Before Hulu’s Reprisal, it seemed as though the world of pulp-inspired crime dramas had been relegated primarily to Cinemax. The HBO sister network offered up two of TV’s best examples of the genre with the Bruce Lee-inspired Warrior and the Carla Gugino-led Jett. The two followed in the footsteps of the pulpy noir series Banshee, which ran for four seasons and essentially turned Cinemax into an unlikely destination for quality crime shows with a premium cable edge. 

Reprisal, by comparison, is Hulu’s latest streaming offering, a gritty and stylish tale of revenge starring the always fantastic Abigail Spencer (Timeless) as Doris Quinn, a young woman who was dragged behind a car by her brother and his gang of gear-head greasers (for reasons) and left for dead. After some time, Doris understandably finds herself looking for some payback. It’s a personal quest she undertakes with a tremendous amount of style and patience, and with a surprisingly large appetite for violence. 

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The series, from creator and writer Josh Corbin, will likely earn comparisons to Sons of Anarchy for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is the presence of Ron Perlman as a Detroit gangster who tries to shake Doris down for her piece of a restaurant empire she helped build. It’s some time after the car-dragging incident and Doris has begun a new life with her ailing husband, played by Rectify creator Ray McKinnon (himself an alum of Sons of Anarchy and its spinoff Mayans M.C.). The family of McKinnon’s character is none too pleased at the thought of this young woman coming in and taking away their inheritance — despite the fact that she’s solely responsible for making the business in question successful — resulting in a standoff between Doris and her family by marriage, one that soon turns extraordinarily violent after her stepson makes the mistake of underestimating what she’s is capable of. 

That seems to be a common thread running throughout the first few episodes of the 10-episode first season, one that Spencer’s onscreen persona and performance are uniquely suited to. She plays Doris with a humble, almost dowdy facade, one that puts her adversaries — men, mostly — at ease, thinking they can easily overpower her with threats or actual acts of violence. But Doris’s patience extends to putting herself in harm’s way until the time has come for her to strike. And strike she does near the end of the first episode. It’s a swift, elegant, and brutal demonstration of her power and willingness to cut down anyone who gets in the way of what she plans to accomplish, and it sets the stage for the often surprising events that are set to unfold. 

Though Reprisal is primarily about Doris’s quest for vengeance, it operates almost like an ensemble, spending time with the various gangs who live in a kind of 1950s world of hot rods, pinup girls, and overblown turf wars. It’s stylistic storytelling to the extreme, reminiscent of the Jets and Sharks in West Side Story and the Crazy 88s in Kill Bill. That’s particularly true of the other standouts in the series, a trio of liquored-up bagmen and brawlers who call themselves the Three River Phoenixes. Played by an incredibly engaging Rhys Wakefield (The Purge), the always fun David Dastmalchian (Ant-Man), and relative newcomer Mena Massoud (Aladdin), the three look and act as though they just stepped off a page of Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips’s Criminal. 

The River Phoenixes are in league with a group of gangsters headed up by Joel (Rodrigo Santoro), Bash (Gilbert Owuor), and Burt (Rory Cochran), who are the bridge to some of the show’s most fascinating characters like Meredith (Madison Davenport) and Queenie (Lea DeLaria). As engaging as these characters can be, and as surprising as some of their storylines are, the appeal of Reprisal is in the way it tells its story. 

It’s dark, violent, and often coarse, just like, say, Sons of Anarchy. But, unlike that series, Reprisal exudes a level of self-awareness that eschews the self-seriousness that so often undermined SoA. Reprisal is fun, and it wants to be fun, above all else. That means the series leaves room for extended sequences where characters break the fourth wall to explain what it is they do in this violent world and why they like it so damn much. It also means the series isn’t shy about showcasing some virtuosic filmmaking, with sequences set to familiar pop/rock songs that are not only meme-worthy, but will likely become its claim to fame. 

Most of all, though, Reprisal is smart and surprising. While it could have benefitted from being two or three hours shorter, it uses its time wisely enough to become a thrilling binge-watch, something that can be done in a weekend and that actively encourages that kind of viewing by virtue of its kinetic second half. As far as pulpy crime stories fueled by chaos are concerned, Reprisal is a gem of a series, one that boasts terrific performances and clever, inventive filmmaking to become a fun — but dark and brutal — piece of late-in-the-year entertainment. 

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Reprisal season 1 will be available to stream on Hulu beginning Friday, December 6.