher and there are *a lot* of similarities between Reacher and Frank Castle. I like the anti-hero personality. They both have a strong sense of justice, they both approach getting that justice by operating outside the bounds of the law, but they have extremely strict moral codes that keep it all in check. But Reacher steps it up a notch by also being extremely romantic. Honestly, a lot of Jack Reacher novels include a lot of romance novel tropes and I'm a huge fan of romance novels.

VICTOR: Hmm, I never really thought of Jack as a romantic lead. He tends to hook up with women in the towns he roams through, but I always looked at that through the prism of action movie tropes. Can you elaborate on that? Is the brooding loner a romantic ideal for you?

KARISSA: There are two rules in romance novels that are unbreakable. One is that the development of the romance has to be the main plot and the other is that the story has to end "Happily Ever After" or at least "Happy for now". Reacher of course breaks those rules, so his novels can't be completely "romance" by definition, but they have so many of the tropes that they can definitely be considered romantic. Take the Killing Floor for example. Lee Child put a lot of energy into developing the romantic chemistry between Reacher and Roscoe. He didn't skip over the love scenes either. There's this ongoing joke in "Romancelandia" (what romance fandom is generally called) that romantic heroes are always huge and tall. The brooding loner part is certainly part of Reacher's appeal, but it don't hurt that he's 6'5", 250 pounds and has a "mesomorphic body type" (that's a direct quote from "Never Go Back") which is short hand for saying his muscular physique is perfectly proportioned. It don't get more romance cover model than that! Plus he has a really great respect and appreciation for women in general. He's a hard character for women to resist.

VICTOR: Not only that, he embodies the idea of the "man's man." Big, strong, smart, ready with a quip. So literally something for everyone!

KARISSA: He's really a super hero in a lot of ways

VICTOR: He's really kind of a throwback. Back in the '80's and '90's, the ideal action hero was Stallone or Schwarzenegger, big muscly dudes. And, ironically, Alan Ritchson played a superhero, when he was briefly Aquaman on the Smallville show.

KARISSA: I know! I even remember him from those days...vaguely.

VICTOR: Let's talk about casting. We've both seen the Tom Cruise version of Reacher. I saw both of those movies - the first one was fun, the second...wasn't.


VICTOR: And I think we'd both agree that Ritchson is a FAR superior choice in the role


VICTOR: Not just from a physical standpoint, either.

KARISSA: Right! I've talked to some Reacher fans who are defensive of Cruise's portrayal and they say he still did Reacher's personality right, but... I disagree. For a few reasons.

VICTOR: Lee Child has a very direct and sparse prose style. The only character description Reacher usually gets is "big." Like he is described as a refrigerator, hands the size of hams, etc.

Pictured: NOT a ham-handed refrigerator.

KARISSA: But the thing is that "Bigness" of Reacher colors absolutely everything about his psyche too. It affects the way he approaches the world and the way the world approaches him. And that's something that someone who looks like Tom Cruise can never portray.

VICTOR: That's a very good point. I actually didn't mind Cruise in the movies. I had my doubts about him, but I thought he pulled off Reacher's attitude pretty well. But you are right. Jack moves through life expecting people to react to him a certain way and using that to his advantage.

KARISSA: An Alan Ritchson version of Reacher can demonstrate how someone can intimidate simply by walking into a room and scowling. Who want's to mess with a mountain of muscle like that?
But Tom Cruise walks in and scowls and...well...people might be willing to accept that challenge. They'd be willing to fight him.

VICTOR: It was very reminiscent of Tom Cruise as Lestat. Like, the casting choice turned out better than I expected, but it would never have been my first pick.

KARISSA: I never read Interview with a Vampire but I do know what people thought of his casting.

VICTOR: I guess Lee Child and Anne Rice should start a support group. Lestat in the books feels like a version of Sting or David Bowie. And Tom Cruise... is not that.

KARISSA: LOL!!! In some ways, Cruise's Reacher is an extension of his Ethan Hunt character from Mission Impossible

VICTOR: Yes, very much agree. But! That is an entirely different character. That is someone who is literally trying to stay hidden, which is absolutely not Reacher.

KARISSA: I agree with that, but that kind of points back and the physicality discrepancy in his casting.

VICTOR: I did not know a lot about Alan Ritchson going in, but five minutes into episode one and I was won over completely.

KARISSA: Reacher wants to walk into a room and have people take note of his "bigness" and use that as a basis in deciding not to mess with him. Reacher also very much depends on people to look at him and think of him as big and dumb and underestimate his intellect, and Reacher is extremely smart and intuitive.

VICTOR: He just exudes charm and affability. It's almost impossible to dislike him in this role.

Much better...

KARISSA: I picked that up about Ritchson in the trailers before the show even came out. I was like: this is SO different from the Tom Cruise Reacher, I need to know who this character really is, and I think Alan nailed it. I mean... rarely does a character get cast so exceptionally well. I am delighted with his performance.

