Sunday, April 05, 2015

TV: Netflix gears up to explode the limits of the imagination

On April 10th, Netflix unveils its first real series.


Yes, they've already had success with House of Cards and Hemlock Grove -- among others.  But the reality is that neither series is particularly visual.

Both are basically radio serials with audio -- that's even more true of Orange Is The New Black.

You get talking heads shots, you get post card scenery, you just don't get a sense of what the camera can do.

In fairness, that's a criticism of many TV shows and Netflix is, more or less, just another TV network these days.

With Marvel's Daredevil, Netflix is set to become something a great deal more.

The character Matt Murdoch explains, "When I was a kid, I used to dream what it would be like to live somewhere far away from Hell's Kitchen.  But I realized the city was a part of me, it was in my blood."

And the city is very much a part of Daredevil -- so much so that it's basically a member of the cast.

If the late film director Robert Altman had tackled the super hero genre, it might look something like this show as Hell's Kitchen provides both mood and tension to the proceedings.  (Phil Abraham directs the first two episodes and deserves huge credit not only for those two but for the visualization he developed that is carried on throughout the next eleven episodes.)

Over on ABC, Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. exists in some land but you're never really sure where that is.  Some might argue that's due to the traveling on the spy agency jet but the reality is that the series' struggle for an identity has a great deal to do with the reality to root it in a location. By contrast, Fox's Gotham succeeds largely due to its look only (Jada Pinkett-Smith's the only actor consistently delivering a performance).

On Netflix, Charlie Cox is playing the lead role. The blind hero in the red leather was last played by Ben Affleck in the 2003 film that just squeaked over the $100 million box office line in North America.  The series doesn't pick up from there.  It gives you the origin story but mainly takes place in the time frame after 2012's film Marvel The Avengers.

Cox follows in the footsteps of Andrew Garfield, Henry Cavill, Christian Bale and Gale Gadot -- non-American actors who have been cast to play superheroes from American comics which may cause some to grimace and carp but he really does deliver in the title role.

He uses a speaking manner similar to Affleck's Daredevil but otherwise makes the role all his own and he's surprisingly effective and moves quickly to the mature hero.  That's no minor accomplishment.  Seventeen episodes into The Flash, Grant Gustin's still acting as though he's playing a wide-eyed Wonder Twin and not Barry Allen.

Daredevil also benefits from a strong cast -- an amazing turn by Rosario Dawson, the always amazing Vincent D'Onofrio, Vondie Curtis-Hall, Wai Ching Ho and Scott Glenn.  The entire cast does outstanding work but those actors especially have to be noted.

Daredevil is the show you've been waiting for.  The action series about a superhero that's not all starts and stops (the flashbacks on Arrow have been a joke).  The action series that is less like The Flash and more like Nikita in that they know how to stage action scenes and how to shoot them.

On April 10th, Netflix changes everything forever.  In 13 episodes, it's made clear that TV viewers do not have to settle.  Daredevil makes all today's superhero shows -- Gotham, Arrow, The Flash, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. -- look like the sub-par crap that they are.  In fact, it makes the show's look as behind the times as George Reeves' Adventures of Superman series from the fifties.

By creating textured characters and locating them in an identifiable universe, Marvel's Daredevil makes the super seem real and the scope of imagination limitless.

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