jessica-jones-poster

After Daredevil debuted on Netflix this past April, the buzz around Marvel Television’s partnership with the streaming giant reached deafening levels. “Could all superhero shows be this good?” became the question asked by many a critic and fan. Certainly The Flash and Agent Carter have produced enjoyable and fun moments, but they never really came as close as Daredevil did to being labeled “great television”.

Jessica Jones, the follow up to Daredevil, has a lot to live up to in this regard. It’s a series that sets up the next piece of Marvel and Netflix’s Defenders line-up and is adapted fairly liberally from an acclaimed run of comics (Marvel’s Alias by Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Gaydos). With the series on the verge of premiering this Friday, you may be wondering just how it shakes out. After getting an opportunity to view the first seven episodes, here’s what I see as working in the show’s favor and where things may be going awry. Keep in mind that each of these points have the unspoken caveat of “thus far”.

What works:

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  • The star: Krysten Ritter embodies the role of Jessica Jones better than I could have imagined. Her surly demeanor, mixed with an ability to convey a real sense of weariness, resonates in every moment she’s on screen. Her Jessica is not afraid to use, abuse, and lie to her own friends if it meets whatever end she’s aiming for. That sense of moral grey allows her to stand-apart in a sea of fairly white-hatted do-gooders in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. One of my favorite touches she brings to the role is in how she drunkenly slurs much of her dialogue in an ever so slight fashion, even when a bottle isn’t necessarily in her hand.
  • The love interest: Jessica Jones introduces us to Netflix’s next Marvel hero: Luke Cage. And again, Cage is no simple do-gooder. He’s a complex character who manages to feel both trustworthy and menacing at once. While I don’t know what Cage’s status quo will be when the show hits its closing moments, I’m doubly excited for Colter under Cheo Hodari Coker’s pen when Luke Cage airs next year.
  • The villain: David Tennant, to his credit, is probably as good here as I’ve seen him in years in this show’s interpretation of The Purple Man. He makes Kilgrave, the sickly obsessed individual who is the series’ foil, a eerily loathsome creature that has clearly allowed his own abilities to heighten an already twisted psyche. The show is at its best when its star is interacting and on screen with these two individuals, and it speaks volumes about this trio when the show doesn’t quite gel the same way without them.
  • The genre twist: Jessica Jones spins the superhero story as a neo-noir. From the opening theme, with its jazz infused upright bass and piano swirl, to the hard-drinking detective, all of the elements of a great Raymond Chandler story are on display. It’s also hard to not appreciate how it transmutes the conflict between the hero and the series antagonist into a thriller, adding something a little new to a well-worn genre.
  • The action: By “action” I’m not talking purely about combat here. The series uses fighting scenes sparingly, with Jones looking more irked at the inconvenience of having to quickly clobber people than pumped for battle. But here the action also includes sex, which is arguably a bigger part of the show. Jones is, logically, as aggressive when it comes to sex as she is with the rest of her life. She’s not afraid to take the lead, where most series would relegate her character to a more passive role in this regard. On a broader scale, the show portrays a variety of relationships and attitudes towards sex without judgement.

What doesn’t work:

  • The unsupportive cast: The fantastic performances by Ritter, Tennant, and Colter only highlight the amateur players that surround them. Jones’ building (and life) is filled with them. The most glaring of those would be a semi-important character: Jones’ best friend, Trish Walker (Rachael Taylor), the show’s take on Hellcat.  Walker shows up sporadically enough to lack any real development, and the development she’s given falls flat. She solely serves as a vulnerability and liability for Jones. Casting for even more minor roles is worse; Jones has three neighbors that show up on camera and all are varying degrees of awful. One neighbor in particular, Robyn, is arguably the worst character Marvel television has ever produced.
  • The stretch: I’m only through seven episodes, so I can’t say how pacing works through the series’ end, but so far the plot feels focused but too thin. Kilgrave is Jones’ sole target of importance, with limited and related subplots that feel like the show is only biding time until Kilgrave can show up on screen again. The few times the series detours into unrelated storylines, the payoff is minimal (or even eye-rolling). The narrative omits so called “Monster of the Week” style episodes, but in doing so comes up short on several occasions, as so far it doesn’t feel like the Kilgrave plot is enough to sustain the full order of episodes.
  • Dark isn’t deep: Jessica Jones is, on its surface, an incredibly dark show, complete with violence, PTSD, emotional abuse, and sexual trauma. When Jones has a bad flashback or turns to liquor for emotional support, we get acknowledgement of the issues, but it doesn’t go far beyond that. We’re told some character are dealing with it via mechanisms like support groups, but we don’t know what that actually looks like; we don’t see it. Mental illness and sexual abuse are tough subjects to tackle, and it feels like the writers shy away from them, either out of trepidation for portraying them wrong or out of fear of alienating certain segments of the audience.
  • The dialogue: No matter how skilled an actor, some lines are impossible to pull off. “Self respect: Get some!” is a great example that sounds straight out of an anti-drugs commercial. At the end of the day, showrunner Melissa Rosenberg’s main credentials still include the Twilight series (in fairness, the source material wasn’t much to work with) and the early seasons of Dexter (that haven’t aged all that well), and sometimes cheesy, tone-deaf dialogue breaks through the show’s tougher exterior. If you’re aiming for a tone like Veronica Mars, cheesy can work, but when a series is cast out of the gritty Daredevil mode, it can feel out of place.

