A Mightily Flawed Hero: Marvel’s ‘Jessica Jones’ Reviewed

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Jessica Jones Netflix PosterTitle: Jessica Jones

Production Companies: ABC Studios, Marvel Studios, Netflix, Tall Girls Productions

Writers: Melissa Rosenberg, Brian Michael Bendis, Michael Gaydos, and others

Released: 2015

Rated: TV – M (for graphic violence, strong language, and sexual content)

Genre: Dark and gritty superhero series

Runtime: Thirteen 55-60 minute episodes streaming on Netflix

Cast: Krysten Ritter, Michael Colter, Rachael Taylor, Eka Darville, Carrie-Anne Moss, and David Tennant

As I mentioned in my review of The Man in the High Castle (check it out here) streaming entertainment subscribers had a banner weekend right before Thanksgiving with the release of that Amazon series as well as Marvel’s Jessica Jones. Both shows are dark and gritty and the latest collaboration between Marvel, ABC Studios, and Netflix is certainly something we haven’t seen on the small screen before.

Jessica Jones is based on the comic Alias, created by writer Brian Michael Bendis and artist Michael Gaydos, which ran under Marvel’s now defunct Max imprint. If you aren’t familiar with the line, Marvel used it to publish much more adult storylines sprinkled with sex, violence, and plenty of NSFW language that you wouldn’t find reading about your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man. It wasn’t unusual to run across the F-Bomb being dropped in these stories and, interestingly enough, it’s the F-Bomb which appears as the very first word, in the very first panel, in the very first issue of Alias.

Jessica Jones 1Lots of Marvel fans were surprised to learn Netflix was going to follow up Daredevil with Jessica Jones. It isn’t as if the character is one of Marvel’s top flight heroes; it’s been over a decade since Alias concluded; and an intensely mature storyline isn’t exactly the direction the House of Ideas normally takes with its films and television shows. Yet it might have been one of the smartest moves to date by Marvel to bring Jessica Jones to Netflix.

Let’s get something out of the way right up front: There will be quite a few people who won’t dig Jessica Jones. This series isn’t what casual Marvel fans are used to seeing. This isn’t an Avengers spin-off or an action packed romp filled with laugh out loud one-liners, ala Guardians of the Galaxy. There’s quite a lot of profanity, sexual content, and gore alongside an immensely dark and disturbing tale.

As with all our movie and tv reviews, I’ll keep this as spoiler free as possible.

All one has to do is check out the Jessica Jones trailer to know the hero is chasing a villain who can control minds and the baddie has a history with Jessica (Krysten Ritter). David Tennant plays Kilgrave (named Killgrave in the comic), who returns to make Jones’ life a living hell by manipulating those around her. What ensues is a game of cat and mouse in which the roles of the feline and rodent constantly change.

There’s a great deal to like about the series and one of the strong suits of the show is the actors. Ritter possesses the right amount of snark and vulnerability which brings Jones to life while Mike Colter (Luke Cage) and Rachael Taylor (Patsy Walker) are especially good in strong supporting roles. Of course we’re not used to seeing Tennant play the baddie either so it’s interesting to see him chew the scenery throughout the series.

Jessica Jones 2Jessica Jones is a sharp looking show too and Hell Kitchen seems more alive than previously seen in Marvel’s Daredevil. Rather than simply a dark backdrop for the proceedings, Jessica Jones fills the neighborhood with various druggies, slackers, and other down-and-outers. I felt the neighborhood felt more real in this series than Daredevil because of this attention to detail and fleshing out of minor characters.

Probably the most impressive thing about Jessica Jones is simply the fact Marvel considered bringing the show to tv, even through a subscription service like Netflix. Not only are we dealing with a storyline completely unlike the much lighter and action oriented fare that hits theaters but here we have a series which is utterly female-centric. Major kudos to Marvel and Netflix since female superheroes have been woefully underrepresented on big and small screens.

While I do like Jessica Jones quite a bit, I did have some problems with the series.

Personally I think thirteen episodes ran a bit long for the storyline here. There seemed to be too much padding in some of the later episodes and a few of the secondary characters had way too much screen time. Way too much time is devoted to Jones’ sometimes employer Harper and her ongoing divorce battle. Granted Carrie-Ann Moss is fine in the role, and her character’s actions do have an impact on the overall story, but I felt a lot of the goings on could have been trimmed.

Jessica Jones 3Also the series doesn’t do enough with Jones’ superpowers or investigative skills. Seemingly all the hero does is beat on bad dudes, pull bars off windows, and break door locks. As far as being a P.I. you’d consider hiring it seems Jones’ deductive skills boil down to searching the internet. Ok, maybe I’m downplaying the action a bit but I think the ball was dropped as far as doing more with the central character and making the viewer believe “This is a job for Jessica Jones!” as opposed to “Well, nearly any C list superhero could do that.”

My biggest issue with the series though is the sexual content and language. Now wait, don’t for a minute think I’m a prude of any sort; I love shows like Game of Thrones and, when Deadwood was airing on HBO, catching the latest episode was a Sunday night ritual. I also know there’d be no way to bring the Alias story to the screen if you completely watered down the sex, swearing, boozing, or overall dark and mature nature of the arc. I get that. I just felt a lot of the more controversial content almost came across as shoehorned in.

There’s a whole lot of knocking boots going on yet absolutely no nudity. The F-Bomb never gets dropped but everything just short of that certainly is. It’s as if Marvel wanted to really push the envelope and then stops just short. It all just comes across as very strange and tacked on. I’m not saying this should have been a show which would earn a hard “R” sort of rating by any stretch but the approach taken to the sex and swearing feels oddly out of place and weird.

I really do like Jessica Jones though and I’m hoping we’ll get a second season and look forward to the character’ inclusion in the upcoming Defenders. I’m also interested in seeing Colter carry his own show as Luke Cage. Plus it’s great to see a show devoted to a female superhero for a change!

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