It’s hard to believe Netflix’s first original scripted drama (“House of Cards”) debuted just five years ago this month. Since then, the streaming service has brought us some of the very best series on television.
One of these, Marvel’s “Jessica Jones,” will have its second season available for streaming (in my case, bingeing) on March 8. My wife and I will be attending the premiere screening at the Paley Center for Media in New York.
“Jessica Jones” is one of several series based on Marvel characters currently airing on Netflix – along with “Daredevil,” “Luke Cage,” “Iron Fist” and “The Punisher.” While the Marvel cinematic universe in theatrical movies often focuses on the most well-known world-saving superheroes, Netflix concentrates on the lesser-known, street-level heroes, whose grittier, more personal, neighborhood-centered stories lend themselves to more interesting series-long plotlines (as opposed to blockbuster action movies).
“Jessica Jones” stars Krysten Ritter, one of the most casually charismatic actors on television. She is a reluctant hero, haunted by her past, with extraordinary strength (the extent of which we haven’t yet seen).
Season one was a surprisingly strong commentary on male/female relationships and the abuse of privilege and power, focusing on topics like mind control, addiction, rape, retaliation, revenge, and redemption — subject matter seldom dealt with on television, and not at all in the Marvel universe at large.
From superhero to crime dramas to action series, strong women abound on broadcast TV. Virtually all of them, however, have central relationships with men, report to men, or are otherwise dependent on men to some degree. I wonder if this has to do with the conservativeness of broadcast executives, writers thinking they need to be more traditional for a broadcast networks, or simply because broadcast shows have more episodes per season than cable or streaming dramas, and relationships lend themselves to more storylines. Maybe there’s a feeling that these dynamics appeal to a broader audience (broadcast networks need higher ratings for a show to survive). Then again, it could just be a result of having more male than female writers and directors.
“Jessica Jones” shatters that mold by presenting a strong, brooding, independent woman on her own, who plays by her own rules. She’s flawed, she swears, she drinks too much – the type of female character you rarely if ever see on broadcast (or ad-supported cable for that matter). She’s a victim and a hero (who doesn’t need to be saved by a man).
And it’s not just Krysten Ritter’s title character. Most of the strong, independent characters in “Jessica Jones” are women, including Rachael Taylor as her best friend Trish “Patsy” Walker (who looks from the trailer to have an expanded role in season 2), and the excellent Carrie-Anne Moss as a high-powered attorney who has helped Jessica out of several jams. All 13 episodes of season 2 reportedly have female directors.
Coming out post #MeToo (although filmed beforehand), the second season may resonate even more with viewers. In the trailer, a new male character who wants to take over her private investigation business tells her, “I don’t take no for an answer.” Jessica responds, “How rapey of you.” New terrain for TV, to be sure.
Unlike regular series on linear television, shows on streaming services need not worry about average ratings (reach is more important), audience flow, fitting into a network lineup, or having one season immediately follow another. The first season of “Jessica Jones” premiered in November, 2015. Its second season will drop in March, 2018.
Because Netflix didn’t have to rush the second season for a fall 2016 debut, it was able to roll out its other Marvel characters — Luke Cage, Iron Fist, The Defenders (which saw Jessica team up with Cage, Fist, and Daredevil, who debuted on Netflix before Jessica Jones), and The Punisher — to have a cohesive timeline.
As I’m writing this, a commercial for “Jessica Jones” is airing during the Winter Olympics. This brings up another big advantage Netflix has over the broadcast networks. While all the broadcast networks gladly accept advertising from Netflix, they still stubbornly refuse to take advertising from one another. As a result, Netflix has more and bigger platforms on which to promote its series than its major competitors (which at this point are not Hulu and Amazon Prime Video, but rather ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX, and CW). “Jessica Jones” is certainly going to benefit.