On a final note, I’ll add that Jessica Jones is a difficult series to binge-watch, much like I found Daredevil (but critics with deadlines don’t have much choice!). It’s an effort that benefits more from one or two episode viewings at a time, and taking in four or five can make those smaller negatives wear on the viewer after a while. Still, Jessica Jones once again proves that Netflix’s production of Marvel series is working significantly better than Marvel’s network programming. We’ll see how the series shakes out as a whole when the full set of episodes drops this Friday, but thus far it’s on track to be one of the better super hero television shows without toppling Daredevil‘s place at the top of that list.

25 COMMENTS

  1. I’m surprised by the seeming lack of interest in this show on several comics-related sites. Very few comments posted.

    But maybe I shouldn’t be surprised. If the characters wore spandex, masks and capes, there would probably be more interest. Cinephile (film buff) sites seem to be more enthusiastic about “Jessica Jones.”

  2. I respectfully disagree that this is a step down from Daredevil. I think this show has improved on all the shortcomings Daredevil had. And I truly adored Daredevil.

  3. Agreed with Erik, while this show doesn’t have the same level of kinetic energy as DD, nor the same amount of opportunities to provide some truly great geek-out moments, I think Jessica Jones is a stronger series thus far. I just finished episode seven myself and am excited to see how this all plays out. It’s extremely intense and well-crafted.

  4. Fair enough. In the comparison between the two, I just think Jessica Jones’ lows are much lower than Daredevil’s, which felt like a more consistent ride throughout. I just can’t muster much interest in the Trish Walker, Jeryn Hogarth, or neighbor plotlines. But YMMV as always.

  5. I agree the show was a step down from Daredevil. I really just think that Jessica Jones doesn’t work in a newly forming MCU, it lost a lot of the charm of the source material while still managing capture the characters really well. I loved that Jeryn was played so strongly.

    I didn’t like how it cut corners to ratchet the tension. In the source material Purple Man never raped Jessica, the scars were all from intense and well constructed mind games. The show took the easy route over and over, without making anything actually deeply dark. Implied drug abuse, etc… the show felt overly lazy to me. I was disappointed.

    There were tons of tiny things to enjoy. I found the Patsy story well constructed, if badly acted and Luke Cage’s first fight scene was amazing. I don’t think anything in the show will bring me back for more.

  6. I mostly agree with the pros and cons you listed. I don’t personally think the show is a step down from Daredevil. While I enjoyed both shows, I think the shows were different enough that it makes them difficult to compare fairly. Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of similarities to Daredevil, but I think Jessica Jones trades out a lot of comic fantasia and action in favor of exploring realistic people and drama. For example, you see the life of normal down-trodden citizens making reference to the “god-like” Avengers, there is the social fall out and how it affects people like Jessica and Luke, you see deep exploration of psychological problems like what Kilgrave did to Jessica. A lot of this minutia is ignored in comic book shows, even Daredevil to some degree.

  7. Chaos McKenzie hits most of the issues I have taken with this show. Too many corners were cut from the source material. I understand why they had to do it in order to shoe horn it into the universe they are building, but with tropes galore and cliche after cliche I find myself less and less willing to forgive.

    DareDevil going its own way didn’t seem like a betrayal of the cannon since it has decades of plots and characters to draw upon. (still hate that they killed Ben Urich) But Jessica Jones has approximately two mini-series worth of plot; they could have been slightly more faithful to some of the major plot points.

    Before this turns into a full blown rant that makes me look like (more of) a lunatic fan boy, I would just like to say that the removal of the language from ALIAS really cramps the flow of the characters. It’s on Netflix. It’s rated TV-MA. Don’t be afraid to use the word fuck or cunt. Marvel wasn’t when it was in print, they shouldn’t in film. Not everything if for kids. The way this show is done is already not child friendly, so pulling the profanity punches is a weak move that serves nothing.

