TV TATTLE

Netflix's Jupiter's Legacy is the superhero TV version of a Designer Imposter stinker

  • "At the height of '80s consumerist decadence, few items sold the illusion of wealth and upper-class aspiration like luxury perfume," says Melanie McFarland. "But the top-selling department store scents were unaffordable for most people, which is where Designer Imposters found its market. These chemical-loaded imitations weren't perfect clones of the real deal but they were passable. Drugstore shoppers and Seventeen magazine readers quickly came to recognize the peppy promise that 'If You Like Giorgio, You'll Love PRIMO!' and either buy into it or joke about it. Versions of these knockoffs are still stocked in drugstores although snootier noses can tell the real deal from an Imposter and may gag at its very mention. Therefore, please understand the mixed implications calling Jupiter's Legacy the PRIMO! of superhero shows. Not Axe Apollo. Not even Bod. PRIMO! Its creators and Netflix presume that if you like what Disney is doing with the Avengers movies or stanned the Snyder cut, you're likely to at least check this thing out . . . and if you watch for a few minutes, that counts as a view. But be warned – despite employing a conceit that is by now the clone of a clone's corpse, plenty of folks will ignore that base note's stank and see it through. It's only eight episodes, right? Pounding a flamboyantly mediocre show with King Kong's ferocity and enthusiasm of Gorilla Grodd is easy to do, and it would be a dishonest lass to claim it isn't fun. Nevertheless, in observance of the Code guiding the Union of Justice – this show's version of the Justice League or the Avengers or the Seven or the Guardians of the Globe or the Decency Squad  – I'll hold back from straight murder."

