|'gradually showrunner Cheo Hodari Coker aligns Cage with the 99% rather than the one, with movements like Black Lives Matter and with issues such as police brutality and the preserved pedestal of the elite'|
Luke Cage continues Marvel and Netflix's patient march towards their forthcoming Defenders TV event, which will unite current properties Daredevil, Jessica Jones and Cage with next year's newcomer Iron Fist and (possibly) Jon Bernthal's Punisher. You can locate this small screen Avengers as the culmination of 'Marvel and Netflix: Phase One'. As AdWeek point out, and unlike the Marvel cinematic universe, there are few certainties in TV land and Marvel and Netflix's future plans are unconfirmed, excluding the properties which already have their foot in the door.
Whilst Daredevil Season Three is a go and Jessica Jones Season Two has been ordered, you wonder if Luke Cage might be a candidate for the chop, after Defenders, in favour of a new presence or a tightening of the ship.
The first season though is just about good enough to justify more of your binge-watching time. Set circling around hip nightclub joint Harlem's Paradise, the show makes full use of its locale, embracing its indie-inflected coolness. Hold-the-action, dim-the-house-lights 'live' performances by Jidenna (Long Live The Chief) and Raphael Saadiq (Good Man) are stunning and Mahershala Ali's suits emphasise the slickness.
But this isn't the world that showrunner Cheo Hodari Coker wants us to sympathise with. Cage (Mike Colter) enters the action working two jobs - cash-in-hand pot washer at Harlem's Paradise and sweep at Pop's Barbers - and gradually Coker aligns Cage with the 99% rather than the one, with movements like Black Lives Matter and with issues such as police brutality and the preserved pedestal of the elite. There's a lot of success in many of those things and that a Marvel property would feel comfortable at least starting those conversations (if not quite finishing them) is borderline remarkable.
If the subtext is great though, the series is let down by character and plotting weakness and by a nagging feeling that the show is searching for answers that it should have had before it begun. Villain Cottonmouth (Ali) is hinted early on as merely the trailer for big bad Diamondback (Erik LaRay Harvey), but the latter's reveal is botched leading to Diamondback feeling a little too comic book to have substance in this world. Theo Rossi is effective as Shades, but Alfre Woodard is weak, constantly giving across the feeling that she's not entirely certain what all this superhero stuff is about, nor why she is at the centre of it. All are primary antagonist for a time, plus another character and prison guard Albert Rackham (Chance Kelly), in the obligatory flashback episode. The series would have been better sticking just with Ali and having done with it; the layers in this case create confusion, not depth.
Meanwhile, Luke's allegiances and personal interests also begin to feel as though they are treading on familiar ground, something emphasised when Claire (Rosario Dawson) shows up again. It's clear now that she will play a major part in the formation of the Defenders, and Dawson is a fantastic A-list presence to put in your series, but it would have been substantially better had the Marvel TV-verse decided what to do with her much earlier in Phase One's genesis. Claire and Luke's 'will they/won't they' relationship echoes the same scenario in Daredevil Season One and the fact that Misty (Simone Missick) is marginalised because of it is a shame. The early steamy, sexy introduction of her and Luke marked Misty out as a character of massive invention for Marvel, something which slowly dissipates as the series progresses.
Those elements; a lack of primary antagonist and a melange of unsatisfying personal connections, mean that Luke Cage ends feeling more anonymous than it should have done. Yes, you feel as though you can follow Luke and Claire's story, but you felt that at the end of Daredevil Season Two and Jessica Jones Season One. For all of the good work it does capturing the Harlem zeitgeist and cosying up to the coolness whilst questioning it, Luke Cage doesn't really take you anywhere, doesn't present a memorable story. You can have some very clever things up your sleeve, but if you don't have story, then you're potentially doomed for the chop.
Luke Cage: Season One was streaming on Netflix.