Marvel’s new Netflix series “Jessica Jones” isn’t just the best female-driven superhero show on air right now (not that there are many) — it’s the best superhero show to have come out within the past few years. It would have been watchable even just as a private investigator show, but the superhero storyline adds an element of intrigue that keeps us watching even more closely. The opening credits sequence feels bizarrely reminiscent of “Mad Men,” “Doctor Who” and “The Pink Panther,” but somehow it works perfectly. And the show itself — thanks to phenomenal acting, intelligently crafted plotlines, stylish cinematography and distinct lack of tired female superhero tropes — is addicting.
Jessica Jones (Krysten Ritter, “Don’t Trust the B—- in Apartment 23”) pays for her rent (and her whiskey habit) by working as a private investigator in New York City. We see immediately that she’s not normal — she can lift a car with one hand — and we learn that she’s “gifted” in other ways, as an ex-superhero. Mike Colter (“Million Dollar Baby”) is introduced in the pilot as Luke Cage, a bar owner gifted with a nearly unbreakable body. From the first few moments, Jones and Cage share tantalizing chemistry that quickly escalates into boundary-pushing sex scenes.
Jones struggles with PTSD from an abusive relationship with Kilgrave (David Tennant, “Doctor Who”), a gifted villain who can influence people not only to do horrible things but to feel like they want to do those things — like shooting their own parents in an elevator. Kilgrave’s abusive behaviors are often sexual in nature, and Jones is not his first or last target.
Ritter is captivating as Jones, with her nuanced performance growing in depth throughout the course of the show. Ritter is as unaware of the camera as Jones is unaware of her own good qualities, resulting in an organic portrayal. Ritter accesses a wide emotional spectrum, playing Jones as brazen yet panicked and vulnerable, often at the same time. Jones never takes a moment to appreciate the good things she has done for the city or for other people, preferring to ignore feelings of self-blame and drink to avoid PTSD flashbacks.
“Jessica Jones” is as strong as its protagonist. Ritter, Tennant and Colter are compelling leads, and the supporting cast holds up as well. The directors are literally shooting for subtle noir tones, and despite some overly exaggerated mood lighting and a couple extra-long shots of seedy street corners and Manhattan bars, the noir influences glimmer through. The show holds a surprising number of artistic touches, like a light percussive drumbeat that accompanies an extended bar fight scene. The jazz score doesn’t feel out of place, but accentuates the overall tone of the PI storyline.
While the pilot episode holds gems like “You’re one of them,” “you’re not normal” and “I’ll tell the world!” directed at Jones when she’s holding a car in one hand, “Jessica Jones” never relies too heavily on superhero-hiding-in-plain-sight mechanisms. The show winks to those viewers who have read the comics on which “Jessica Jones” is based, but it’s also completely accessible to those who haven’t.
Even though it seems like we can never have a female superhero on TV who is dangerous without also being “damaged,” this show doesn’t fall into traps that female-driven superhero shows often get tangled in. Despite Jones’s sultry voice-over narration, she isn’t over-sexualized and there are close and complex relationships between Jones and other women. There are very, very few hints of an “I’m not like other girls” sentiment. And sexual violence isn’t aesthetized here, but treated gravely, as it should be.
Jones is a capable ex-superhero, a cynical P.I., a survivor, a complicated friend and a vulnerable person trying to stop an abusive man from barreling back into her life while protecting people she cares about. The show captures all of these elements equally without relying too heavily on any single one. “Jessica Jones” does justice to its protagonist.
But the best thing about “Jessica Jones” is undoubtedly the fact that you can stream the entire first season on Netflix, right now, from pilot to finale. And then watch it again, because yes, it’s that good.