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Inside Streaming (Mar 9th, 2018)

Disney has tapped Jon Favreau to write and produce a live-action "Star Wars" series for its upcoming streaming service. This will be the first-ever non-animated "Star Wars" TV show. Favreau helped to launch the Marvel Cinematic Universe, directing the first two "Iron Man" films in 2008 and 2010. He also helmed the live-action "Jungle Book" remake for Disney in 2016, and is directing the upcoming live action remake of "The Lion King." Though Favreau has never previously directed a "Star Wars" project, he does have some background with the franchise - he appears as an actor in the forthcoming prequel "Solo: A Star Wars Story," and provided the voice of Pre Vizsla in the animated "Clone Wars" series. – NYT

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Netflix and former President Barack Obama are apparently discussing plans for a "production partnership." The deal, according to unnamed sources who spoke with The New York Times and CNN, would likely also include former First Lady Michelle Obama, though it's unclear if the Obamas would be featured on-camera or behind-the-scenes as producers. Two potential shows were described to The Times: one featuring Barack Obama himself moderating discussions about major issues that arose during his presidency, and another featuring Michelle Obama and topics that she championed during her time in the White House, like fitness and nutrition. Neither the Obamas nor Netflix commented on the report. The former president currently appears on Netflix, as the debut guest on David Letterman's new talk show. – CNN

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Major League Baseball (MLB) and YouTube TV are expanding their partnership. Starting today, cable's MLB Network will air on YouTube TV, and soon, the streaming service MLB.tv will also become available. Previously, YouTube TV was home to supplemental MLB content that aired before and after games. No timeline or price structure has yet been posted. Currently, an MLB.tv subscription costs $90 a year to follow a single team, or $116 a year/$25 a month for content from all teams. – ENGADGET

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New Line has purchased the script for "The Saints of Newark," a feature film that serves as a prequel to the iconic HBO series "The Sopranos." "Saints of Newark" was written by "Sopranos" creator David Chase and Lawrence Konner, who also wrote for the series. The film is set during the Newark riots of the 1960s, and focuses on the clashes between Italian-American and African-American gangsters of that era. It will also feature a number of "Sopranos" characters, including Livia and Junior Soprano, as well as Tony Soprano's father, Johnny Boy. Chase will serve as a producer and writer, and will help to select the project's director. – DEADLINE

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Netflix purchased the rights to adapt comic book writer/artist Rob Liefeld's Extreme Universe, as part of a reportedly seven-figure deal. The Extreme Universe covers six different comic books, with a line-up of over 50 characters, including Brigade, Bloodstrike, Cybrid, Re-Gex and Bloodwulf. Akiva Goldsman will oversee a writer's room, which will develop feature film concepts for the characters with interconnected storylines. (Goldsman previously managed the same process for Paramount's "Transformers" franchise.) Liefeld is also the creator of the breakout Marvel character Deadpool, who starred in the highest-grossing R-rated movie in history. – DEADLINE

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Hulu with Live TV has added mobile alerts for new content, just in time for March Madness games. Hulu first promoted the notification feature during its initial Live TV service demos last year; it showed a user getting an alert about an ongoing basketball game with a tight score in the final minute of play. The service has now launched, along with a portal that allows users to select March Madness teams for which they would like to receive notifications. (For now, game start notifications will only be available for March Madness, but later, Hulu plans to roll the feature out for all live sporting events.) Hulu also announced a significant increase in the number of live TV channels that will be available at 60 frames per second (fps), including a number of sports channels. – VERGE

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Amazon Prime Video added 20 popular reality series to its catalog this week, including Gordon Ramsay's "Hell's Kitchen" and "Kitchen Nightmares," as well as the full run of "Toddlers and Tiaras." Much of the content comes to Amazon thanks to a deal with the distribution company FilmRise, which is also responsible for bringing classic Carsey-Werner sitcoms like "Roseanne" and "3rd Rock from the Sun" to the platform. Other reality shows now featured on Amazon include "Unsolved Mysteries," "River Monsters," "Whale Wars," "Addicted," "Miami Ink," "I Shouldn't Be Alive," "Man vs. Wild" and "Survivorman." All of the shows are free to stream without add-ons or subscriptions. – VARIETY

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To promote the upcoming second season of "Westworld," HBO has recreated the town of Sweetwater at the South by Southwest (SXSW) festival. HBO acquired a 2-acre plot outside Austin, Texas, and built a theme park-style replica of the town, including landmarks from the show such as the Coronado Hotel and the Maricopa. (Attendees are shuttled out to the park from downtown Austin.) Actors portray the show's robotic "hosts," getting into fights, interacting with guests and even appearing to "glitch," requiring repairs from other actors posing as Delos staffers. (There's apparently also an actor dressed in samurai gear, in a nod to the "ShogunWorld" concept introduced in the Season 1 finale.) HBO previously recreated the Delos offices from "Westworld" at the 2017 San Diego Comic-Con. "Westworld" Season 2 debuts on April 22. – CNET

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IndieWire looked back at Yahoo!'s doomed "Community" experiment. After 5 seasons on NBC, and after having built up a cult following on Hulu, the sitcom "Community" landed on Yahoo!, as part of a new heavily-promoted streaming video platform, Yahoo Screen. Ultimately, though some fans made the move with the show, new "Community" episodes went undiscovered at Yahoo!, a site with a long-time branding problem. Writer Liz Miller ponders whether the sixth season would have gained more attention on a platform like Hulu, where many fans assumed it would end up, and where Season 6 episodes are streaming currently. – INDIEWIRE

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"JESSICA JONES" AND THE STATE OF THE MARVEL-NETFLIX PROJECT

The Netflix-Marvel universe has felt, for quite a while now, like it's living on borrowed time. Disney has already announced that these frequently violent, very adult-oriented series won't have a home on their forthcoming branded streaming platform. (It seems likely they'll wind up on Hulu, eventually.) But beyond financial concerns, the creative spark behind the project has seemingly started to dim.

