In the post-Tarantino '90s and '00s, there were a lot of movies like Reprisal: violent, stylized thrillers that riffed on genre tropes and provided entertainment that was clever enough but didn't require too much thought. But now, the market for that kind of mid-budget, non-reboot or adaptation movie has bottomed out, and the money is in TV now. Hence, Hulu's noirish, neon-lit thriller series Reprisal. But what works as a movie doesn't always work as a TV show. Reprisal would be a lot of fun if it were 100 minutes. Unfortunately, it's 10 episodes, some of which are fully an hour long. Reprisal suffers from the same problem so many shows in the Peak TV era do: Not enough story to justify the runtime.
Creator Josh Corbin's show tells the story of Doris Quinn, aka Katherine Harlow (Abigail Spencer), a woman who, after being betrayed, dragged from a truck, and left for dead by her gangster brother, engages in a long-game campaign of revenge. She changes her hair, gets a new name, and marries a restaurant owner (Ray McKinnon, who previously worked with Spencer as the showrunner of Rectify but acts with her for the first time here) who lets a faction of the national syndicate — led by Sons of Anarchy's Ron Perlman — launder money through his business. He dies from illness and leaves the restaurant to her, which is the first step in her plan to destroy the gang and get revenge on everyone who has ever wronged or underestimated her, which is basically everyone she's ever met.
If this were all it were, it would be a tight little movie. But there are a ton of subplots and side characters and scenes that would have been cut or condensed if there weren't so much time to fill. Too much time is spent with Ethan (Aladdin's Mena Massoud), the sap to Doris' femme fatale, who joins a subset of the larger Banished Brawlers gang (yup) called the 3 River Phoenixes (that's right) in order to serve as Doris' spy. He's just not that interesting, nor are the other River Phoenixes (I don't know why they're called that). Nobody besides Doris has much of a personality.
Doris, and Abigail Spencer's performance, are the best part of the show. This type of story has been told from the femme fatale's perspective before, but it isn't usually, so it still feels pretty novel to see why this type of character is like this and empathize with her. Spencer is a gifted and versatile actress finally given the one-and-only starring role she deserves. It's a different sort of role than Spencer usually plays, flintier and more violent. She speaks in a breathy little whisper to keep men underestimating her, right up until she wraps a zip-tie around their throats or blows them away with a hidden shotgun.
At the Television Critics Association press tour this summer, Josh Corbin said, "I grew up on Tarantino films, and I am a fan of the violent genre." It was an astute comment, because while Hulu describes this as "hyper-noir," a made-up genre, "violent" is a much better description. One of the draws of this kind of Tarantino-esque thing are scenes of violence that make you approvingly say, "Damn, that was brutal." Why we like this sort of thing is a question for people like Josh Corbin and myself to work out with our therapists, but we do. So, with no moral judgement, how is the violence? Unfortunately, not as brutal as you'd want. It 's OK, but it doesn't quite deliver the sick thrills of a Pulp Fiction (or even a Running Scared or a Smokin' Aces). Nor does its film-noir kitsch feel like more than a jumble of '50s signifiers. There's just not much to it. And that would have been fine for an hour and a half. There are a lot of great revenge thrillers — and they still make those, shouts to John Wick — but single-minded revenge is a tough mood to sustain for 10 hours.
TV Guide Rating: 2.5/5
Reprisal is available to stream on Hulu.