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Lessons Learned From Jessica Jones and Marvel's Brief Fling with Netflix

With Marvel moving to Disney+, here's what they can learn from the best of their Netflix Originals.
  • Krysten Ritter stars in Jessica Jones (Netflix)
    Krysten Ritter stars in Jessica Jones (Netflix)

    Jessica Jones initially felt like an extremely weird choice to be Marvel's first live action leading lady. The comic book character upon which she was based on was a hard-drinking, foul-mouthed, incredibly flawed private detective with PTSD. She solved crimes involving both super and non-super folks. She dated Ant-Man, was BFFs with Carol Danvers (aka Captain Marvel), and eventually settled down with Luke Cage to start a family.

    At the time, Marvel didn't have a great track record with characters who weren't straight white male characters, and Jessica was their first female-led TV show or movie. Prior to Jessica, there was a long list of really great women —  Peggy Carter, Pepper Potts, and Black Widow among them — who hadn't received nearly enough to do on screen.

    But then in November of 2015, Jessica Jones dropped on Netflix and for a brief moment everything was beautiful. The pilot episode was a masterclass in storytelling — a complete story by itself, with a clear cut beginning, middle, and end, it also did an incredible job of sending Jessica out on her own hero's journey. That first season — as Jessica struggled to atone for her past actions and take down Kilgrave (played a superb David Tennant) and avenge all of his victims — was a perfect meeting of sharp writing and powerful performances. Krysten Ritter owned the lead role, Mike Colter simmered in the background, full of sex and torment, while Rachael Taylor shined as Jessica's best friend, former child star Trish Walker.

    Season 2 wasn't quite as perfect, with a storyline involving Jessica's presumed-dead mother (Janet McTeer) that was slow to lift off the ground. Season 3 was messier still, with higher highs, including a disturbingly human villain plus an erratic and cornered Jeri Hogarth (Carrie Ann Moss), but a sharp turn in Trish's storyline that has proved to be divisive. But that first season — it wasn't just a great season of a Netflix show; it was hands down the best season of any Marvel show.

    With Jessica Jones having dropped its final season last week, Marvel's brief experiment with original series on Netflix has come to close. There will be no more Jessica, Daredevil, Luke Cage, The Punisher, or Iron Fist  (at least for the time being), but with Disney launching their own Disney+ streaming platform this fall, there will soon be a new cadre of original series starring Marvel characters  (including the Winter Soldier, Falcon, Vision, and Scarlet Witch). If the producers of those shows are smart, they'll look to the many things Jessica Jones got right and pull the following lessons:

    Make It R Rated, But Not Totally Over the Top

    While Punisher and Daredevil felt gratuitously violent ast times, Jessica Jones felt like the right amount of realistic violence. Of course, Scarlet Witch wouldn't be punching someone's face in — but maybe Winter Soldier would Jessica Jones used violence at the right moments, to maximum effect. 

    Friendship Is Magic

    Jessica and Trish's friendship, not unlike Carol and Maria's in Captain Marvel, is one key to what made the show so great. Trish was peppy, rich, and famous — all things Jessica was not. One of the things that made Seasons 2 and 3 not-so-great was that their bond was strained and their freindship repeatedly fractured. 

    Include Other Superpowered Folks

    Luke Cage's introduction was in Jessica Jones Season 1, and it rhelped make fans love him before his show had even started. He and Jessica were very clearly a great couple  — thanks in large paert to the  fantastic chemistry between Colter and Ritter — and hurt the later seasons that he wasn't included, save for a tiny cameo. Having such a big name character like Luke Cage be an important part of the ensemble really upped the comic book quality of the show. After all, this is a freakin' comic book universe! Give us big time super-powered villains that pose a threat and not just humans with weapons or super suits.

    Ensemble Casts

    Jessica Jones gave us the attractive and extremely layered character of Malcolm Ducasse. It also gave us power lesbian lawyer Jeri Hogarth. Malcolm was a victim of Kilgrave, just like Jessica—so they related to each other and took care of each other. Jeri wasn't a hero nor was she a villain, but she for sure made for interesting TV. These characters each got their own arcs and plot points, and it helped round out the show.

    Show Their Flaws

    Jessica is loved, flaws and all. In fact, we love her because of her flaws. She struggles with her love life, her drinking, and with doing the right thing. She does the right thing because she knows she has to, but she will surely roll her eyes the entire time. It makes her stand out from everyone else, and it's why she was also the best part of The Defenders. If at least dome of the upcoming Disney+ shows have flawed characters at their center, we'll be in for some great superhero TV. And Jessica Jones will have its legacy secured.

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    Ian Carlos Crawford is a freelance writer, host of the podcast Slayerfest 98, and someone with way too many feelings. Follow him on Twitter at @ianxcarlos.

    TOPICS: Marvel’s Jessica Jones, Disney+, Krysten Ritter, Mike Colter, Rachael Taylor, Marvel, Marvel Cinematic Universe