Growing up as a young Jewish boy in Long Island, N.Y., “Hunters” creator David Weil used to hear a lot of stories about his grandmother’s time during the Holocaust. She was a survivor, and what she described felt to him then “like the stuff of comic books and superheroes,” he said at the Television Critics Assn. press tour panel for the show Tuesday.
“These stories of great good but grand evil, the horrors of which are hard to understand,” he explained.
As Weil matured, he admitted he struggled with feelings of birthright and “what was my responsibility now to continue her story?” He became a scholar of the Holocaust and what was once imagined in his mind with “poppy colors began to be saturated and I began to see the depravement.” From that, the tone of his new series was born, and it is one Weil said he hopes will deliver both a sense of “catharsis,” as well as a “sense of wish fulfillment.”
“Hunters” follows a group of vigilante Nazi hunters who are living in 1977 New York City. After discovering that hundreds of high-ranking Nazi officials are living in the United States and conspiring to create a Fourth Reich on U.S. soil, the team sets out to bring them to stop their plan for genocide.
Although the inspiration for the series came from a very real and personal place for Weil, he admitted he did invent he idea of Nazi hunters. In reality, Nazis did immigrate to the U.S., but when they were found, they were attempted to be brought to justice by the more conventional method of the court system.
Weil said he set the story in the 1970s so that characters who are Holocaust survivors — a community that gets smaller every day — could be present in the action of the storytelling. First created five years ago, Weil said the show is a “love letter” to his grandmother, but he also noted that as the world around us sees “rising anti-Semistism, racism, xenophobia,” he has had a greater desire to “shed light on hidden crimes, hidden truths.”
“The purpose of this show is an allegorical tale in many ways, to draw the parallels between the ’30s and ’40s in Europe and the ’70s in the States and especially today with the racism and anti-Seminitism and xenophobia, the likes of which we haven’t seen in decades,” Weill said. “This show is really a question. It’s, ‘What do you do?'”
The titular characters in the show are trying to “reclaim the power,” Weil continued, but the question the show sets out to pose is, “If you hunt monsters, do you risk becoming a monster yourself?”
While executive producer Nikki Toscano stressed that the show is not “trying to humanize [Nazis] in any way,” it does recognize the “spectrum of evil that we’re dealing with. There is one extreme [and then] there are other Nazis that have various explanations: ‘I was following orders; I was as kid'” for their behavior, she pointed out.
“They were human beings. We don’t try to portray them as caricatures,” Weil added. The show wants to “begin to understand why did they do these horrible things and in a sense how can we prevent that from happening again?”
“Hunters” premieres Feb. 21 on Amazon.