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    • Jupiter's Legacy is bad, but you can see the wasted potential: "After watching the shockingly bad premiere episode of Jupiter’s Legacy, Netflix’s new potential superhero franchise, I started wondering when those in involved in a bad TV show really know it’s bad," says Allison Keene. "But as I kept watching the 8-episode season, based on Mark Millar and Frank Quitely’s graphic novel series (and adapted by Daredevil’s Steven S. DeKnight), the show got… not good exactly, but less bad. The wigs were still laughable, it took itself far too seriously for a show where senior citizens wear spandex hero suits, and half of its story was still truly awful. But buried within was something that could have been worthwhile in a bizarro universe."
    • Jupiter's Legacy might be better if there were room in the overplotted script for the actors to work: "Maybe it could even allow them a joke or two," says Sam Thielman, adding: "But the problems with the series point to a larger problem with how comics tend to be perceived by Hollywood and TV land. Jupiter’s Legacy is, in part, the work of writer Mark Millar, the seemingly inexhaustible one-man hit factory behind production company and publisher Millarworld, whose comics can read a bit like gorgeously illustrated spec scripts for the entertaining star-vehicle movies they eventually become. He's half of the creative force behind the Wanted movie and the Kick-Ass and Kingsman film series, and a half-dozen Marvel movies acknowledge him by name in the credits. But comics are not just scripts written by guys like Millar and then fleshed out by whatever competent artist happens to be handy; they're at minimum a collaboration between writer and artist, and, at their best, the artist is often the principal craftsperson. Millar himself is keenly aware of this: The partners who draw for the Millarworld comics get legendarily generous shares of the profits from their associated media — often far more than when their work on corporate superheroes gets made into big movies....(But) Jupiter’s Legacy isn’t something that translates as directly to the screen as his earlier work; it has to be adapted by someone who understands why the story works in one form and how it can work in a different one. In trying to capture the thing that makes these comics work and put it in front of audiences in a live-action format — rather than to use the material as a springboard into a different form — that vital essence slips away."
    • Jupiter's Legacy is best when it's characters are just hanging out: "Something that tumbles around and around in my head is a statement I made to a friend a few months ago after watching a bunch of genre shows in quick succession: Most TV is just people standing in rooms," says Emma Stefansky. "It's true; the vast majority of scripted television out there is either police procedurals, legal dramas, or sitcoms, prime real estate for scene after scene of room-standing while conversations unfold in the span of a half-hour to an hour of (sigh) content. Live-action superhero shows are no different. Without the budgets of blockbuster movies, most of the action scenes are quick and light on effects, while the majority of the episodes focus on putting their characters in rooms and letting them talk to each other. (And it's those scenes that are often the strongest: The best parts of WandaVision weren't any of the climactic levitating fight sequences, but the quiet conversations between the two main characters.) It's no surprise that Jupiter's Legacy, the new comic book adaptation from Netflix, is much more engaging when it's about a family of steel mill owners trying to yank their business from the gaping maw of the Great Depression (and also becoming superheroes)."
    • It is impossible to overstate how much momentum the flashbacks, which again are fully half of each episode, remove from the main narrative: "The half-modern, half-period format completely wrecks the pacing in Jupiter's Legacy and cuts both of the show's plot lines bafflingly short," says Alexis Nedd. "As mentioned above, the 30s story ends when the heroes, who we know get powers, get powers. The modern plot then suffers from squeezing eight episodes' worth of forward-looking plot into the runtime of four episodes. There simply isn't enough time for the modern characters to make progress in their arcs, so Season 1 ends with everyone pretty much exactly as they were in the first episode, just angrier."
    • Jupiter's Legacy's stars look out of place: "There’s also the matter of (Josh) Duhamel, (Leslie) Bibb, and several co-stars being the wrong age for both eras of the show," says Alan Sepinwall. "Duhamel looks much too old to play naive young steel-industry scion Sheldon Sampson in the flashbacks. And even though his powers have obviously slowed Utopian’s aging, he looks ridiculous in the long, ratty gray wig he sports in the present-day scenes — the sort of flourish that looks cool as drawn on the comics page by artist Frank Quitely, but doesn’t translate at all to live-action. Ditto the costumes, all of which clearly want to evoke famous ones without outright copying them, but look like something you’d pick up at 6 p.m. on Halloween from a Party City that’s already sold out of all its trademarked material."
    • Jupiter's Legacy is dragged down by its subplots: "At times, the show pops dramatically, whether that's a terrific (and terrifically violent) superhero fight in the early going, the tumult surrounding the then-mortal Utopian/Sheldon's family business and the mysterious call that sets him on the path to his next chapter," says Brian Lowry. "Still, even by the standards of serialized dramas the writing inches forward grudgingly, while taking tiresome detours into the personal lives of Brandon and Chloe, whose angst-ridden relationships feel a bit too much like the stuff of a CW drama, just with more conspicuously exposed flesh and blood. Those subplots serve as a drag on the show, which makes the last half of the season feel like a letdown after its promising start. As a footnote, executive producer Steven S. DeKnight left midway through production, which might help explain some of the tonal inconsistencies. The Netflix series also lands at a moment when the bar for such fare has been raised in the streaming space, even limiting the competition to revisionist, jaundiced views of superheroes, including Amazon's The Boys -- really the standard-setter in this subgenre -- and Invincible, as well as Netflix's The Umbrella Academy. That doesn't count Marvel's stepped-up if more traditional efforts for Disney+."
    • Jupiter's Legacy is a shoddily-produced and tonally unbalanced superhero series: "An older generation of superheroes is preparing to hand over their tights to the next generation, but the two groups don’t see eye to eye on how they should be making a difference," says Ben Travers. "What actually divides the Boomer heroes and millennial supes is just one more unresolved plot point in Season 1. These eight confounding episodes generate plenty of questions, but they lack the acumen to answer them or properly tease their eventual resolution. From its big ideas to its most basic details, Jupiter’s Legacy is an absolute mess."
