Friday, April 8, 2016

Jessica Jones, Transparent, Halt and Catch Fire, and Penny Dreadful

Over the past month or so I've remembered and wanted to write about some more of the better 2015 television shows that I hadn't yet written about.


Looking at some best of horror lists suddenly reminded me of Penny Dreadful.  This season was considerably more fascinating than the first season.  There is one popular episode featuring Vanessa Ives' deep and formative past relationship with a witch.  This extraordinarily touching relationship is depicted in extended flashback (lasting the whole episode).  There is also a blood boiling group of villains (especially the head mother) in the form of a coven of witches.  I went into this season knowing very little and believe that is essential to utmost enjoyment.


I caught up on Transparent and watched the latest season during late 2015.  Jeffrey Tambor did things for me no other actor has accomplished in similar roles (not even Jared Leto in Dallas Buyers Club).  This show is quite soapy and I enjoyed the second season less, but I'm mesmerized by the privileged Los Angeles mise en scène, which is strangely isolating yet alluring, kind of a satin-lined plushy hell.  I especially enjoyed Bradley Whitford's appearance in this, an unexpected turn for him.  I pray that Tambor's character rises to the top in the next season, this season went off track in how much other characters were more prevalent on screen than the apparent central character.  In particular, I hope to see the character's special knowledge (history as a professor) and talents come to use in fun and unexpected ways.


Silicon Prairie series Halt and Catch Fire had a sophomore year that I feel surpassed the first.  MacMillan's relationship with a young woman, played by the spicy and sweet Aleksa Palladino, was heartrending.  MacMillan is also portrayed as innovating a highly profitable business model; just when you thought he was burnt out he rebounds even stronger.  Gordon and Donna Clark go through new challenges that turn things topsy-turvy.  Cameron's tech startup occupies much of this season's  drama, which involves all the major characters at one point or another, and is a fascinating behind-the-scenes glimpse of really smart and quirky people working together in a mostly egalitarian but low-maintenance setting.  SPOILER:  This show looks to be transitioning from the Silicon Prairie to the Silicon Valley.


Finally, I finished Marvel's Jessica Jones only a couple weeks ago.  This is part of a group of gritty New York set comic adaptations from Netflix.  Daredevil, the first and most popular of the two (so far), is undoubtedly a rush (especially lovin' that Scott Glenn and all the ancient mysticism).  However, in some ways I favor this one, but not altogether.

For one, Jessica Jones (like her sister for that matter) is way cooler and more interesting than Elektra (surprise surprise).  This show is also a textbook example on multiple occasions of how to pass the Bechdel test and write kick-ass material for women.  This show lacks the cheesiness and silliness of Agent Carter (which I still like).  Jessica Jones is hard-boiled and deeply flawed and her frustration is felt and her inner turmoil palpable (I was also frustrated by her much of the time; she keeps trying to get through to people she knows she can't (you can stop already!)).

This series opens with a realistic vibe and only gradually allows the powers to manifest themselves over the course of the first few episodes.  I have to admit that I almost ditched the show after viewing the pilot, which ended on a horrendous and deeply disturbing note.  However, I figured that the show would likely soften the intensity moving forward, which it did.  That's not to say it was dull, but the extreme traumas and despair depicted are never recreated.

Unlike Daredevil, there is only one villain--one persistent, persuasive, perverse villain who may just brainwash you with his delusions of love and victimization.  However, a secondary villain seems to be set up for future seasons.  I was slow to warm up to this show but I found the ending more satisfying than the ending of the second season of Daredevil (but I like the first Daredevil ending the most).           

I also found myself increasingly annoyed at Matt Murdock much of the time during the second season of Daredevil.  To that end, I would say I like Jones and Daredevil about equally.  It's interesting that there is no compartmentalization or double life for Jessica Jones, all her travails are simply part of her life.

This show overlaps with Daredevil, which is a huge part of the pleasure, in which we get some cross-pollination of characters and story.  Furthermore, the implications for these characters and the cinematic line-up provide further intrigue and possibility.  I want Jessica Jones on my case. 

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