|Posted on April 22, 2015 at 2:05 AM|
Daredevil is the darkest thing that Marvel has done. Well, modern-Marvel at least. We can talk about Punisher War Zone and how underrated it is some other time, but for the sake of this write-up or review, Daredevil on Netflix is probably the most bold thing that Marvel has done. I don’t simply mean that it is “dark and gritty” but that it’s unique in how it tells its story, it takes its time and every single character beat and action moment feels earned.
Saying something “feels earned” is essentially this: buildup to that moment that you know will come eventually is a steady incline of smaller moments that make that one reveal or twist or simply an action scene feel like the most satisfying and only conclusion to that incline. Daredevil doesn’t just do this with a costume reveal or a final showdown, it layers it with character development and world building on top of it all. It’s a show that is incredibly unassuming in its complexity and depth. Sure, you can sit and just enjoy a superhero tale, but there’s also a great sense of character throughout, from small roles to the big showy ones, and the world of Hell’s Kitchen feels like a place that feels truly threatened and that you end up caring about because all those characters, big and small, hero or villain, also care about it in their own way.
Bold and Beautiful
The boldness only works if you have the actors to back it up. They have to sell the hell out of their respective characters so that you’re willing to take the journey: both the dark, bloody, grittyiness of it and the unique structure. For example, there’s an entire episode with barely any Daredevil in it: it’s all about flashing back to the villain’s childhood. This is completely seperate from the main story. Another is a sudden conflict between Matt Murdock, our hero, and his best friend Foggy Nelson. The entire episode is unlike any other episode, but because of that buildup to it for nine hours prior and the foreshadowing of it with great writing and great performances, you accept this unique episode as well.
Daredevil takes its time, and I would argue that it redefines a lot of what a Sueprhero show can be. As much as I love The Flash and Arrow, you can read the writing on the walls in most of those episodes. There’s filler. There’s things that end up not mattering. There’s action that seems to be thrown in because they need an action beat and a cliffhanger before the commercial. This series, though, gives so much focus on characters and their journey that it could easily be mistaken about a relationship drama (and sometimes comedy).
Daredevil is essentially one long movie where nothing feels filler and everything feels relevant. Even another “ouytside” episode involving how Matt trained feels relevant because it’s the mid-point of the 13 hours and by that time we WANT to know how Matt learned all that he’s learned beause it’s been talked about but never full revealed up to that point. Even the shooting and directing feels so intricate and planned, with no throwaway shots that don’t feel purposeful. It’s like a Mad Men or a Breaking Bad - it all feels so toiled over.
That being said, though, that is one episode where the present story doesn’t feel as releavant, probably the only complaint I have about the series at all. There was somethign about Black Sky and a kid in chains and it all felt a little out of the box compared to the more pertinent story of Fisk and the deconstruction of Hell’s Kitchen. But honestly, that's still an awesome episode, so who friggin cares?
Against the Grain
To go against the grain of what the “superhero” space usually works in on so many levels, to take so much time and care and stay so focused, not to mention to be so dark at times, Daredevil could be the turning point for Marvel as a whole. As much as we all love the movies on the big screen, they’ve never been overly risky. At least not anymore. There was a time when trying them out (making Iron Man at all, making Captain America a period piece, even attempting Thor) was new, but they were also safe in their construction. They hit all the beats and gave you what you expected in their two-hour runing time and then on to the next.
But now they have a new outlet to take more risks. They have 13 hours to tell that same type of story and able to spend so much time with characters that they end up as interesting as our hero taking down the bad guys. Hell, some of the best episodes in Daredevil is simply Foggy, Matt and Karen sitting at a table or a bar and sharing stories. That’s something you can’t really do in a movie without feeling rushed and it’s not even something you can do in a regular TV series because those, too, are restricted by their Act break structure to hurry up and move on.
This changes everything. Marvel has taken so much risk and got so much right. The casting of Charlie Cox and Vincent D’Onofrio is spot-on, both embodying their respective hero and villian, and not making either clearly black and white but fighting for a similar cause in shades of gray. It’s a show that asks big questions through them: how far is too far? How much is enough? Our past influences our present and something we cna’t tell what’s right and wrong anymore.
