|'not only one of the most interesting superhero outings on the big or small screen, but arguably the most interesting superhero outing currently available'|
Jessica Jones: Season One, currently playing as part of Marvel's deal with Netflix, is not only one of the most interesting superhero outings on the big or small screen, but arguably the most interesting superhero outing currently available.
During the course of its thirteen episode run (which admittedly means the show outstays its welcome: there are weak episodes here) Jessica Jones goes where other superhero efforts dare not. There's some language, yes, and copious amounts of blood, but more significantly, there's a same sex relationship, a mixed-race relationship and a confident female superhero, with mainly female accomplices, front and centre. Of course, these things should not bear a second mention, but they do, because that's how Hollywood works. Eleven years ago we had Will Smith's now fairly famous claims about the casting of Eva Mendes in Hitch. Eleven years ago, Jessica Jones doesn't get made.
But Marvel are getting braver with what they offer, aware that not all superheroes have to pander to a middle-American, middle-class, conservative audience. Jessica Jones doesn't just tick boxes either. Its titular hero (Krysten Ritter) is a whiskey-swilling, abrasive teenager, trapped in a nearly-thirty superhero body. One of her key allies, Jeri Hogarth (Carrie-Anne Moss) is a foul lawyer, willing to do anything to get her way. Her best friend Trish (Rachael Taylor) is a former child movie star turned talkshow host, with a mouth which thinks quicker than her mind. These are not half measures in departing from superhero formula and accepted, 'safe', stereotypical convention.
That approach follows in Season One's antagonist, which may be one of Jessica Jones' bravest moves. Killgrave (David Tennant) is a charming ball of dry one-liners and flippant charm, but he's also a rapist, able to control anyone's mind and bend them to his will. Traditional characterisation would have Killgrave as a swarthy, unattractive shambles; an obvious high street villain, lurking in shadows to pounce. But the series knows that real-life rapists aren't always like that and so, more than occasionally, we find Killgrave funny, likeable, a good part of this show, before we're reminded just what he did early doors to Hope (Erin Moriarty), in particular.
As the Marvel universe expands ever further, the pressure must have been on showrunner Melissa Rosenberg to manage crossover and set up futures. Apart from a late misstep, which needlessly reminds us that Jessica inhabits the same Hell's Kitchen locale as Daredevil, she manages it flawlessly. Luke (Mike Colter) isn't just here to setup a Luke Cage series (though that is potentially accomplished), he's a proper character with a full arc, who gives us a reason to care and invest in him and his relationships. The final episode does have maybe a quarter of an eye on the next steps of Jessica's story, but that is all it has; season one resolves satisfyingly enough and on its hero's own terms, as she has been characterised throughout the thirteen episodes.
Perhaps, Killgrave apart, the main success from Rosenberg is that this rarely feels like a superhero tale at all. From the opening titles, with their distinctly 50s sounding music (which eventually morphs into something more modern), this is a Noir, a Detective story and Drama, first and foremost, before it is something from the Marvel universe. There's an obligatory joke at the expense of Jessica's comic book costume, but there's also a serious point: it is possible to do these shows with proper drama, good traditional plotting and complicated human relationships. Laser eyes are not the solution to everything.
Jessica Jones: Season One is currently playing on Netflix.