The internet seems to hate Chris Pratt a lot. And the hatred is so visceral that it kind of seeps into your brain too. But when you sit with it, you begin to realize that it’s a whole lot of nothing, and you are being told to hiss at someone who you exclusively know via their work. Now, there’s a point to be made about a white man’s immense success in Hollywood. For that, Pratt and many other white actors probably deserve criticism, especially if they aren’t utilizing all the opportunities they’re getting. To be honest, most filmmakers haven’t been able to tap into Pratt’s range or charm, thereby making him appear very basic in all the blockbuster-level stuff he’s doing. All that said, if he doesn’t at least get an Emmy nomination for his work in “The Terminal List,” it’ll be a shame.
Based on Jack Carr’s novel of the same name, “The Terminal List” is written by Tolu Awosika, David DiGilio, Olumide Odebunmi, Hennah Sekandary, Max Adams, Lisa Long, John Lopez, Brooke Roberts, and Daniel Shattuck. The episodes are directed by Frederick E.O. Toye, Sylvain White, M.J. Bassett, Tucker Gates, Ellen Kuras, and (drum rolls please) Antoine Fuqua. The series follows Commander James Reece (Chris Pratt) attending the burial ceremony of his Navy SEAL platoon, called the Alpha Squad. In a flashback sequence, we see Reece leading his men (and a member of the Syrian Democratic Force) through a tunnel to extract a target. They are ambushed, and everyone except Reece is killed in combat. When Reece is forced to remember it all, he experiences lapses in his memory. But things get real when his wife, Lauren (Riley Keough), and daughter, Lucy (Arlo Mertz), face mortal danger.
As mentioned in the title, “The Terminal List” is part psychological horror, part conspiracy thriller, and part survival actioner (I’ve referenced Rambo because it’s easy to understand). And you know that these sub-genres vary widely in terms of tone. But the directors and the writers make it work by not trying to mash them together, but by seamlessly transitioning from one tone to another, while committing fully to every single one of them. The first three episodes truly seem like it is something out of James Wan’s “Malignant,” where Reece’s reality constantly shifts, and you begin to fear what he’s going to do next. When the truth of what’s actually happening to Reece comes out, it plays out like an expansive paranoia thriller, akin to “The Manchurian Candidate” or “Side Effects.” Once Reece takes things into his own hands, the showrunners go into full-on “First Blood,” “John Wick,” “Extraction,” “The Contractor,” and “Without Remorse” mode.
The craft on display is undoubtedly impressive. The level of detail in terms of the production design (Warren Alan Young), art direction (Robert W. Joseph and Mark Larkin), set design (Bryan Hurley and Kelly Berry), costume design (Molly Maginnis), and makeup design (Michelle Chung and Brigette A. Myre) is insane. The stunt work, practical effects, and VFX are top-notch. Ruth Barrett’s music, Evans Brown and Armando Salas’s cinematography (some of the lighting is a little flat), and Scott Turner, Sara Mineo, and Jim Page’s editing make the show very engaging. But the one person who takes all of this work and propels it through the proverbial is the star executive producer, Christopher Michael Pratt. The way he portrays Reece’s physical and mental trauma, the way he carries himself in every single scene, the way he handles his weapons (like it’s an extension of his body), the way he intimidates, and the way he cares, is so bloody satisfying to watch.
There’s a lot to be said about how the modern entertainment business model traps good to great actors in these endless cycles of dry, gray-looking products. Yes, the money is good, but what about the art? After watching “The Terminal List,” you can clearly see the untapped potential of Pratt, every drop of it, on your small screen. Since his character is a Navy SEAL, it is tough to empathize with him because he has killed for money and under the garb of patriotism. But since Reece realizes that too, it becomes a little (just a little) easier for Pratt to make him relatable. And in the last three episodes, he even hits your tear ducts. Still, if you can’t look past his Navy SEAL identity, there are two scenes that will certainly make you respect Pratt. One involves a landslide, and the other sees Reece take a walk through the memory lane, trying to avert the inevitable. It is gut-wrenching.
The rest of the cast is amazing. Riley Keough and Arlo Mertz largely appear in flashbacks, and their bond with Pratt’s Reece is palpable. Constance Wu seamlessly shifts between earnest journalism and pulse-pounding action. She has a conversational scene in the final episode that is, for lack of a better word, hypnotic. Taylor Kitsch is technically the second lead, and his brotherhood with Pratt feels organic. He has his fair share of action scenes, and he handles himself like a boss. The same can be said about Tyner Rushing. As one of the few female Navy SEALs in the show, she should’ve had more screen time. Jai Courtney knocks it out of the park as one of the villains of the show, while looking like the real-life villain that is Dan Bilzerian. The resemblance is uncanny! Sean Gunn makes a mark as Jai’s evil sidekick. JD Pardo and Christina Vidal deliver standout performances. Jeanne Tripplehorn, Nick Chinlund, Matthew Rauch, Paul McCrane, LaMonica Garrett, and everyone else in the supporting cast are, frankly speaking, excellent!
Let’s talk about some of the controversial elements. Firstly, the fridging. Why does every revenge story need to prop up a woman (or women) only to kill them so that the protagonist can be motivated? Isn’t the death of an entire platoon enough to spring Reece into action? That said, “The Terminal List” does flesh out the women in Reece’s life, which leads to some tear-jerking moments. Secondly, the way Reece walks away from his injuries is a little convenient. There’s one fall, in particular, that should’ve killed him, but it doesn’t. That really breaks the illusion of realism that the show otherwise maintains. Thirdly, is it military propaganda? Not exactly. The conflict and corruption border on science fiction. The army and the corporations they collaborate with are the enemies. It’s very explicitly stated in a scene with Pratt, Garrett, and a massive log of wood. But throughout the show (and in a scene between Pratt and Kitsch), a great deal of emphasis is put on the camaraderie that’s forged through the Navy SEAL training program and the wars they fight together. So, make of that what you will.
In conclusion, “The Terminal List” is one of the best TV shows or web series (whatever they are calling these pieces of long-form storytelling nowadays) of the year. It’s certainly one of the best action shows of all time. Every episode is like a blockbuster-level action film, complete with practical effects, intricate stunt work, and lots and lots of explosions. But what grounds it all is the drama and humanization of soldiers who are constantly turned into weapons of mass destruction by people who make money from war. There’s not a second in this heavily built eight-episode series that the showrunners take things lightly. The dedication is real and worthy of a lot of appreciation. The supporting cast is fantastic, and they never fail to nail every single scene they are in. And then there’s Chris Pratt, leading from the front, giving his 1000 percent every time he is on-screen and proving how much more he has to offer. So, if it’s not clear enough yet, please watch “The Terminal List,” preferably on a big screen with the loudest sound system.