Then the supporting cast around them with Eden Henson as Foggy, so incredibly likable and you buy the moment when he and Matt go head-to-head, Deborah Ann Woll as Karen Page, more or less a footnote in much of the comics but she has something relevant and interesting to do here, and Vondie Curtis-Hall who has, probably, the most beautifully human story in the entire series that puts a heart into the whole thing. Even smaller characters like Leland played by Bob Gunton or Claire played by Rosario Dawson, are incredibly memorable and those great actors do a ton with their limited screentime.
The Best Thing Marvel’s Done?
Boy is there an arguement to be made for it.
Marvel has a terrific track record, but Daredevil feels like such a complete package from beginning to end that it's easy to argue it’s the best thing they’ve done. It certainly is the best in terms of characters because this cast and the writing for them feels grounded and emotional. As much as I love the movies, most of it is banter and only until recently did there feel like there was a human soul to them (The Winter Soldier with Peggy, Guardians of the Galaxy with the death of Starlord’s mother in the first two minutes etc… )
Daredevil has a running theme of friendship and trust, much like an Avengers, yet it feels far more personal - so much so that, for once, the non-superhero stuff happening is just as, if not more interesting than the superhero stuff. Marvel has gone to a different level in style and substance and might have redefined the entire game of telling a superhero story and adapting it. They’ve already done a lot in terms of film and their shared universe (and Daredevil still shares a world where we have Iron Men and Thunder Gods) but is able to still seperate something from that and make it all its own while still being relevant to it (something DC and Warner Bros still can’t seem to figure out).
I don’t know if it’s the best thing they’ve done, but for me it’s the one I personally have liked the most. It’s a series I am happy to rewatch repeatedly and can’t wait for a second season that will certainly come considering the lauding of praise it has already received. Daredevil is unique to its own and Marvel, yet again, sets another bar.
Final Rating: 4.5 out of 5
I think it was somewhere around episode 4 or 5 of The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt when I started to realize it’s more than just a simple little half-hour comedy. All of a sudden, things started to be connected and come together as I began to notice the layers and recurring gags and continuity that made shows like Arrested Development or Community personal favorites. Characters began to become fully formed, arcs began to be ramped up, nods to previous episode started to
This wasn’t a show that simply “rebooted” itself for every episode like most sitcoms, it started to tell a continuing story over time which is something I, and I think most audiences really, come to appreciate. It shows some care and effort and it’s nice to go on a longer journey and having those jokes pay off over time than trying to throw out a punchline every 20 seconds like some hack network script.
Kimmy is only as good as the title role. The show is named after her, afterall, and Ellie Kemper is so damn perfect here. She walks this wonderful line of starry-eyed wonder and gullibility with cuteness and sweetness and still not have it come across as overly-sentimental or trying too hard (aka New Girl syndrome). It feels natural and you get on board with her immediately as she learns all these new life lessons.
Life lessons, you say? Well yes, because that’s kind of the driving force of the show. Kimmy really never progressed past age 15 mentally as she lived in a bunker for another 15 years. Now she’s in her 30s and has to learn how to an adult and get over her teenage naïvety. As it turns out, her way of life and world view ends up helping those around her (and make a few enemies as well) and we learn a lot about her and the characters along the way of her simple life philosophy of "keep trying and never give up."
The show isn’t as upfront or daring as a Broad City, but it’s not as “safe” as a 30 Rock either with a ton of continuity jokes and innuendos that probably makes networks a little nervous (it’s why Community didn’t come back until Yahoo found them and, also, why Netflix picked up Arrested Development for yet another season recently). Network comedy is kind of dead at this point, with online and HBO (and to an extent Comedy Central) the only outlets willing to take some risks and give out quality shows.
The Unbreakable Kimmy Schimdt strikes a great balance of being comfortable and familiar but also pushing some boundaries just enough to get you to watch further. Well, outside the pilot because, to be perfectly honest, I thought the pilot was kind of awful. It just gets better, though, so do stick with it. It’s shows that Netflix really has a great eye for quality…and it shows that NBC passing on it still doesn’t know what the hell they’re doing over there. It’s not the end-all, be-all show, but it shows such wonderful promise and has such a great cast (always good to see Carol Kane in something) that it might just be the best little comedy you’re not watching.
Final Rating: 3.5 out of 5