By Art Schmidt
Netflix debuted the first season of Marvel’s Jessica Jones last Friday, November 20, 2015, in the same one-hour (roughly), thirteen-episode format as many of its other hit series including House of Cards and Marvel’s Daredevil. The fourth official Marvel Cinematic Universe property to hit the small screen in live-action format since the success of the first Marvel’s The Avengers movie in 2012, Jessica Jones takes the edgy, sexy, delightfully menacing feeling of Daredevil and adds in more edge, more sex, and more menace.
And the result is more awesome.
FYI, from now on, we’re going to drop the “Marvel’s …” in front of every-friggin-thing because: A) Even Matt Murdock could see the heat from the Marvel logo coming off of a flat screen, and B) We get it, we even agree, Marvel has done a fantastic job with its properties these last several years, but even us ardent fans of all things Marvel are starting to get sick of seeing that red-and-white logo plastered in front of every-friggin-thing.
Whereas the well-written Daredevil series focused on a heroic figure trying to overcome the odds and clean up the streets in the neighborhood where he grew up, Jessica Jones is almost a character out of a bad crime novel. She’s a borderline alcoholic private dick who huddles in alleys and hangs from fire escapes to get dirty pictures for the seedy, pitiful clients she gets from the law firm full of sharks she contracts out to. She lives in a run-down apartment which barely doubles as her office, she turns to the bottle when she can’t sleep and then goes out late at night, not to fight crime but to take more pictures of people at their worst so she can make more money to buy more booze.
At this point you might be asking: Where are the super powers? Where are the super villains? What is this show?
I already told you. The show is Awesome. But don’t take my word for it.
With a Rotten Tomatoes score of 91% (Fresh!), an 8.8 on IMDB, and glowing reviews nearly everywhere you care to look, Jessica Jones is certainly a hit by those subjective standards. And yes, it has super-stuffs too. But more down-to-earth super stuff, much like Daredevil. Jessica uses her strength to open stuck doors, to leap up to third-story perches (all the better to spy on folks for her jealous clients!) and occasionally beat up said clients when they try to take their frustrations out on her. Oh, and once in a while, if she happens to be at the right place at the right time (and sober), she’ll save a stranger’s life.
Playing the reluctant, foul-mouthed hero is Krysten Ritter (Breaking Bad, Gilmore Girls, Veronica Mars), who is seemingly born for the role. She walks with the attitude of someone who can kick anybody’s butt but would really rather not put up with the hassle. Her mouth hangs open in a defiant, anti-social snarl and her big, dark eyes bathe everyone in open disdain and suspicion. Ritter’s slightly unruly mop of raven black hair is almost a character in itself, falling in chaotic strands or falling straight off of her shoulder to emphasize Jessica’s mood almost like Medusa’s serpents. Her voice shifts from attitude to frustration to sorrow with a natural deftness that makes the occasionally comic-booky dialogue come off authentic and convincing.
Jessica’s origin story is talked around but not played out in any manner we’ve come to expect. She has super strength and the ability to super-jump (maybe sort-of fly, or “controlled fall” as the heroine puts it), and she once wore a super suit, but when we are introduced to Jessica, those days are far behind her. Her estranged sister is a local radio show host with a history in kids television, and her neighbors are a loose collection of misfits just like her.
The show introduces Luke Cage, played by Mike Colter (Zero Dark Thirty, Men in Black 3, Salt), a Marvel character with super abilities who is also from Hell’s Kitchen and floats in and out of Jessica’s life throughout the season, in different ways. Colter will star in his own Netflix series, Luke Cage, set to debut next year. After that, he is destined to join forces with Jessica, Daredevil and the as-yet-unseen Iron Fist to star in the super hero series The Defenders (no current release date).
Wait. Who are The Defenders?
One answer would be, correctly, that The Defenders are a little-known super hero group from an obscure corner of the Marvel comic book universe who most people, even passing comic fans, have never heard of nor read about. It has started and stopped several times since its debut in 1971, and has had an ever-changing lineup of first-, second-, and third-tier heroes in its ranks.
Sound familiar? Ever heard of Guardians of the Galaxy? Ah, now you get it…
The Defenders is Netflix’s bid for its own Marvel super hero team franchise (a small screen version of The Avengers, if you will). Judging by the innaugural seasons of Netflix’s first two Marvel series, Daredevil and Jessica Jones, The Defenders may just be everything many fans were looking for in Agents of Shield: a weekly fix of Marvel’s Cinematic Universe, with superhero wonder, fantastic characters, satisfying action and great storytelling, all shrunk down for the small screen. Oh, but grittier and sexier and darker. Much, much darker…
Which brings us back to Jessica Jones, whose story does actually follow many common super hero tropes, such as the costume (thrown away), love interest (cast aside, retrieved, and then cast aside again, often), sidekick (who is also her sometimes love interest), and arch nemesis. Oh, and that last one? He is a doozy.
Jessica’s nemesis is named Kilgrave and played by none other than the Tenth Doctor himself, David Tennant. Kilgrave is as maniacal, twisted and downright Evil as his Doctor Who was charismatic and likable. Evil with a capital ‘E’. Kilgrave, AKA the Purple Man, is a painfully sadistic human being who can control people with his words. The Purple Man had Jessica under his control prior to the series timeline, where she suffered in his thrall, forced to do unspeakable things, until by chance she was able to escape. Then she went about putting her life back together sans costume and cape, washing away the pain of her memories with alcohol and work.
Once Jessica learns that he is still alive, she becomes obsessed with tracking him down and making sure he goes back to being dead. The story is really about much more than that, however, a radical departure from the super hero norm and a very satisfying mix of the good and the evil which struggles within us all. And that’s what makes Jessica Jones such compelling story telling. She struggles, not just with super villains, and not just with the faux teen angst wrapped up as adult conflict we see all too often in the print comics. She struggles with right and wrong, and the meaning, the purpose of it all and her decision to play a role in it. She does stupid things, and makes bad mistakes, even when not under Kilgrave’s control, and she beats herself up over it.
But she learns from her mistakes, though painfully slow at it, and tries to do the right thing, though painful in many ways. Jessica brings out the super when it’s necessary, but she tries to deal with things first as a human being. Which often means in a poorly thought-out, reckless and dangerous manner.
And it’s darn fun to watch.
With a great supporting cast including Carrie Ann Moss (The Matrix trilogy, Disturbia, Vegas Television Series), Rachael Taylor (Transformers, Grey’s Anatomy), Eka Darville (Empire, The Originals, Power Rangers Samurai) and Wil Traval (Once Upon a Time, Primal), Jessica Jones is a rich, hard to turn off story set in the back alley, ever-expanding corner of the MCU that Netflix has now staked out for its own. If the forthcoming series live up to the standard set by Jones, I’ll be chillin’ with Netflix for many, many years to come.
All thirteen episodes of season one of Jessica Jones are streaming now on Netflix. If you don’t check it out, you have no one but yourself to blame.