Reviews of Hunters, which is streaming on Amazon Prime, are all over the place. Some praise it as a “bold experiment” that is “visually ostentatious.” Others lament its “cartoonish tone and historical fabrications.”
Much of the criticism centers on the series making up stories about the Holocaust and showing Jews murdering war criminals in cold blood. The director of the USC Shoah Foundation, Stephen D. Smith, has gone so far as to ask Amazon not to renew the show for a second season.
In fairness, Hunters does grapple with the revenge-or-justice question. Famed Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal even makes an appearance (played by Judd Hirsch) to argue with Al Pacino’s character, Meyer Offerman, about the morality of killing (former) Nazis. The story arc of Offerman’s protégé, Jonah Heidelbaum (Logan Lerman), is all about deciding when, if ever, it is right to kill.
As for the show’s “cartoonish tone”, what the critics miss is that Hunters is pulp. Which is why I’m categorizing this review as dieselpunk, despite the series taking place in the 1970s.
From its references to superhero comics to its milking of the Nazis survive trope — with a full Fourth Reich conspiracy involving scientists brought to the United States in Operation Paperclip — the plot of Hunters is like something out of a midcentury pulp magazine. It is deliberately over-the-top.
One hero looks to be a traitor only to turn out a hero after all. Another really does turn out to be a villain. The Nazis are unambiguously evil. Some are revealed to be living in the United States in high positions of power, and they have had a hand in every tragedy of postwar America, from the assassination of Robert Kennedy to the 1977 New York blackout. There is Nazi loot in a Swiss bank. All the Nazi henchmen are blond-haired, blue-eyed and smug. Hunters has every cliché of the genre — but it is aware of them and makes fun of them.
If you don’t think it’s appropriate to combine such irony with flashbacks to death camps, don’t watch it. I didn’t find the combination disrespectful. I thought it created a moving narrative, but I realize it’s not my history.