VICTOR: Yes, I think the series is overall very well cast. I was not familiar with most of the actors, but I was very impressed with them, particularly Willa Fitzgerald as Roscoe and Maria Sten as Neagley

KARISSA: So, that is actually a great segue into something else I want to make sure to point out about Reacher. They did absolutely get Roscoe and Neagley right in this series. Spot on. What's important for me about the series is that people might not expect it but Reacher has a wide feminist streak. Yeah, he loves to romance a woman, but he sincerely enjoys working with them professionally, too.

VICTOR: One of the reasons I'm so glad Bad Luck and Trouble is the basis for next year is that it brings back Neagley and the other special investigators. And you see in the books that he absolutely respects Neagley. She is the first one he turns to when he needs help.

KARISSA: And those women are usually police, military, or some other tough girl type, and they totally captured that in the casting and performances in season one. I LOVE Neagley. I'd love her to get her own spin off series. He is so good with Neagley. She's actually a bit prickly and has had some past trauma. He utterly respects her boundaries.

VICTOR: Absolutely. She's only in a few of the books, and I would love to see her in a spin off following her as a security consultant.

KARISSA: In every book she's been in, I thought she stole the show.

VICTOR: I also appreciate that her past isn't explained. Reacher accepts that it's her business and if she wants to share it she will. He's not one to pry.

KARISSA: Yup! Same thoughts exactly. He never pushes. He never pries. He intuits that she has boundaries and he never oversteps. His respect for her is one of the things that immediately drew me in about him as a character. That differentiates him from so many of those muscly macho men characters.

VICTOR; Another interesting aspect of the character is his "homelessness." He has no home base, rather he wanders the country and dispenses justice. (On a podcast, Kevin Smith compared it to the old Incredible Hulk TV show - where Bruce Banner would roam the country and the Hulk would crack some heads.) It's interesting because currently there are a ton of #VanLife videos on YouTube, with people converting their vans into little mobile homes. Jack Reacher, trend setter!

KARISSA: But Jack would never even have a van!

VICTOR: No, he has the Greyhound schedules memorized.

KARISSA: He utterly eschews physical possessions. That's another (what seems like a tiny) detail that the Tom Cruise movie got wrong. The movie shows Reacher showing up with a bag. Nope. It is at the core philosophy of Reacher's character that he carries NO possessions other than his wallet and maybe a folding tooth brush. He makes a big deal in almost every book about having to find some place to buy an outfit--usually a thrift store or military surplus. He'll sometimes wash his clothes out in a sink and "iron" them by putting them under his mattress. But he'll make one pair of pants last the whole book. Then he throws them away before leaving town. He doesn't do luggage.

VICTOR: Yes, that made me so happy when counted out Jack's possessions when he got arrested in episode one and they pulled out the tooth brush.

KARISSA: I thought the same thing. The tooth brush!!!

VICTOR: I think I've taken up your entire lunch hour. Is there anything else Reacher-related you'd like to discuss?

KARISSA: I guess my only real negative critique of the show was it's tendency to venture into sentimentality. Jack has a soft heart under all those layers of muscle and brooding, hard exterior. But I don't think I'd be wrong to say he is never sentimental. He's loyal, he's caring, but he's not the one-tear-rolling-down-his-cheek type. EVER. In fact, in the first book, he almost seems a bit cold about his brother's death. It's only over the course of the series that you start to see that Jack internalizes his grief.

VICTOR: Yes, they work a lot of his backstory into the series. That's not in Killing Floor, but it comes out in later volumes and some of the short stories. Especially his relationship with his mother.

KARISSA: Yup. There's a book later in the series (another in which Neagley plays an awesome and pivotal role) in which Reacher comes to Washington and meets one of his brother's former lovers. That book did a lot to expose Reacher's complicated relationship with his brother. I know the show can't expect folks to stay in for multiple seasons to eventually see that side of Reacher, but that single tear moment was just a little too much.
But other than that, I can't really complain too much. That was one of the best book-to-screen adaptations I've seen in a while and I am SO STOKED for Season 2.


KARISSA: You and I talked earlier about how badly we wanted this to be the book they did next because we want to see Reacher's team. I'm so excited the producers read our minds.

VICTOR: Absolutely. Thanks so much for taking the time to talk about Reacher today.

KARISSA: Thanks for inviting me. Kind of like how you can talk about Batman all day, I can do that for Jack Reacher. So glad for a chance to word vomit about one of my most favorite action heroes.

VICTOR: Batman-Reacher team up issue!

KARISSA: I would die. It would be like Batman v Superman but worse. Talk about conflicting moral philosophies! But that's another discussion for another day. They wouldn't bond over both their mothers being named Martha. It would be pandemonium. Dogs and cats living together!
You don't have to put that in.

VICTOR: Oh, that's absolutely going in.

My thanks to Karissa for joining me today! You can find out more about her books at 

Victor Catano lives in New York City with his wonderful wife, Kim, and his adorable pughuaua, Danerys. When not writing, he works in live theater as a stage manager, production manager, and chaos coordinator. His hobbies include coffee, Broadway musicals, and complaining about the NY Mets and Philadelphia Eagles. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @vgcatano and find his books on Amazon

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