Season 2 of "Daredevil" introduced the terrific Jon Bernthal as Frank Castle, aka The Punisher, but eventually devolved into a seemingly endless string of dark ninjas-in-warehouses fights. "Iron Fist" was almost universally reviled, an awkwardly-directed martial arts showcase with a goofy lead who doesn't look convincing doing martial arts. "The Defenders," the centerpiece series bringing all the characters from the various different shows together, was a complete dud, playing more like an epilogue for the "Daredevil" and "Iron Fist" seasons than a TV EVENT.

(Bernthal's first season of "The Punisher," which we recently reviewed here in Inside Streaming, was a very compelling character study, and examination of PTSD, but still carried along some of the worst tendencies of these shows. Plus, it felt extraordinarily disconnected from the rest of the Marvel-Netflix universe.)

To sum up, going in to this week, the entire Marvel-Netflix relationship felt like old news, a clever idea that had gotten people excited, but then ran its course and naturally fizzled out. It seemed, in many ways, a victim of its own formula: like the comics that preceded them, the shows were good about introducing new characters without straying from a comfortable format. After several years, that format had just started to wear everybody down, and kept new entries from feeling fresh or exciting.

But then this week happened. Marvel/Netflix not only launched the new season of their best series to date, "Jessica Jones," but also teased a new season of their second-best show, "Luke Cage," coming later this year. So it seems there may be a bit of life in this old franchise yet.

If you only vaguely recall the first "Jessica Jones" season... that could be an issue, as the new episodes basically pick right up where S1 left off. A super-quick catch-up: Jessica (Krysten Ritter) is a depressed, alcoholic private investigator with super-strength and a few other largely unspecified metahuman-style abilities. She knows that she got her powers from some long-ago experiment, carried out on her after her parents died in a car accident, but feels traumatized by this memory and refuses to think about it. Her best friend is Trish (Rachael Taylor), a busybody former child star who now hosts a talk radio show and wants only to help. Trish dated a cop/former soldier in Season 1 named Will Simpson (Wil Traval), and it turned out, he had received "combat enhancers" from the same scientist who experimented on Jessica, which made him a super-soldier but also hyper-aggressive and dangerous. As Season 1 ends, Jessica has hired her neighbor Malcolm (Eka Darville) to help run her detective business, Trish has decided to use her talk show to get to the bottom of the sudden arrival of these new NYC supers, and Will is dead. Oh, also Jessica has a tough-as-nails, Machiavellian lawyer named Jeri Hogarth (Carrie-Anne Moss). OK, that basically brings you up to date.

Like "The Punisher," "Jessica Jones" largely dismisses the "shared universe" concept, focusing instead on its own tiny pocket of that world and the interior lives of its characters. It's much better off for it. You don't need to have seen a minute of "The Defenders" to keep up with everything.

But what's MOST refreshing about "Jones," particularly after the drab "Defenders" and "Iron Fist" seasons, is the lived-in humanity and humor. There's a lot of repetition to a performance like Ritter's here. Jessica is often drunk, almost always sullen and very snarky, and characters like this - who don't let people in, or telegraph their emotions - can often come off on TV shows as boring or one-note. (Jeffrey Dean Morgan is a great actor, but Negan on "Walking Dead" at this point is thoroughly uninteresting, because he just shows up and does the same thing week-after-week. The whole point is that he's unflappable and never alters course.)

Ritter, showrunner Melissa Rosenberg and her writers don't allow this to happen. Jessica's undeniably on a journey, regardless of how frequently she backtracks, and one of the pleasures of Season 2 is breaking away from her relentless fight against Kilgrave (David Tennant's deliriously malicious S1 villain) and allowing her to go to bars, get into scrapes, take new cases and develop professional rivalries. We also get to meet Jay Klaitz as "The Whizzer," as down-to-earth and relatable a super-being as these shows have introduced... maybe ever.

The show's not entirely free of the standard Marvel-Netflix problems. Trish's investigation into what exactly happened to Jessica at the hospital all those years ago is a bit slackly paced, and while the plotline involving Jeri Hogarth (which involves a surprise orgy in only the second episode!) gives Carrie-Anne Moss a lot to chew on, it's all played a bit trite, and doesn't even make an attempt to connect back to the main storyline for a while. It's initially like a separate story someone came up with that's been grafted on to the main show.

Still, with this far above-average season, and a promising new "Luke Cage" adventure on the way, Marvel and Netflix seem to have injected a bit of new life into this franchise. Now if we can just stay out of those dank subterranean caves for a while... we'll be all set.

THE BASICS

Title: "Marvel's Jessica Jones"
Where to Watch: Netflix
Episodes: 26 (2 seasons)
Running time: 45-55 minutes each

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