    • Neither of Jupiter's Legacy's two storylines work at all: "To their credit, they fail for different reasons, though the very questionable decision to cast every role in the middle of two age extremes doesn’t help," says Daniel Fienberg. "In the flashback, it’s hilarious to have Duhamel, Bibb and especially Daniels pretending to be in their 20s. In the present day, even accepting that superheroes age at a different rate, it’s hilarious to have all of the stars in shoddy old-age makeup. It’s part of the gimmick of the comic, mind you, to have these geriatrics in tights. But whether aging up or down, neither makeup job is good or consistent — there are times they don’t even seem to be trying to make Bibb look anything other than fabulous — and so the actors all look uncomfortable throughout, and none of the stars is inherently good enough to withstand eight hours of perpetual discomfort. It’s easier to pinpoint why the flashback side of the story is so bad, and it isn’t just because the actors are as convincingly period-appropriate as a Great Gatsby-themed frat party where nobody ever read The Great Gatsby. Simply put: There are no stakes and no twists or turns for the entire flashback, stretched over all eight episodes."
    • Jupiter's Legacy's clash of generations is so hackneyed and poorly defined: "Rather than just combine all these flashbacks in one standalone outing, Jupiter’s Legacy doles them out by the episode, repeatedly robbing the contemporary story of what little momentum it does muster," says Danette Chavez. "It’s as if Steven S. DeKnight, who developed the series and wrote the first and last episodes before departing, and Sang Kyu Kim, his replacement as showrunner, wanted to jam a full prequel into the story they were supposed to be telling about generational strife. Then again, who could blame them, when said olds-versus-youngs clash is so hackneyed and poorly defined? If the show takes place, in part, in the year 2020, why pit Gen Z against the Greatest Generation? Characters vaguely allude to the intervening years between when the Union was first formed and whatever year it’s supposed to be in the present, but it’s mostly to intone that 'the world has really changed/is changing.' Jupiter’s Legacy never does reveal just what has changed in the last century, aside from the color of the Utopian’s mane."
    • Unfortunately, creativity is lacking from much of the series: "Millar was trying to comment on the transition from the simple conflicts of the Golden Age of comic books, where heroes mostly dispatched bank robbers and silly costumed villains, to the more nuanced modern hero stories, which have become overtly political," says Samantha Nelson. "But the conflict throughout most of the first season of Jupiter’s Legacy just boils down to whether it’s OK to kill a supervillain who’s about to murder you or your parents. The show hints at the more complex conflicts that the comics address, but the writers seem to be keeping them in reserve for a future season. It’s hard to care about how the story will continue, given that everyone in the show is either an evil cliché, exceptionally gullible, unreasonably stubborn, or barely a character at all. There are plenty of problems with America, and with the superhero genre’s relationship with violence and politics, but Jupiter’s Legacy doesn’t really address any of them. Like The Utopian himself, the show’s creators are stuck looking back at an imagined Golden Age, with no way to move forward and build something better."
    • Here's a cheat sheet for Jupiter's Legacy: "Netflix's Jupiter's Legacy is ...Less cynical and empty than Amazon's The Boys," says Glen Weldon. "Less bright and blood-flecked than Amazon's Invincible. Less weird and imaginative than Netflix's The Umbrella Academy. Less funny and idiosyncratic than HBO Max's Doom Patrol. Less dark and dour than HBO Max's Titans. Less innovative and intriguing than Disney+'s WandaVision. Less dutiful and disappointing than Disney+'s The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. Less thoughtful and substantive than HBO's Watchmen. Less formulaic and procedural than the various CW super-shows (which I include here only out of a sense of completism, not because they're aiming for the same kind of performative faux-realism that drive most of these other series). It's unfair to make these comparisons, sure. But it's also inevitable, given the crowded landscape of superheroes on TV right now. And in every one of those comparisons, Jupiter's Legacy doesn't necessarily come up short (it's far better than The Boys, especially), but it does come up derivative."
    • Costume designer Lizz Wolf didn't realize how sneaker technology would be integral to her work: Wolf wound up partnering with the developers of Nike’s Flyknit, who have also worked with Yeezy and Tesla, to apply their 3D-engineered knitting strategy to entire costumes.
    • The Godfather Part II inspired Jupiter's Legacy's two timelines: “What (original showrunner) Steven DeKnight suggested, which I think was a really excellent idea, was instead of starting in 1929 and running chronologically, use the Godfather II structure of going back and forward," said Mark Millar. "You have Michael Corleone and Vito Corleone’s story being told at the same time. The Godfather II structure shows the father and the son at the same age. And that’s the same thing that’s been done here, to show the young characters and the old characters at the same age and essentially making the same mistakes.”
    • Mark Millar on his eight-figure Netflix deal: “It was like a dream, because what they wanted to do was exactly what I wanted to do, which was to create the next generation of pop culture,” he says. “Not reinvent things. Just put some new stuff out there. And not just one thing a year or two things a year. There was a budget and a platform to actually get everything out there. It was just a no-brainer for me.”
    • Josh Duhamel was drawn to the relatability of the family drama in the property: “What is it like having the responsibility of this for so long and then looking back on it all and realizing you weren’t as present of a father as you should have been?” he says. “Or this code that you’ve always believed in so strongly and lived by … suddenly is being questioned. There are real, current themes at play which I think makes it relatable and a little bit more subversive.”
    • Duhamel is glad he gets to jump on the superhero craze: “Earlier on (in my career), I was up for some things. I went and auditioned for some stuff. But I never really came that close” to being any kind of costumed crimefighter, he says. With a chuckle, the 48-year-old adds, “I figured my time as a superhero had come and gone!”

    TOPICS: Jupiter’s Legacy, Netflix, Josh Duhamel, Mark Millar




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