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Marvel’s downbeat ‘Jessica Jones’ hits the same notes too often

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Two and a half stars

Jessica Jones Season 1 available November 20 on Netflix.

The second of Marvel’s five planned Netflix series (following Daredevil), Jessica Jones is just as dark as its predecessor, further exploring the gritty, street-level underbelly of the brighter Marvel Cinematic Universe depicted in feature films and in the ABC series Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Agent Carter. Like Daredevil, Jessica Jones acknowledges the existence of the wider world of Marvel superheroes while remaining on its own path, in this case telling the story of the title character (Krysten Ritter), a private investigator with a drinking problem and a brief superhero past of her own.

Jessica has super strength and something approximating the ability to fly, but she isn’t about to join the Avengers or fight off an alien invasion. Partly that’s because her career as a hero was cut short by a dangerous, sadistic villain named Kilgrave (David Tennant), whose evil is far more devious than grandiose plans to take over the world. Jessica’s single-minded quest to take down Kilgrave is the main focus of the series, to the exclusion of almost anything else. Although Jessica is ostensibly a working private investigator, everything she does comes back to her mission to bring Kilgrave to justice.

That makes the show a bit monotonous, and the grim tone doesn't help. Although there’s a bit more humor than in Daredevil, the moments of levity are minimal, and Kilgrave’s powers (which allow him to control people’s minds and force them to do terrible things) make him more like a horror-movie villain than the bad guy from a cop or superhero show. Tennant is suitably creepy as Kilgrave, and Ritter carries the series with a mix of world-weary sarcasm and genuine emotional pain. When the show positions itself as a sort of superhero noir, it has a distinct charm and style.

The noir approach comes and goes, though, and the look is more harsh modern crime drama than classic detective movie. Like most Netflix shows, Jessica Jones is heavily serialized, but dragging out a single storyline (which in the comic-book source material took up only a handful of issues) over a 13-episode series doesn’t necessarily make it more detailed and nuanced. Some of the supporting characters (including fellow superhero Luke Cage, played by Mike Colter, who is set to get his own Netflix series) end up with more character development than they would in a feature film, but in the end everything comes back to the same plodding conflict between Jessica and Kilgrave, and it drags down too much of what surrounds it.

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Josh Bell

Josh Bell is the film editor for Las Vegas Weekly, where he's been writing movie and TV reviews since 2002. ...

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