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