Netflixing: Jessica Jones

Dec 20, 2016 | Netflixing, TV, Writing

This post was originally published at my account on Steemit.com.

 

Unwatchable.

I’m sorry that I have to say it. This show has defenders, I know. And I’m not looking to make any enemies on Steemit or elsewhere. But despite all that, and despite my undergirding need to be pleasant and positive, I cannot sugar coat the problem here.

Marvel’s Jessica Jones, the Netflix-exclusive series, is unwatchable. I cannot recommend it to anyone.

And I’ll tell you why.

The Things I Do for a Review

This last week marked my second attempt to get into the show. My first attempt occurred right after I reviewed Daredevil. Despite my issues with Daredevil, I thoroughly enjoyed the series as a whole, and I wanted to see more stuff like it.

Hence why I gave Jessica Jones a chance.

What I found was the most sloppily written, poorly acted, and drearily self-important TV series ever conceived.

Here was a show that had no idea how to tell or story or make the audience care about what was happening. The characters were bland and one-note. The action was artificial. And to make up for the complete lack of emotional investment, the show attempted to bludgeon the viewer with shock appeal—particularly in the form of sex scenes that were entirely gratuitous and did not advance the story in any way.

To which I said, “No, thank you,” and stopped watching.

The Second Time ‘Round

However, as news reached my ears of the upcoming Defenders miniseries, and knowing that Luke Cage was getting his own show, I decided that it might be in my best interest to catch up on Jessica Jones, so that at least my knowledge of the show’s lore would be sufficient to keep watching other Marvel Netflix offerings.

That was a mistake.

The later episodes of season 1 make no effort to learn from its mistakes or extricate itself from the “throw feces at the screen and see what sticks” model of writing and presentation. Apart from everything I had already seen, I was also treated to an incest subplot that had absolutely no bearing on the main story, as well as the same old undeveloped caricatures I had already grown to loathe.

Let’s meet some of them, shall we?

They live in New York, but They ain’t Anybody’s Friends

With characters like these, who needs enemies? This motley crew is the stuff of your most boring nightmares.

Kilgrave

The only interesting character in the show (but not that interesting).

Kilgrave, AKA “The Purple Man”, is a man who possesses the power of perfect mind control. Any command he gives will be obeyed by any human who hears him, and no one is immune. No amount of willpower is enough to overcome his influence. The only defense against his powers are time and distance (i.e. you can break free from his control if you get far enough away from him).

He could easily use this power to conquer cities or bring the world to his heel, except that this would bring undue attention to himself and possibly result in, say, a gps-guided missile strike landing on his head from five miles away, or, even worse, a contingent of the Avengers hitting him before he has the chance to open his mouth.

As long as he doesn’t commit any high-profile acts of mayhem, the rulers of the world are content to let him be, which sucks for the ordinary people around him, because Kilgrave’s greatest pleasure comes from forcing people to be his entertainment. Whether he forces you to be his chauffeur, his chef, his cleaning lady, his lover, or his personal hitman, you have no choice in the matter.

So yes, he’s delightfully despicable. But, at the same time, he also fails at being a supervillian. The show makes it clear that while Kilgrave is super ruthless, he’s not exactly super smart. The fact that Jessica is able to take him by surprise and throw him for a loop even in the earliest episodes damages his villain cred in an irreversible way. Yes, he manages to narrowly escape her several times throughout the series, but only because Jessica holds back. The impression is inescapable that, with only a few minor tweaks in her planning, Jessica could have offed him in the first or second episode.

Put simply, this is a show without tension.

Trish

Unnecessary side character given way too much screen time.

Trish is a former child actress turned radio show host who happens to be Jessica’s best (and richest) friend.

Always wanting to help Jessica out, her attempts to assist are constantly rebuffed. And…that’s pretty much it. There’s no other point to her character except to be used in sex scenes with other characters.

I mean, in the early episodes, we see her doing Krav Maga training, throwing people to the floor like it was nothing, and we think “Aha, she is going to be Jessica’s sidekick, able to hold her own in the fiercest fights even though she lacks superpowers.”

She finally gets into a fight…and is immediately put out of commission. It all ends with a sob session where Trish laments how useless she is to everyone.

Not exactly the secondary heroine we were hoping for.

Luke Cage

A man with superhuman strength and bulletproof skin. Not a bad power set for a bartender living in the mean world of Hell’s Kitchen, New York.

Luke was…underutilized. He’s introduced, then thrown away, then makes a cameo, then disappears from the show, then is hinted at, then appears, then leaves.

Honestly, it’s like he was only included here as an advertisement for his own series. He might have been an interesting addition to the show, had he actually been in the show for more than five minutes.

Jessica Jones

One of the worst parts of the show is, unfortunately, the title character.

On the one hand, she is a hardboiled private detective with superhuman strength who takes no tripe from anybody.

On the other hand, she is the victim of the most terrible abuse humanly imaginable—the complete loss of free will—and is emotionally vulnerable.

Interweaving these aspects in one character would be a delicate balancing act in the best of shows. The only way to do it right would be to include many more facets into her character, so that these two contradicting traits would have other interesting attributes to bounce off of.

If only we were so lucky. The character of Jessica Jones is written in binary—she is either in Mode A or Mode B, and flips from one to the other without any kind of transition. Honestly, her superhero name should be “The Human Light Switch”.

I have not read any of the Jessica Jones comics, but I hear that the ink and pen incarnation of Jessica is much more complex than the one we get on Netflix.

I will give her this: the one playing her brings as much power and realism as she can to the role. However, the writers neglected to make her a whole and internally integrated human being.

A Joyless Pursuit

Jessica Jones is a dreary TV show.

Granted, it takes inspiration from noir detective stories, and those are often ponderous and existential pieces. However, unlike most noirs, Jessica Jones lacks the ominousness and suspense that make these detective stories so powerful.

Classic noir is full of dramatic camera angles and long shadows, with assassins jumping out from unsuspicious places. And, more than anything else, noir detective stories are supposed to be mysteries, and mystery is one thing that Jessica Jones never touches. We know who the bad guy is from the start. We know what Jessica has to do to stop him from the start. This is a show with remarkably few surprises, with few plot twists, and the ones we get are decisively lukewarm.

My Judgment

Don’t bother.

I’ve never seen a TV show try so hard to be accepted into the DCEU. It flails and frenzies in a misdirected attempt to make itself edgy and important. Jessica Jones reeks of desperation, and twice have I been driven away by the stench.

If you feel you need this show’s background info before watching Luke Cage or The Defenders, then read a plot synopsis online. It will be a lot less painful and won’t waste your time.