If you're not familiar with the comic book heroine Jessica Jones, she might strike you as a confusing character to base a TV series around -- even more confusing than the blind crime fighter Daredevil, who'd already gotten his shot at live-action stardom in 2002 before Marvel decided to bring his story to Netflix earlier this year. After all, she's not that well known to the non-comic reading audience, and she's not even really a superhero, despite her awesome super strength and sleuthing skills.
But you need to put all of that aside, because Netflix's "Jessica Jones" is going to be one of the best, brutally honest, most amazing television shows you watch all year, regardless of whether you knew who Jessica was before you hit "play." MTV News was given the chance to watch the first seven episodes before the show hits Netflix on November 20, and believe us, we are never going to stop talking about how great it is from here on out.
First of all, it's incredibly faithful to the mood of the comics.
Not necessarily as far as plot beats go, mind you, because Jessica Jones' breakout comic "Alias" does a lot of overlapping with other Marvel properties that the TV show simply can't do: in the very first couple of issues she has to protect Captain America's secret identity, and in the MCU he doesn't even have one of those. But if you've read the comic, this world will feel very comfortable and familiar to you, from the murky purple shadows right down to the hard-boiled narration from Krysten Ritter.
Jessica Jones is unlike any female protagonist we've met before.
The male antiheroes you see on TV aren't usually the kinds of friends you'd want to have in real life, but they sure are fascinating to watch, especially when you know that they're trying to do the right thing deep down. But you don't always get to see women that are as morally complex and messed up, because for some reason people have a harder time dealing with fictional women they find unlikeable.
Jessica Jones, however, laughs in the face of those people while flipping them off and kicking giant dents into their cars. She is a "jerk with a heart of gold" in the purest sense of the term, and like any good antihero, she's wonderfully complicated. She has a moral code but doesn't always stick to it; she tries to help people but doesn't always know how to do it right. She drinks to excess, she fights, she steals and cheats and does terrible things, and despite all that she is infinitely relatable in her abrasiveness. Oh, and she's also very, very good at her job as a private investigator.
Her supporting cast is also incredible.
Part of Jessica's charm -- or lack thereof, depending on your point of view -- is how she plays off of the other people in her life. There's Luke Cage (Mike Colter), of course, who's a perfect level-headed foil to Jessica's combative energy; the methodical lawyer Jeri Hogarth (Carrie Anne-Moss), who cynically challenges Jessica's moral fortitude at every turn; and the people who live in Jessica's building, all of whom are equal parts creepy and eccentric and heartbreakingly real.
But the true MVP so far, in my opinion, is Rachael Taylor as radio talk show host Trish Walker, Jessica's best friend in the series. If you know your Marvel comics history, you know that Patsy Walker is a teen romance icon turned superhero who wants nothing more than to save the world with her own two hands, and "Jessica Jones" does a fiendishly excellent job of translating her to live action. Frankly, it might be the most interesting version of the character, (at least until Kate Leth and Brittany William's comic "Patsy Walker (AKA Hellcat)" comes out in 2016), and this is coming from someone whose first reaction to "Trish" was, "Aw, how come she's not a redhead anymore?" More importantly, her friendship with Jessica is a breath of fresh air, compared to all the superhero-filled Marvel movies that don't even pass the Bechdel test.
And you're definitely going to wish you had her superpowers.
Remember how great the fight scenes in "Daredevil" were? Jessica's might be even better. Sure, Matt Murdock is a martial arts master and his fights were gorgeous, brilliantly-directed feats of filmmaking, but Jessica Jones can throw fully grown men three times her size up over her head without even so much as an eyeroll.
Of course, having super strength doesn't solve every problem -- honestly, Jessica has so many problems that it doesn't even cover half of 'em -- but every time Krysten Ritter yanks a steel-plated door open or angrily hits a glass window so hard that it shatters, you can't help but feel a little thrill of excitement.
The show features honest depictions of sexuality and relationships.
It's no secret that Luke Cage and Jessica Jones are a powerhouse couple of Marvel Comics, and eventually they're going to have to end up together because those are the rules. But that doesn't exactly make the two star-crossed lovers or anything -- their relationship is real and raw and oh yeah, super hot. And unlike with other Marvel TV shows, the camera doesn't pan away when things are about to get intense. Beds get broken, neighbors get irritated, and neither Jessica nor Luke are ever treated like terrible people for it. (Jessica does terrible things that have nothing to do with having sex, mind you, but her sexual agency isn't the problem there).
And she's certainly not the only woman who navigates her sexuality in a way we've never seen on a Marvel TV show before -- so is Jeri Hogarth, an open lesbian who's dealing with personal drama of her own. Queer relationships can be just as sweet or as broken as heteronormative ones, after all, and "Jessica Jones" isn't afraid to explore that at all.
And its villain is compelling -- but completely monstrous.
Vincent D'Onofrio almost stole the show as the Wilson Fisk in the first season of "Daredevil," but don't expect to feel as much sympathy for the new Marvel baddie, Kilgrave. At first glance there are similarities between the two men -- both hide in the shadows and torment their heroes from afar -- but they do so in radically different ways, and with very, very different intentions. If you were worried that "Doctor Who" fans were going to defend Kilgrave's inherent creepiness because he's played by the charismatic David Tennant, then worry no more, because the dude is a literal nightmare come to life who leaves a lot of people traumatized in his wake. It gets horrifying very, very quickly, and the show never shies away from the ugliness of his particular "gift" for manipulation.
At the heart of the show is an emotionally earnest story of survivorhood.
This year has seen a huge surge in discussion about the way that abuse and sexual assault should be depicted on television -- many feel that it's used too often for shock value or as visual shorthand for villains being villainous, and we rarely get to delve into how it psychologically affects the victim afterwards.
Of course, this series isn't strictly about sexual assault, though it is hinted at and even mentioned by name (but never shown outright, at least not in the first seven episodes). Instead it's primarily about coping with the feelings of helplessness and shame that come after experiencing a trauma, whether or not that trauma happens to be violent in nature -- and it's especially powerful given that, like so many people who experience real-life abuse, those who encounter Kilgrave aren't believed by the world at large. It's a type of story that almost never gets told, let alone treated with the importance and respect it so rightfully deserves, and "Jessica Jones" completely nails it from the get-go.
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