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‘Reacher’ flexes its muscles with a second season that doesn’t hit soft

<i>Brooke Palmer/Prime Video</i><br/>Shaun Sipos
Brooke Palmer/Prime Video
Shaun Sipos

Review by Brian Lowry, CNN

(CNN) — Despite its big swings with series like “The Lord of the Rings,” some of Amazon’s clearest Prime Video successes have involved more meat-and-potato-type offerings, like “Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan” and “Reacher.” The latter returns for a second season that again casts Alan Ritchson as an appropriately hulking version of the former Army investigator, this time given a strong motivation to punch first and ask questions later.

Again working from Lee Child’s books, the plot of “Reacher’s” second season recalls another Amazon offering with a military bent, the Chris Pratt vehicle “The Terminal List,” as an old army buddy of Jack Reacher’s has been murdered, and someone seems to be gunning for other members of their former unit.

That creates an excuse to surround the taciturn protagonist with a team, which helps, played by Maria Sten, Serinda Swan and Shaun Sipos, the last of whom asks – when informed that Reacher hitchhikes from place to place – “What kind of lunatic is picking up the world’s biggest drifter?”

It’s a good question, as is why anyone would look at Ritchson’s Reacher – who physically resembles the character’s description much better than Tom Cruise ever did – and decides the first thing they want to do is take a swing at him.

Then again, given the show’s simple pleasures, even that might qualify as overthinking things. Mostly, those encounters create the opportunity for Reacher to beat the living stuffing out of people and deliver Dirty Harry-style one-liners, such as when he’s told he hit a suspect too hard. “I don’t hit soft,” he mutters.

The minimalist nature of the show extends to the villains, which include Robert Patrick as the head of security at a shadowy corporation that figures in the colleague’s death – snarling lines like “I just want them dead by tomorrow” – for reasons that Reacher and company must determine.

Reuniting Reacher with his old team takes a bit of the weight off Ritchson, creating more of an “NCIS”-type feel, just with more graphic violence and a little sex thrown in because, well, streaming. With “Jack Ryan” having recently finished its run, Amazon made the no-brainer decision to renew “Reacher” for a third season before the second even premiered, a tacit acknowledgement of the show’s visceral appeal.

Having played the DC heroes Aquaman and Hawk in CW shows before slipping into Reacher’s shoes, Ritchson manages to mix wry wit with embodying the character’s larger-than-life qualities. And with an abundance of source material courtesy of the books, after trying movies, “the world’s largest drifter” appears to have found a comfortable place to call home.

“Reacher” begins its second season December 15 on Amazon Prime Video.

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