Sometimes in show business, people know a project isn’t working even as they’re making it. That sensation underscores every episode of Amazon’s Jack Ryan, the latest vehicle for Tom Clancy’s elite-level spy character. Jack Ryan’s a bad show, full of cliches and eye-rolling dialogue. The people involved seem like they’re trapped, and as a viewer, you certainly feel that way, too.
It’s a bummer, because John Krasinski, your Jim Halpert and surprise A Quiet Place auteur, is occupying the Ryan role this time around, stepping into shoes once worn by guys like Harrison Ford and Chris Pine and Alec Baldwin (Ben Affleck was Jack Ryan as well, but he kinda lowers the prestige of the list, so we’re leaving him out for convenience). Krasinski is a great Jack Ryan on paper—he has the right physicality and charisma—but he’s not great on this show. Maybe it’s not his fault.
Jack Ryan tracks the hero from bumbling analyst to hardcore operative, but the show takes that path at a sprint. By the end of the first episode, Krasinski is already locked up in a fight scene, so the pilot’s first 40 minutes, more focused on the agent fielding calls at his desk, are rendered outliers. It’s too bad, because those first two acts offer a glimpse at the different sort of spy show Jack Ryan could have been, something closer to the intelligence-minded Zero Dark Thirty than the field-oriented 24. There’s a good version of this show that capitalizes on Krasinski’s strengths. This isn’t it.
But instead of just bagging on Jack Ryan, we’re going to focus on saving John Krasinski from traps like this in the future. We’re going to look at his strengths and weaknesses as an actor/director and then calculate his next move. If you’re not sold when all is said and done, you can just binge-watch The Office again. Let’s go.
Part I: Finding His Strengths
A good place to start this exercise is to examine the best moments of John Krasinski’s career. These are very obvious: The Office and A Quiet Place. Now, we have to figure out what these two things have in common, not an easy task when positioning a workplace sitcom next to a horror movie.
The Office asks Johnny (we’re going to call him Johnny from here, because that feels friendly and we want John Krasinski to be our friend) to be reactive, snarky and just a bit cynical. A Quiet Place asks Johnny to be reactive also, but in equal turns commanding and nurturing. Knowing Johnny excelled in both roles, we can say with assurance the ideal part carries all of these traits.
In other words, the ultimate John Krasinski role is a leading turn with a firm worldview and some healthy snark, but it also gives our guy lots of room to interact with different kinds of people (because one thing Johnny is very good at is playing with others, no matter if those people love him or threaten him or make fun of him or hunt his children using sound).
Part II: Playing to His Strengths
All that said, we have a few template options for the ultimate John Krasinski movie:
- A sports flick. It’s amazing Johnny hasn’t done a sports movie yet. The most obvious role? A coach. He has the hair and the lank to justify a former-player backstory and he would look great holding a clipboard and directing plays from the sidelines. He’d be great with the athletes and the cute history teacher who falls in love with him and the take-no-bull principal who wants to cut funding from the team (this part you have to suspend your disbelief about, because what school would cut funding from the basketball team instead of the theater program, amiright?).
- A romantic comedy. This one is quite obvious, but what’s smart about Johnny’s career so far is that he’s sort of done rom-com things already through his other roles. A Quiet Place is a bit of a romance, so is The Office and even Jack Ryan has some will-they/won’t-they elements, too. If Johnny wanted an easy check, he could sign on for a rom-com no problem. We’d pay for a ticket.
- A Simpsons-style cartoon. Okay, this one takes a bit of finesse, but here’s the pitch: Johnny was great as Secretariat in BoJack Horseman. He also gave strong voice work in Monsters University and Robot Chicken. Overall, he has a really distinctive and versatile vocal tembor. So why “Simpsons-style?” Because on The Simpsons, all the voice actors record their lines together, providing that interplay Johnny needs.
- A team-oriented spy thriller. I know, this sounds a lot like Jack Ryan, but here’s how we fix it: Jack Ryan bailed way too early on the office-centered stuff, when Johnny’s playing Jack Ryan the Analyst. In those scenes, Johnny chums it up with coworkers and riffs with his boss and asserts himself in meetings—there’s a tiny taste of Jim Halpert. But then, Jack Ryan forces Johnny into solo missions out in the field, and the magic disappears. If he had a spy show that put more emphasis on teamwork, Johnny’s talent would be front and center in a fresh non-Office environment. Plus, if 13 Hours is any indication, the dude can still bring the action when it comes time to mobilize.
Part III: The Ultimate John Krasinski Movie
We have a whole Denny’s menu of options now, so let’s Grand Slam this situation and combine all the favorites into one thing.
For the foundation of the ultimate John Krasinski role, we’ll choose a genre that can contain all the other things we talked about above: spy thriller. In a spy show, Johnny can have a love interest and an athletic background, and he can flex his vocal talent to say things like “Tell us your informant!” or “With all due respect, sir” or “They’ve turned the tables on us; we’re pawns in their game, now.” The tweak? Make it a two-hander and give Johnny a partner to run with. Make it Dev Patel. No, make it Garrett Hedlund. No, make it Rainn Freaking Wilson. That’s it—somebody call their reps.
The details fall into place from here. Emily Blunt plays the rogue agent who will always reject Johnny’s advances. John Boyega plays his hotshot rival in the agency. Sarah Paulson plays the bureau chief (with a heart of gold). Plus—this is where we lump in the sports stuff—there’s an agent-in-training who Johnny has to mentor from time to time. His name’s Chip. He’s played by Tye Sheridan.
It’s like Threat Level Midnight meets Jack Ryan meets Hoosiers meets Mr. and Mrs. Smith. We’ll call it James Robert: Shadow Mission: Race Against Time: Reloaded, With Love.
That’s the ultimate John Krasinski movie.