Saturday, April 18, 2015

Review: Daredevil on Netflix

Visit this link for more information on the show.

           I have resisted getting Netflix for ages, a move that has resulted in many of the people in my life questioning my life choices. However, as an avid comic book fan, I knew Daredevil would be my breaking point. At the very least, I had to at least get the one-month trial when the show was released and see if it lived up to my fangirl expectations.

           Color me stunned. After devouring all 13 episodes in a 48-hour period, it took me a day of rest just to be able to speak about them intelligently. And here I am, still fumbling for words to explain just why this show rocked my world.

           I guess the best way to explain what Daredevil does well is to explain all the pitfalls it neatly avoids. Even the best TV shows I watch of late suffer from at least two big problems: (1) uneven character development and (2) poor pacing. With the first problem, perhaps our main character is developed, but too many of the people around him/her are paper cutouts we’re supposed to care about, but don’t. There might be some thin, cliche attempts to make the antagonist have depth, as well, but they’re often just no good rotten scoundrels in a way that real people seldom are.

         With the second problem, you see shows racing to throw out all their best moves upfront to keep people watching. They rush romances to their ultimate conclusion far too soon and then having to manufacture obstacles to keep them from devolving into uninteresting domestic bliss. The story is also in such a hurry to get somewhere that the writers neglect to build up coherent supporting details or allow for any emotional investment. Or, just as bad, the story plods along, meditating endlessly on things that don’t ultimately seem to matter to the story being told. Some shows seem to alternate between the rush and the plodding, leaving the viewer feeling vaguely seasick. It suggests a lack of focus and planning, and a fuzzy view of their endgame for the season and for the series, altogether.

         On both these fronts, Daredevil owns the competition.

Cast image is found here.

          First of all, Daredevil handles character development like a boss. From Matt Murdock, our blind lawyer turned super-powered vigilante (portrayed by Charlie Cox), to his BFF, Foggy “Foggybear” Nelson (portrayed by Elden Henson), to criminal defendant turned secretary, Karen Page (portrayed by Deborah Ann Woll), everyone who walks across the screen in this show is given enough development to feel like a believable, relatable human being. And it’s not just these characters. Secondary characters like Ben Urich (portrayed by Vondie Curtis-Hall), our world-weary news reporter, and Elena Cardenas (portrayed by Judith Delgado), a beleaguered tenant in danger of being driven from her rent-controlled apartment, also get enough attention to make them interesting and beloved. To top it all off, the cast has amazing chemistry. Every time that Foggy and Karen are involved in hijinks, Matt and Foggy are bantering, or the three of them are coming together in a moment of solidarity, pure television magic happens.

          As for developing the main character into someone worth following, this, too, is a serious home run for Daredevil. One of the things I particularly like about the show is that it does not shrink from showing how difficult the life that Matt Murdock lives would actually be. Often, we see superheroes getting thrown into walls and hopping up, ready to shake it off and get back into the fight. In Daredevil, Matt's heroics are utterly brutal, and often leave him beaten senseless and bleeding. He shows resilience, which is explained partially by his family legacy of Murdock men being able to absorb a beating like nobody's business (his dad being a boxer), but he still takes punishment to do what he does. This makes the fact that he runs out there, still stitched up and bruised from the night before, all the more heroic, but also shows that he's at least slightly unbalanced. He doesn't seem to care much for his personal well-being, so fixated on saving the city that he loves that nothing else matters. There is an obsession here that is both admirable and deeply unhealthy. The way the show depicts his backstory- explaining how he was blinded, his upbringing, and about how he lost his father- it all makes perfect sense. After seeing where he came from, you have to wonder if he could have turned out any other way.

This image was found here.

          But it’s not just the protagonist types who get the star treatment around here. No, our big bad, Wilson Fisk, a.k.a. "the Kingpin" (expertly portrayed by Vincent D’Onofrio), also gets his time to shine. And boy, does he shine. A hulking menace with an almost nervous, quiet disposition at times, Fisk has own business, his own friends, and even his own love interest to see to. His world does not revolve around the actions of a single vigilante who is trying to interfere with his operations. More realistically, he often has bigger fish to fry as he busies himself with coordinating the factions of the organized crime in Hell’s Kitchen while envisioning himself as the neighborhood’s ultimate savior. He and his world are complex, and just as deserving as attention as Matt’s. It's only as the show progresses that these two forces begin to circle each other more closely.

          And the plot unfolds just like a flower, one petal at a time, until there is an explosion of goodness all up in your peepers. There is no rush to get people hooked up. Foggy’s obviously digging on Karen. Karen isn’t necessarily on board with that, but seems to be in the throes of a possible schoolgirl crush in Matt's company. Matt, himself, has ridiculous chemistry with Claire (portrayed by Rosario Dawson), the nurse who patches him up after his extracurricular activities leave him worse for the wear. However, the show does not appear to be in a rush for anybody to start picking out china patterns, allowing sparks to grow and fizzle where they naturally may. Meanwhile, who is out there finding true love? Wilson Motherf--ing Fisk, that’s who.

          Additionally, while the action is beautifully done and ever present, this is a show that isn’t afraid to spend most of one episode with two best friends having a terse conversation at a pivotal moment in their relationship. This may sound like boring stuff, watching two guys argue in a room with the occasional flashback, but I was hunched over on my couch, leaned in towards my TV with tears in my eyes, going, “Oh my God. Oh my God, what’s going to happen?” the entire time. The tension played out beautifully, and the subject of the conversation, alone, was enough to keep you riveted.

          In sum? This is basically some of the best TV I've watched in a long time. It’s become one of the shows that I feel I have to preach like the gospel, right up there with Game of Thrones and (sometimes) The Walking Dead. I feel so passionately about the quality of what I've seen so far that I need other people to know, and I feel almost certain that everyone who takes me up on it will come back pleased. So even if you don’t take me up on any of my other recommendations, heed me on this: watch Daredevil. Trust me, you won’t be sorry.

Further reading:

Why Marvel's 'Daredevil' Netflix Series has Changed Shared Universe Franchising

The "Daredevil" Binge-Blog

Netflix's Daredevil is Now the Second Most Pirated Show

Daredevil: A Longform Approach to Comic-Book Television

Jeph Loeb Talks "Daredevil," Marvel Studios, Promises "It's All Connected"