    All in all I’m very disappointed. I had such high hopes after DD, and found this follow up extremely wanting. I fear Cage will follow this more than DD and also be a big let down. Ah well.

  8. I loved it.
    Loved Kristyn Ritter as Jessica (and I have to admit, I was on the fence when she was first cast). She eased my fears and made me a fan.
    Trish “Patsy” Walker was a great character. Her backstory was kind of interesting, and I found myself really rooting for her during the series.
    Anytime Jessica and Luke Cage were on screen, the show was just that much better. The chemistry between the two was perfect, and I am now even more pumped for the Luke Cage series, so we can dig into his life a little.
    Hogarth was a queen B. I wanted to hate her so many times, but she was also so damn compelling to watch, I wanted to see what she would do next. Crazy shit going on there.
    NUKE!!!! I didn’t like the character of Officer Simpson, and honestly felt his storyline was the weakest part of the show…but that’s just my opinion.
    I found myself digging ‘crazy neighbor girl’. She had a lot of issues, but again, fun to watch.
    I liked how Jessica and Luke’s relationship ended on a completely different note than the comic, and some of the other surprises.
    I feel that Killgrave could have been much more menacing if he was played by someone other than Tennant. But everyone seems to love him in this role, so what do I know..?

    All in all I bitched through all 13 episodes in two days. Had a ball watching some of my favorite characters come to life, and hope there is a Season 2 to explore those issues brought up towards the end of the series (Trish’s mom, IGN, etc).

  9. I like this show a lot more than Daredevil. It’s amazingly dark and twisted with an intensity and realism that Daredevil just didn’t have. I liked Daredevil, but this show is greatness plain and simple.

  10. I think the main problem is the pacing and the use of really tired tropes and plotting devices. I was really bored watching this show. I found myself rolling my eyes several times, not only at the morbidly stupid choices of the characters but at good ‘ol deus ex machina swooping in time after time. Regardless of the (somewhat) refreshing thematic backdrop, this show felt horribly predictable.

    As for the gushing critics, I dunno. Either standards have really drifted among their ranks or there’s a perception that not coming out strongly in love with such an obviously feminist show will generate too much hate, given today’s internet.

    I thought Simpson was the only surprising character on the show.

  11. So many things wrong more than right. To be fair Daredevil raised the bar so high. And yes, the plot was stretched too thin and I think the writers didn’t really know how to end this. Anything would have been better than that ending.

  12. @Luke I agree with you on all points.
    Also the feminism in this show feels like pandering. And it feels hollow. And frankly, am so tired of the “damaged chick” cliche.

    @Bendis would roll in his grave if he were dead says:
    I think secretly Bendis hated this because they managed to take away all the dimensions in her character and turned JJ in to a complete asshole for most of the show.

  13. So far I find it boring. I cannot trust reviewers anymore because given the amazing reviews I was really excited. But it is crap. The biggest point is made by the author. Dark does not equal deep. So she’s another damaged chick. Big deal. She an extremely boring and immoral one. The reviews have me baffled. This is not entertaining TV.

  14. I had high hopes for Jessica Jones. Especially because I’ve liked the actress who plays her ever since she played the drug-addict in Breaking Bad.

    Unfortunately (and I’m not sure any of it is her fault), the Marvel show makes her completely bland. I’m guessing the comic book is about as bland, though. The super hero is literally the least interesting person *in* the show. She’s basically MTV’s daria, but super strong. That’s it. She is strong. In 2015, that’s the big super power — which isn’t even unique, because her f***buddy, Luke Cage, basically has the same power (only better, because he’s also invulnerable). Her only other power seems to be constant PTSD and whining… which is getting really tiresome out of super heroes, these days.

    And . . . on top of that, the entire show is laid out in EXACTLY the same format as Dare Devil. Even the way the pasts of the characters are revealed is copy and pasted from Dare Devil. How original.

    For such a feminist show (and according to Salon, a show INTENTIONALLY about GamerGate), they sure did a shit job of making the female lead interesting.

    The only reason I kept watching the show was because while the female character sucked balls, the *male* characters were awesome. I wanted to know more about them. Luke Cage is awesome and compelling. Can’t wait until his series comes. That cop who becomes an ally of the team and has some weird power or something (we never really figure this out, do we?!) is super interesting. I want to know way more about him. And David Tennant as the villain is creepy and scary and awesome to watch.

    …. and on top of everything else, the show is really lacking in action. It feels more like a young-adult Harreit-the-Spy kind of show than a show about brutal bad ass super heroes. Just hour after hour after hour of “muh ptsd” and other bullshit.

