In season 2, Jessica Jones became more of a superhero show – but that’s not exactly a good thing

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No, Kilgrave – and, indeed, the first season of Jessica Jones as a whole – worked because there was a certain truth to him. The character served as part of Jessica Jones’ exploration of rape culture, of pervasive and insidious attitudes that can be observed in real life. A lot of the drama and tension comes from the fact that audiences are familiar with him, and those like him, both on a diegetic and extra-diegetic level; there’s something recognisable about Kilgrave, something that maps onto real life experiences.

Across season 2, we follow our eponymous hero as she’s drawn deeper and deeper into a convoluted conspiracy, uncovering information about the shady organisation that are responsible for her powers. It’s something that Jessica Jones isn’t particularly well suited to: the conspiracy angle is weak, and the return of a key character from Jessica’s past marks a genre shift that the show can’t sustain. In essence, it’s because little of this is analogous to real experiences. A huge amount of the strength of Jessica Jones previously came from its ability to use the trappings of the superhero genre to tell a story about trauma and surviving abuse; here, it’s weighed down by old tropes and familiar archetypes. Where the fantasy angle of Kilgrave’s powers was used to great effect to tell a story about genuine human experiences, that’s not the case in season 2.

Very heavy spoilers for Jessica Jones series 2 here, particularly after episode six – wouldn’t recommend reading it until you’ve seen the whole season, personally.

Not sure I quite got this article right – often the way when you’re writing quickly to meet a deadline, moreso after having binge-watched something. (One day, I should write about my growing disdain for binge-watching television programmes. It’s often a necessary evil of my job – gotta get the clicks within the optimal search hours – but I do think that television criticism, and actually in a broader sense television viewing, suffers from binge-watching.)

Anyway, though, this article. It perhaps might have been better titled “Jessica Jones loses sight of human experiences”, or words to that effect. In short, my feelings are that the best parts of Jessica Jones season 1 were the moments when it was least like a superhero show – when it reflected real life, even if only in an allegorical sense. The fact that it’s increasingly like a fairly over-the-top and convoluted superhero show in S2 was a bit disappointing – it felt like a genre shift in a show that didn’t need one. (Again, I have fairly complex thoughts on “superhero” as a genre definition, but that’s for another time.)

Still! I hope you like this article – or, if not the article itself, at least the basic gist of the ideas that are going on within it. Let me know in the comments below what you think!

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The problem with poor pacing, and increasingly overlong television

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Having a more flexible runtime makes sense – generally speaking, the traditional forty-five-ish minute slot for a drama or the twenty-five-ish minute slot for comedy are fairly arbitrary ideas imposed by the demands of advertisers rather than anything else. There’s nothing inherent to the stories that dictate they hold this structure, so the opportunity to be a little bit more malleable and adaptable can be worth pursuing.

Yet it’s debatable whether this approach is really effective, and whether the freedom that’s been allowed has ultimately been a good thing. There’s an argument to be made that, over the past few years, it’s led to a slew of poorly paced television series; slow and plodding, not using their runtime effectively. It’s not so much that a serial has to be filled with incident, but that there’s a sense that not every minute has to be earned in the way that perhaps it used to be – in turn leading to more meandering, more superfluous storytelling.

This article brought to you by the hour I spent watching the first episode of Seven Seconds, though could just have easily been brought to you by the interminable thirteen hours spent on Jessica Jones series 2.

A while ago, I changed up my approach with how I write about television; I decided, basically, that I was only going to write about a show when I’d seen the entire thing. Just a different way of looking at it, taking the series more holistically basically, and a way to stop myself getting too complacent – after a while, I figure I’ll probably switch it up again.

But anyway, this led to a lot of Netflix binge-watching, which was always frustrating – with the above Seven Seconds, ten episodes totalled around eleven hours entirely (there was one episode which was seventy-five minutes long, which is pretty much never necessary) and it worked out that if I watched all ten episodes, then spent another three hours or so writing an article on the show, my final pay would work out as less than minimum wage. Which I was not wholly impressed by. So I wrote this article about why TV episodes are too long instead. Though admittedly I’d probably mind less if I was paid more. So, you know.

(Some months later, a more well established TV critic, the name of whom escapes me, wrote something similar titled something to the effect of “overly long episodes are the TV equivalent of manspreading”, which is a much better title than mine. Made me laugh, anyway.)

