Jessica Jones Was Good, But It Should Have Been Great

When I saw the trailer for Jessica Jones I immediately decided it was going to be my new favourite show… until I watched it.

A lot of elements in the trailer suggested that it would resemble Netflix’s Daredevil series, which made me really excited. My love for Daredevil was a slow burn. Unlike Evan (who regularly reviews comics, like Ms. Marvel, for the blog), I’m not a comic aficionado. For me to really invest in a comic-based series I have to actually like it as a stand-alone. I’m also not a fan of dark dramas. I get depressed enough from real life, so my first choice for TV is lighthearted comedy. When John (my husband) finally convinced me to watch Daredevil with him it was a really hard sell. I was critical of the lack of diversity, the lack of interesting roles for women (although this got better as the season progressed), and the general lack of lighting in most scenes. What finally won me over was some of the best fight choreography I’ve ever seen on TV, and writing so solid that some monologues actually gave me chills.

When I saw the trailer for Jessica Jones I thought it would only perfect the good thing Netflix had already started with Daredevil. Not only would we have a dark and thoughtful plot, but we would have a much more diverse cast and more nuanced relationships between female characters.

How could anything possibly go wrong?

Apparently several things could, and did, go wrong. I’ve outlined a couple of the most frustrating aspects of the series below.

It had mediocre fight scenes

I get that it’s hard to make things look super realistic when you have a 90 pound woman throwing men around like ragdolls. I also get that choreographing these scenes would have to reflect Jones’ extraordinary strength. But is that really an excuse for scenes to look like something straight out of the 70’s?

Generally speaking, the fight scenes in Jessica Jones felt lazy. There are so many other ways you could demonstrate super strength beyond just throwing people, but for both Jones, and often Luke Cage, throwing seemed to be the primary mode of defence.

I mean, wouldn’t punching them in the face just be easier?

The dialogue was cliché

When I watched the trailer for Jessica Jones I assumed that it would be adapted by the same screenwriter as Daredevil. Alas, how was I to know that Jessica Jones was created by a different writer with a much different style? While Daredevil was headed up by Drew Goddard, who is best known for his work on shows like Buffy, Angel, Alias and Lost, Jessica Jones was led by Melissa Rosenberg, who is currently best known for her work on the Twilight Series.

On the one hand, I’m happy to see a woman at the helm of this project. I think that’s probably why Jessica Jones does such an impressive job dealing with difficult topics, like rape and consent, without reducing them to mere plot points.

Unfortunately, my love for the content of Jessica Jones doesn’t make up for its terrible writing.  

For example, Jessica constantly references her own rudeness and drunkenness, making those aspects of her personae feel forced and unnatural. In a well-written show characters shouldn’t have to tell you about their bad habits because their actions will already have demonstrated it for you.

But it’s more than just an exaggerated bad-girl personae that we are dealing with, it’s also just poor writing. As Kyle Pinion points out in his review for the Beat,

No matter how skilled an actor, some lines are impossible to pull off. “Self respect: Get some!” is a great example that sounds straight out of an anti-drugs commercial. At the end of the day, showrunner Melissa Rosenberg’s main credentials still include the Twilight series (in fairness, the source material wasn’t much to work with) and the early seasons of Dexter (that haven’t aged all that well), and sometimes cheesy, tone-deaf dialogue breaks through the show’s tougher exterior. If you’re aiming for a tone like Veronica Mars, cheesy can work, but when a series is cast out of the gritty Daredevil mode, it can feel out of place.

Perhaps this juxtaposition of gritty and goofy just comes from writing for a Marvel series. Stylistically, Daredevil  is a world apart from Marvel’s films, so perhaps Jessica Jones was an attempt to bridge that gap.

Then again, maybe the screenwriters should have been more focused on what their show had to bring to the table, rather than thinking so much about the Marvel works that had already come before them.

That reminds me of my biggest irritation with this show.

It was too distracted by the rest of the Marvel universe

 Jessica Jones regularly referenced the Avengers, without ever calling them by name.

They even had a side-plot that solely existed to draw attention to Jones’ connection to “others” like her in one of the episodes.

Maybe for Marvel fans it’s exciting to hear these very obvious references, but to me, it felt like name-dropping. And when a show starts name-dropping, it tells me that even the producers don’t think the plot is strong enough to stand on its own. Instead, they need to hold onto the coattails of films and characters that already have a following.

If a show is truly interested in doing a cross-over, they ought to be able to use the characters’ names, or at least make the “easter eggs” a tad more subtle.

Watching Jessica Jones left me feeling both frustrated and happy. I’m happy to see these kind of shows gaining attention and popularity. It’s always exciting to see more well-developed storylines for women and people of colour popping up on TV. The series has also blazed the trail for future Marvel works by addressing issues that were previously taboo topics.

But watching Jessica Jones also made me feel frustrated. A lot of people have been waiting a long time to see a superhero movie or TV show that didn’t revolve around a white guy. While it’s certainly exciting to see that finally happen, I can’t help but feel a little bit pressured to adore an adaptation that could have been better.

Heck, I don’t just want a great female lead to identify with. I want a great female lead to identify with, without having to rationalize all her terrible cheesy one-liners.

3 responses to “Jessica Jones Was Good, But It Should Have Been Great

  1. Thanks for expressing some of the frustrations with the show that I felt but couldn’t articulate. At least I know I’m not the only one who loves Ritter and likes the show, but who also winces at some of the cheesy dialogue. Well said!

  2. Jessica Jones is very “the emperor’s new clothes” in that there are so many people praising (mostly on premise alone without considering how it actually executed that premise). The writing was just not good. We have characters that make no sense and could be edited out, subplots that don’t go anywhere and the even Jessica’s personality is depicted in a cliched manner that its irritating.

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