‘Tec Ritter

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Good things on TV — BBC4 had Petula Clark presenting a guide to chanson Francaise, and THE GREATEST SHOWS ON EARTH, a phantasmagorical assemblage of circus footage — FREAKS fans will spot a couple of familiar fizzogs.

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Also watched — all thirteen episodes of Jessica Jones, a Marvel superhero series that isn’t, almost. Krysten Ritter, whom we like has the punching-through-walls strength (best wall-punching ever — unlike THE AVENGERS, it all seems to be physical) and the leaping-almost-flying (“It’s more like controlled falling”) but no costume or secret identity, and the other characters she meets from the Marvel Universe are similarly down-to-earth. So, did the showrunner Melissa Rosenberg really want to do a show about a self-destructive female private eye, and were they forced to accommodate superpowers to get it made? Ritter appeared in the wonderful Veronica Mars, and aspects of this show are comparable — both heroines have sexual assault backstories, and both are introduced spying on cheating couples fora living, a job which confirms their misanthropic, untrusting worldviews.

Where the show owns its fantasy element is the character of Kilgrave, essentially an evil hypnotist — everyone is compelled to obey his commands, and he has absolutely no conscience, combined with a devilish imagination for cruelty. Every episode pretty much features him committing some insanely hateful act using his powers of persuasion (like if Don Draper got caught in Bruce Banner’s gamma radiation shed, maybe?) and every episode thus amps up the overall series arc, which can be crudely defined as “Kill David Tennant! Punch his smirking head off!”

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Lee Marvin shrewdly defined the role of the Hollywood villain as being to do something so awful the audience wants to see you killed. Not since Andy Robinson in DIRTY HARRY has a screen bad guy chalked up so many outrageous offenses, stacking the viewer’s homicidal imperative so high you can feel the bloodlust coating your throat like Gaviscon.

I liked Tennant as an actor when he first appeared, but got tired of his bag of tricks — he was probably my least favourite modern Doctor Who because of the sense of strain and artifice (“You can smell the sweat,” complained Fiona) but he’s really good here — maybe letting go of the need to be liked has liberated him. He’s still tricksy, but we expect that in our villains — they have to be entertainers to compensate for our not being able to root for them, or not wholeheartedly. And, thank God, he’s not tricksier than usual — playing rapists and sadists, many actors feel the need to erect a wall of artifice so we won’t think it’s THEM up there — Robert Mitchum in CAPE FEAR (version 0.1) is unusual in seeming not to care about separating himself as actor from the scumbag he’s playing. Tennant isn’t as laid-back as that, obviously, but by his standards he’s pretty chilled.

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The show looks nice — cool greys, saturated neons and woozy focus — has a great supporting cast with good relationships — maybe has to spin its central conflict out a few episodes too far, without enough compelling subplots to take up the strain — has episodes directed by John Dahl and Michael Rymer — also three women directors, S.J. Clarkson, Uta Briesewtiz and Rosemary Rodriguez, plus a lot of women writers, which matters.

I could have watched ten pre-codes, but that wouldn’t have the compulsive more-ish-ness… TV or pre-codes? I think a break from TV to soak up more movies would be good…

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3 Responses to “‘Tec Ritter”

  1. As someone who’s read the comic the show is based on, the self-destructive PI element is in the source material. In fact, a lot of things from the comic (which was for “Mature Readers” and thus had a lot of sex and swearing) made it into the show.

    The main change is, in the comics, Jessica’s PTSD/back story is basically kept on the backburner for the first year and a half. Also, the superhero references are a little less down-to-earth than on the show. She’s spying on Captain America as one of her first assignments, for example, and Trish is actually a Golden Age superhero (if memory serves). I think those changes are for the best, though

  2. Simon Kane Says:

    I enjoyed Netfix’ Daredevil, chiefly as an antidote to Batman’s broken window policy, but JJ knocks it into a cocked hat. It’s also interesting to compare it to the other show from Netflix that got me very excited – Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt – completely different in disposition, but also concerned with women trying to recover their lives and minds from a charismatic man who controlled them utterly.

  3. I gave Daredevil a try after enjoying JJ, but you can’t compare it. I liked The Martian and the showrunner scripted that, but it seems really dull by comparison to Jones. Admittedly, I only watched most of one episode — didn’t even get as far as Vincent D’Onofrio. But then I need to get away from TV anyway so I can write a movie blog!

    Mr. K, that all makes sense — the comic took a step back from normal superheroics, and the show has taken another half step.

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