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The problem with Nazi allegories in fiction

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Of note – simply because it’s right around the corner, and a pretty good indication of what I have in mind – is the upcoming CW DC crossover event. Crisis on Earth X is set to unite the Arrow, Flash, Supergirl and Legends of Tomorrow heroes in one great big extra-dimensional fight against their alternative selves from Earth X – a secret world where the Allies lost the second World War, and all our heroes are thus Nazis.

There’s something uncomfortable about this, I think, in a way that’s not necessarily easy to articulate. It’s not that it’s normalising Nazis, exactly, because it isn’t. Rather, it’s rendering them as objects of fantasy, villains that exist only in secret alternate earths – when that isn’t really the case. It doesn’t matter if you refer back to the idea of the awful atrocities committed (and the special crossover does put concentration camps in a key role), there’s an implicit suggestion that these are ultimately just cartoonish figures by placing them in that role.

An attempt to articulate something I’d been thinking about for a few years now; I also spoke a little about Star Wars, but the main focus is Arrow etc, because it was timely. I’m quite behind on the Arrowverse shows, but I did watch the Crisis on Earth-x crossover. It was… quite something.

Looking back, this article actually posted the same weekend as one of the more egregious of those New York Times Trump voter profiles, about a man who was a literal Nazi, being celebrated because he actually quite liked Seinfeld. Which was patently ridiculous, and got me pondering the role of fiction in reaching this climate. The above is very much a starting point rather than the definitive word on the comment, but I think it gestures at something that’s broadly on point.

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Marvel’s The Punisher was surprisingly good, if not exactly great

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As an exploration of the Punisher’s morality, the series is admittedly somewhat lacking. The villains of the piece reflect the same ideology as Frank; both the larger military-industrial machine willing to commit war crimes and an individual lone gunman who believes the end justifies the means, the antagonists of this series are Frank’s equal and opposite. And yet while the series deliberates, it’s unwilling to truly grapple with the question of what separates them – ultimately, the only thing that makes one a hero and the other a villain is who the series is named after.

Despite this, though, The Punisher is able to find a degree of depth elsewhere. Encouragingly, it avoids fetishizing violence particularly, wallowing not in a hail of bullets and gunfire but taking the time to indulge in slower, character-focused scenes. Jon Bernthal’s performance is key to this, anchoring the material as he elevates it; often the more compelling aspects of the series are the moments when Bernthal is allowed to move beyond the militaristic posturing and show a certain vulnerability to his character.

In hindsight, I wonder if I was actually too positive here – in my surprise that it wasn’t worse, I was maybe too forgiving of all the ways it was still pretty bad. Definitely, that line about fetishizing gun violence should have been way more heavily caveated.

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TV shows like Arrow or The Flash have always been superpowered soap operas – and there’s nothing wrong with that

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Arrow, from the beginning, was always about the personal lives of its characters. Yes, there’s the obvious angle of the love triangle between Oliver, Tommy and Laurel – but it’s not as though Oliver’s mission wasn’t deeply personally motivated, or inextricably tied to the affairs of his father. That’s demonstrably a soap opera plot, right from the beginning!

Superheroes keep secrets, living double lives, and hiding parts of themselves from those around them that they love. That can surely be considered a soap opera story, no? And surely no one would ever argue that these superhero TV programmes don’t rely on sensationalised and exaggerated plotting – lest you forget, the Flash fought a race of sentient gorillas just a few weeks ago. Besides, everyone loves a good scenery chewing villain, and that’s the epitome of melodrama.

I always thought it was pretty ridiculous when people complained that Arrow was like a soap opera – as if they’d only just noticed? So here’s a post explaning how Arrow has always been a soap opera, but there’s nothing wrong with that.

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4 Easter eggs and comic book references you missed in Iron Fist episode 1, Snow Gives Way

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Marvel has released its latest hotly anticipated superhero show, Iron Fist. As ever, it’s packed to the brim with Easter eggs and references to both the source material they adapt and the wider world of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Here’s just a few of these references you may have missed.

I’ve done another ‘easter eggs’ article, this time for the premiere episode of Iron Fist. I won’t be doing them for every episode of the show, however, basically because I don’t hate myself enough to watch the entire thing.

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Why are people calling Iron Fist a white saviour, and what does it mean?

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Marvel’s latest Netflix drama Iron Fist released today – but it hasn’t been without controversy. For some time now, the show has been accused of falling into the white saviour narrative trope; from when the show was first announced, to the casting of Finn Jones as Danny Rand, and to the advance reviews, many people have focused on this complaint.