    Oh. Oh wait… one more thing… apparently in this world there are frigging ALIENS.. that the entire world knows about… that have like.. landed and visited … AND IT IS NO BIG DEAL.

    I mean, wtf? You try to make the show as realistic and gritty as possible (albeit, for the super hero part, granted)… and then throw in “also the earth has been visited by aliens and everyone knows about them”…

    the f***

    Please go back to the drawing board. Find another female character and do it right this time.

  15. All the characters as so dumb down that I can’t myself to like it. Why does every character feels the need to help out? Duuuuhhhhh.. I didn’t know Killgrave can do that!!! duhhhhhh

  16. One of the biggest disappointments of the year. Started poor and just got worse. Every character is uninteresting and illogical, including the moustache-twirling villain and goody two-shoes lead. The writers want the show to be edgy and complicated, but only go so far as the give Jessica a perpetual scowl and drinking problem. It is entirely cosmetic and superficial. What a letdown.

  17. Agreed. I’m on episode 11, trying really hard to finish the season out, but I just can’t muster it. It’s awful.

    And I agree with your sentiments. The showrunner was not the right choice. Dexter was good for two seasons, and then it turned into a joke. I finally gave up after five seasons. Then again, the public adores Dexter. Good for them, but I really expected something more in the vain of Daredevil.

    As for Twilight, I’ve never watched a single installment.

    The dialogue for Jessica Jones is very vanilla, very WB, very 7th Heaven, just functional dialogue to get a message across. There is no nuance to the dialogue at all. This is a very easy show to write.

    In comparison, Daredevil had far more profound dialogue. I hated when the journalist Ben got killed for this reason. He had some awesome lines. Perhaps that was why he was killed in the first place. It’s hell to write lines for a character that’s always smart, always deep, always wise. But I expected Daredevil’s dialogue to be good, because the showrunner used to do Spartacus, and Spartacus is an absolute bitch to write for, because it has fantastic, nuanced dialogue.

  18. This was SO much a step down from Daredevil and even a step down from Alias, its comic book source. Daredevil was solid in all areas from acting to action to subplots. It was near perfect. The only fault is the final Daredevil suit.

    Anyone who has read Alias will surely be disappointed. This series just managed to portray the very worst of Jessica Jones as a character. Alias was a slow paced series but it was steeped in character development and while Jessica Jones the series had a faster pace, its storylines and subplots were convoluted. Acting was cringe-worthy at times and some subplots completely asinine… that I sometimes questioned the character (or writer’s) intelligence. There was no character growth at all And every character in the series was far more interesting than Jessica. Not entirely sold on Ritter as a capable actress too.

  19. I agree with the pros and cons, and for me the cons are most important. The same redundant weak storyline every episode, the disgustingly predictable twist, the writers should be replaced, period.

  20. Had high hopes and started great had tense moments but too many dumb mistakes, jessica jones got knocked out…by a board. From a chick who got a mob of peoole riled up because she just happened to be i the place the ex druggie was in and over heard hin saying he covered up a murder …sooo stupid,..all just to have Kilgrave escape…inexplicably. ..Again. and again and people keep dying and its just not well written. Honestly ar some point they mention the Avengers and you should be like…Hi, Tony Stark im Jessica Jones i need a murdering Psychopath to be subdued and his powers stripped…Boom done.

  21. Don’t agree it was a step down, AT ALL. The supporting characters are far superior to Daredevil’s, especially Trish.

  22. I’m in the minority of those who doesn’t like the show.

    For me there are just too many plot holes and awful dialogue in the series. I find myself questioning the logic behind the each character’s actions, I mean seriously that Killgrave guy is such a joke of an antagonist. He has all powerful mind control power and all he wants is to be loved, sorry too cliche for me.

    And the subplot of survivor victims with that awful sidekick Malcolm – I just fast forward everything when I see them on screen. You know they are just there to extend the story to 13 episodes.

    I like Krysten Ritter on Breaking Bad but I hate her on this one. Yeah she can deliver the lines and look badass but when it comes to the actual action scenes, you can see that she isn’t very athletic at all. Not only that, I notice that she almost always overacts every scene.

    The only character I like is Luke Cage. For some reason he is the only ones that acts “real” for me and isn’t just there just for some convenient escape to put a lid on a plot hole. The way they build up Hogarth for example, you’d think she’d make a real impact on killing Killgrave but they just made her conveniently stupid for his escape.

    Overall they could have just made it a five episode show and just cut out all the unnecessary parts. There’s just too many side show going on in the background that drags the whole series down.

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