Curiously nerdy posts.
When I was a kid growing up in the early 90s, I had a daily ritual I’d follow when I got home from school. It was simple, shallow, and glorious. I would:
1) scavenge for a snack, usually a handful of chips and a cosmic brownie,
2) turn on the TV, and watch cartoons. It typically went Tiny Toon Adventures, Animaniacs, and then… the greatest superhero show I’d ever seen, Batman: The Animated Series.
You don’t exactly have to do much digging to find thousands of bloggers and random commenters who would agree with me that BTAS is the greatest superhero show ever made. There’s a litany of reasons as to why. From the intro on, that show would grab me, and not let go for 30 minutes.
Why do I bring this up in a post about Daredevil? Well, that’s just the thing.
I do believe that Daredevil has taken the title of the best superhero show ever made. It’s just that good.
I just finished watching the whole season last night on Netflix. I’m already not much of a binge-watcher, much to my wife’s annoyance. But even for me, I tried to ration out the show as much as possible after watching the first episode. It only took me about 20 minutes into it to realize that I was witnessing something special on my TV, and I wanted to savor it.
The funny thing is, I’m not actually that huge a fan of the character. Although I’m well aware of how influential Frank Miller’s run on the comic in the 80s was*, and I did see the Ben Affleck movie in theaters, I was not above making the “So he’s a blind guy who can sort of see? Whoop dee doo” kind of comments. It was only the fact that Marvel has RARELY missed with any of their live action productions in the past decade that motivated me to check it out, moreso than any love of the character. I am, however, a HUGE Batman fan. So if I’m saying that Daredevil > Batman in any aspect, then that means I was drowned in an avalanche of awesome. And I really was.
*It’s well documented that the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comic was, at its heart, a parody of Daredevil. Enough said.
So, why is it the best superhero show? I’ll tell you why.
The format. A big part of Marvel’s formula to success is really capturing the tone of whatever character they’re adapting. When a character is bombastic and witty, like Iron Man, the movie turns out the same way. When a character is timeless, wholesome, and heroic, like Captain America, you feel like you’re watching a period piece (or old school spy thriller, in The Winter Soldier‘s case). When the characters look like they belong in a space opera, like Guardians of the Galaxy, that’s exactly what you get.
And when they finally have a character that’s dark, brooding, and battling to contain an urban hell, they have Daredevil. This first season of Daredevil really feels like a contained story arc that you’d find in a graphic novel: there’s a clear beginning, middle, and end, with a set cast of characters. They have time to play with (13ish hours instead of the three hour max you get out of a movie), so they have time to let the story play out instead of rushing things. And yet, amazingly, none of what you see in the show is filler. Practically every moment is building a character, or a character relationship. It’s carefully crafted, and serving a purpose.
Sweet shades, bro.
In the first episode, you only get a fleeting glimpse of Matt actually fighting crime. The entire rest of the episode is centered around him doing lawyer work with his best friend and partner, Foggy Nelson. It plays out like a crime drama that just happens to have a superhero in it. You only get to meet the antagonist, Wilson Fisk, at the end of the third episode. It takes its time to get from that point to the classic superhero-supervillain confrontation we all want. There is zero chance that a story this nuanced would have a chance on a big screen.
The characters, and the actors who play them. Another strength of Marvel’s movies is the casting. Some of their decisions have seemed strange or questionable, but they almost always pan out in spectacular fashion. And this show is no different. There is not a single weak or bad performance in this entire show. Period.
Charlie Cox plays a great Daredevil. He’s conflicted, sometimes brooding, always needing an outlet for aggression. But he’s also kind to innocent people, and charming when bantering around with his friends. As you might expect, the title character anchors the show, and he does this very well, even though he plays only a small part in some episodes.
Elden Henson plays an extremely likable sidekick in Foggy Nelson, with realistic reactions to living in a world where superheroes wrecked his hometown. He also is the comic relief, which is extremely important in a show like this. “Avocados at law” is a phrase that will live on in pop culture. I have no doubt of that.
Deborah Anne Woll plays what some might consider the “token female” in a show like this… except she’s not. Sure, she’s gorgeous (My wife loved her in True Blood, too), but she’s much more than a damsel in distress*. At her worst, she’s stubborn and asking for trouble. At her best, she serves as the conscience for our heroes without even realizing it. She’s an excellent character, and drives the plot behind more than one episode.
But the real surprise is Vincent D’Onofrio playing Wilson Fisk. I grew up reading/watching the Kingpin as a typical maniacal villain in Spiderman cartoons, doing evil for evil’s sake. This Fisk is nothing like that. He’s shockingly polite and even sympathetic at times. It’s often been said that the best villains are the ones who don’t realize that they are in fact villains, but this guy is nothing like that. He knows what he is doing is evil, but he simply views it as necessary evil. He insists constantly that he is not a monster. That makes his outbursts of sudden, savage violence all the more bold as punctuation points when anyone gets on his bad side.
Honorable mention goes to a couple of Hollywood “that guy” actors… namely, the guy who played Jack Crawford in The Silence of the Lambs and the Warden from The Shawshank Redemption both play important bit roles. Yeah. They’ve got guys from big time Oscar winners filling in guest roles.
The visuals. This show is also shot brilliantly. There’s minimal shaky cam in the impressive fight scenes, and the visuals fit the mood of an urban jungle extremely well. I was struck by how much and how excellently this show uses the color yellow in every episode… it’s an unusual stylistic choice, but a welcome one.
And the move they did with the visual surrounding Fisk’s character arc? That was a very slick move.
Stare at the wall, and ponder the kind of man you want to be.
The bottom line: I could nitpick some very minor points, but I think I’ve made my case well. This is a show with very, very few weaknesses, and perfectly captures what it tries to do in every way. Will there be a better superhero show in my lifetime? Yes. I have no doubt of that.
But right now? This one is the absolute best. Watch it if you like superheroes. Watch it if you like crime dramas.
But just watch it.
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