New Reacher season understands that, frankly, it needs to be dumber

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Reacher (season 2) ★★★
Amazon Prime

The first season of this action-crime series, adapted from the best-selling book series of the same name by Lee Child, was dumb fun. And that worked. Just. A brick wall with a noble code and an off-the-grid philosophy, Jack Reacher (Alan Ritchson) was an update of Clint Eastwood’s laconic cowboy the Man with No Name; justice arrived via a Greyhound bus. But the show felt too tidy, too satisfied with tough guy talk and action movie cliches. To surpass Tom Cruise’s Reacher movies it needed, frankly, to be dumber.

Alan Ritchson, Serinda Swan and Josh Blacker in Reacher.Credit: Amazon Prime Video

The show’s new season appears to understand this. Here is Jack(ed) Reacher picking up a BBQ and throwing it at a bad guy’s car to stop him escaping. Catching sight of a pissed-off Reacher, the flunky promptly has a heart attack and dies, despite an annoyed Reacher administering CPR. Questioned shortly after by a wary cop about how a man died by BBQ, Reacher replies: “He was stopped by BBQ. He died of trans fats.” The line is delivered with a snarl, but it plays funny.

Much of the framework of this season, again overseen by veteran writer-producer Nick Santora (Scorpion), is designed to open Reacher up. The plot kicks off with him learning that a friend and former subordinate from his US Army military police unit has been brutally murdered, but what really matters is that a vengeful Reacher is reunited with his comrades. There’s a dynamic to explore, whether it’s the wisecracking David O’Donnell (Shaun Sipos) teasing Reacher, or Karla Dixon (Serinda Swan) trying to seduce him.

Reacher talks more this season, including expert commentary on Talking Heads, and one of his offsiders rightly describes him as “a kaiju” (monster). But the action around the character remains uninspiring. As a villain introduced early, Robert Patrick phones in threats, while action sequences are shoehorned in without undue threat – “worst snipers ever” read my notes at one point. Reacher is a force of nature who mocks the system he upholds – he uses “Washington” as a slur – but there’s no real philosophical friction here.

Alan Ritchson, Shaun Sipos, and Serinda Swan in Reacher.Credit: Amazon Prime Video

Occasionally the direction understands that Reacher is a monolith physically and emotionally, with one sardonic shot of him looking completely flummoxed by a toddler’s animated television show. Ritchson appears to be in on the playfulness, which is more amusing than furrowed brow reaction shots, so please let this series get loose. When Dixon kisses Reacher, having asked him to treat a breast grazed in the killing of assassins, the camera chastely cuts away. Reacher’s plainly a fighter, let’s find out if he’s also a lover.

Molly Gordon and Ben Platt play friends and instructors Rebecca-Diane and Amos at a struggling theatre summer camp.

Theatre Camp ★★★½

If you’re missing the ensemble comedies of Christopher Guest – nothing new since 2016’s Mascots – then this loose but loving tribute to growing up theatrical fills a Sondheim-sized hole. Mostly improvised, it’s an amusing celebration of community seen through a song and dance lens as the chaotic but devoted staff at a summer camp instruct their dedicated young charges, ignore their own failings, and make sure that several shows go on.

The film’s creators – Molly Gordon, Ben Platt, Nick Lieberman, and Noah Galvin – know this world all too well. With a framework spanning auditions through to opening night, the dialogue is ludicrous but delivered with earnest self-regard. The humour includes incongruous asides and extravagant supporting characters, such as costumer Gigi (Owen Thiele), with a slew of sight gags (a “Meryl Day” poster) and anthropological tableaus (“those are Fosse kids”).

With Gordon and Platt as best friends and instructors Rebecca-Diane and Amos, the emotional stakes matter more than a tethered plot about the financially troubled camp possibly being shut down. It’s an over-the-top comedy sat in an over-the-top milieu, and that dynamic actually allows for genuine joy in the spotlight obsession of staff and students. Fittingly, the slew of terrific child actors who play the campers get to shine in their own right.

Muriel in On the Adamant.

On the Adamant

Winner of the top prize at February’s Berlin Film Festival, this compelling French documentary from veteran director Nicolas Philibert is about a barge moored on the river Seine in Paris that’s been converted to a mental health day facility that specialises in arts-based therapies. Intimately observed over many months, the feature captures how the act of creating – whether painting, making music, or cooking – plainly helps the patients at Centre de Jour l’Adamant, who slowly reveal themselves to the camera with wryly unaffected honesty. The dedication of the staff also shines through.

Naila Schuberth in Dear Child (Liebes Kind).Credit: Netflix

Dear Child

A psychological thriller that riffs on the 2015 Hollywood drama Room, this German limited series opens with the discovery by authorities of an unconscious woman and a 13-year-old girl. Neither can be identified, but flashbacks show that they lived as captives in a locked residence run by a monstrous, unidentified patriarch. Connecting all these threads comes with a grim, eerie air as the new case sparks obsessive hope for the police officers and family of a long-missing girl. The fraught stillness gets overtaken by the plot, but the twists will satisfy the genre’s fans.

Suranne Jones in Vigil.Credit: Binge BBC

Vigil (season 2)

The new season of this Scottish police drama opens with the same cracking pace as the first, but it has a location issue: a military base where a drone test has been bloodily hijacked isn’t the original claustrophobic setting of a nuclear submarine where a crewman has been murdered. The physical pressure isn’t there, but the sharp-edged dynamic of investigating detectives and off-duty couple Amy Silva (Suranne Jones) and a now pregnant Kirsten Longacre (Rose Leslie) remains. The first episode gets a lot of pieces into play. Hopefully they snap together.

Prefab Future House

Prefab Future House

Tapping into both housing affordability and housing sustainability, this 25-minute Australian design documentary explores the next wave of architectural collaborations: carbon-negative constructions that adapt to their surroundings and can be assembled in a matter of weeks. Director Matt Bird captures the connecting philosophies of the practitioners, including architect Peter Stutchbury and online publisher-turned-builder Oscar Martin, and the practical implementation of making their blueprints a reality. Inspiration from the Australian landscape and 21st century materials tie together neatly in what is a thoughtful, optimistic rejoinder to the McMansion era.

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