If you’ve been following the show at all, or you’re a fan of Marvel, you’ve probably heard about this. But what does it actually mean?

Here’s an article on Iron Fist, for the Metro.

(An important caveat – the above title is how I pitched the article to Metro. When the article was published, the headline was changed to say “Iron Fist: Marvel could have avoided a ‘white saviour’ and made the Netflix series better”, which I assume was just for the purpose of increasing views and so on. I don’t think this headline reflects the content of the article, which was intended more as an explainer than outright criticism – I haven’t actually watched a single frame of the show outside of trailers at this point. So, keep that in mind here.)

[Of course, another important caveat is that I do actually think Iron Fist should’ve cast an Asian American lead and it likely would have improved it a bit, but that’s not what the above is arguing.]

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The Flash will need to break with formula to survive

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In a way, the shows that operate alongside The Flash are becoming its greatest threat; Arrow, Supergirl and Legends of Tomorrow – and likely eventually Black Lightning – all work from fairly similar formulas to The Flash. (This was particularly evident in Supergirl season one, which mimicked the structure of The Flash season one fairly closely.) While it’s undeniable that each show executes the formula well, when four programmes are executing the same formula in the same way each week, it does start to get a little tired.

And so The Flash needs to evolve – it has to grow beyond the formula it adheres to so closely, and stop sticking to the same structure with every episode. After all, there’s surely only so many times that Barry running faster to beat someone who is also fast can be considered a satisfying payoff to a year of television, no?

A few thoughts on The Flash, and the changes it’ll need to make to continue to grow and develop and stay of a high level of quality. I am fond of the show, of course, but there’s a frustrating feeling that I’ve simply seen it all before – sometimes even four nights a week – and that needs to change. (I didn’t even begin to get into the whole “mentor is secretly evil” thing they’ve done each year!)

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Legion is exactly what the superhero genre needs right now

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Legion’s first episode is, to put it lightly, a masterpiece. Noah Hawley provides an intricately written yet deeply poignant script; it begins with an unreliable narrator, but peels back the layers of perception to reveal a touching love story between the two leads, David (Dan Stevens) and Syd (Rachel Keller). Both actors give nuanced, powerful performances, elevating the already fantastic script ever higher as a result; it’s an engaging realisation of a complex script, making the spine of the character drama universal, despite how surreal everything surrounding it is.

Visually speaking, too, the show is a real departure from the norm. It’s beautifully directed, with very high production values and some stunning design work; in many ways, Legion feels like a work of art. There’s a gorgeous aesthetic carried throughout, from the cinematography to the colour palette, which makes just the sheer look of the show quite memorable in and of itself. Further, though, it feels like Legion’s aesthetic grows from its themes; the programme is grounded in uncertainty, and every visual detail contributes to this, creating a sense of holistic unity that sets Legion apart from the homogeneity of other superhero shows.

You guys, wow. Legion is phenomenal, and you should all be watching it.

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Supergirl and the question of refugees, immigrants, and illegal aliens

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The show is exploring the theme of immigration through their various dispossessed alien characters – an entirely understandable choice. It’s attempting to convey the message, basically, that there’s no need to be suspicious of refugees, and to treat them with acceptance and tolerance – an entirely admirable decision. It’s not, however, conveyed particularly effectively, because many of these same dispossessed aliens end up being the ‘threat of the week’ – while the episode is saying one thing about refugees, while demonstrating another through its plot. This paradox was painfully evident in the aforementioned episode Welcome to Earth, wherein one of the alien refugees does turn out to be evil, despite frequent insistence that this wouldn’t be the case – it’s a frustrating lapse that undercuts the message that Supergirl is reaching for.

What makes this particularly frustrating, though, is that there are several other avenues open to the writers from which to explore this concept – many of them more effective than the direction they opted for.

Here’s an article I’ve been meaning to write for a little while, about how Supergirl has been handling the themes of immigration. There’s a chance it might form something of a broader series of articles – alongside, I suspect, “Legends of Tomorrow and historical racism”, “Arrow and capitalism” and then something else about The Flash just to cover all four – but I wouldn’t hold your breath there.

(Yeah, I never did do those other ones. Would’ve been interesting to see what I came up with. Ah well. If I remember correctly, actually, I wrote the above post in school during a free period. Those were the days. Anyway, I’ve not re-read the above; I suspect the basic point I was going for still works, but forgive me any lapses borne from ignorance.)

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