Regardless of how mainstream the comic book universe has become these days, a sizable segment of pop culture consumers remains resistant. Then again, these people haven’t met Jessica Jones, private eye. Cracking impossible cases is her specialty, making Netflix’s choice to follow-up Daredevil with this title a shrewd strategy.
The 13-episode first season of Marvel’s Jessica Jones is available today to Netflix subscribers. If you have a comic book geek in your household, you already may have accepted that you will not see said loved one for most of the weekend. Or, maybe you happen to be that obsessed human, and nothing would make you happier than to share your viewing binge with a special someone whose only shortcoming is the rejection of anything involving tights and flights.
Good news, true believers – Jessica Jones is satisfying to both camps. Here are five reasons why this series is the perfect TV drama for viewers who aren’t comic book fans.
Let’s begin by reassuring anyone who couldn’t care less about the Marvel Universe or, really, any tale that originated as drawings rendered in ink and comic sans font, that we get it. Honestly, with all the costumed heroes and villains on TV, even the most dedicated nerds must be a little numb to the appeal of overly-muscled people shoving each other through walls.
But in a world saturated with masked heroes, maybe the best place to hide is in plain sight. That’s precisely what Jessica Jones the character — and Jessica Jones the series — is doing.
While it exists within the same universe as Daredevil and the Avengers theatrical franchise and will eventually be part of a team-up series Netflix has brewing (The Defenders), the truth about Jessica Jones is that it’s a hardboiled TV detective drama about loneliness, control, and how a human soul recovers from violation.
As Krysten Ritter plays her, Jessica doesn’t smile much. She’ll bend the law and, if the situation calls for it, she’ll twist arms and bruise kneecaps. Jessica’s fiercely protective of the people who are close to her, especially her best friend Trish Walker (Rachael Taylor), a successful radio show host.
The gifted gumshoe twisted by emotional and psychological damage is a classic TV archetype; Jessica, who runs Alias Investigations out of a dingy flat, has the daily life challenges that come standard with the P.I. package. Burgeoning drinking problem? Check. Wasted potential? Bingo.
Jessica also possesses immense strength and can jump several stories into the air. The show doesn’t lean hard on her superhuman talents, though. Instead, her most brutal battles are psychological: Jessica’s refusal to exploit her strength leaves her without a sense of life purpose, even before a life-altering crime leaves her burdened with post-traumatic stress disorder.
In that sense, Jessica Jones is a very earth-bound, human story about power and powerlessness, in which the title character happens to be a bit more than human.
Rosenberg’s involvement with Dexter is worth noting because it means she’s versed in writing multi-faceted heroes who have touched darkness. This is who Jessica Jones is, only she is the absolute opposite of a sociopath. Don’t let the deadpan noir-style narration fool you – emotions are her driving force.
Too often, television series have used images of violence against women as a plot accessory, utilized to further motivate male protagonists or to make an obvious villain seem that much more ruthless. The victim, meanwhile, is just that: a one-dimensional device, rarely developed beyond her service to a specific, horrible turn of events.
Jessica Jones takes that horrendous trope and demonstrates how to handle it in a way that doesn’t exploit the victims. Jessica’s nemesis, an obsessive narcissist known as Kilgrave (David Tennant), uses mind control to get everything he wants – money, houses, surveillance — and makes his prey commit heinous acts that they’re unable to stop.
Mental gifts are common in the comic book world, as are conflicts that pit unique brain powers against prodigious brawn. In Jessica Jones those concepts clash to illustrate real-world horror in complex ways.
The charm that made Tennant a legendary Time Lord in the Doctor Who pantheon is employed with chilling precision here, making Kilgrave oddly seductive even as he’s tormenting Jessica.
As perfectly cast as he is, it’s hard to imagine anyone besides Ritter in the role. Jessica Jones allows Ritter to plumb the depths of her dramatic intensity; Breaking Bad fans glimpsed some of that in her role as Jesse Pinkman’s doomed lover Jane, but for the most part, she registers as an actress who excels in more lighthearted roles. (You may know her as the B—- in ABC’s sitcom Don’t Trust the B—- in Apartment 23.) Here, she matches the darkness of the drama’s color palette, all low lights and hard edges, mirroring Mike Colter’s portrayal of Luke Cage to perfection.
Marvel aficionados know the story of these two, but for the sake of the uninitiated: In the series, Luke is a bartender at a local dive that Jessica is surveilling on her own time. Their meet-cute is appropriately fraught with tension, romantic and otherwise; the ordinarily unflappable Jessica becomes a fly on the rim of a rocks glass when she first sees Luke, lazily circling the glass until she tumbles in, intoxicated. It’s a pairing that seems so right – except it isn’t, not right now. Not to worry, kids; Cage is getting his own series.
In a departure from the comics, Jeryn Hogarth’s character was reimagined as a woman and an attorney played by Carrie-Anne Moss. While Hogarth’s main purpose seems to be to exchange barbs and professional favors with Jessica, Moss favorably rounds out a cast that skews mostly female, and serves another version of what it means to be a woman with power.
Jessica Jones is one of several comic book-based TV titles airing now, featuring female superheroes existing in the human world. On paper she has more in common with CBS’s Supergirl, in that both characters have extraordinary abilities, as opposed to ABC’s Agent Carter. Peggy Carter’s weapons are her will, intellect, determination, and moxie. She can’t fly or punch through walls with her bare hands.
But with all of her struggles and flaws, Jessica feels more human.
TV critic Melanie McFarland is a Seattle-based writer and an executive member of the Television Critics Association. She has been a comic book lover since Ororo Munroe shaved her hair into a Mohawk, and prefers Batman over Superman. Follow her on Twitter: @McTelevision