Home > Reviews, Television > TV Quickshots # 24

TV Quickshots # 24

Jessica Jones (Netflix; 2015)

As comic-book superheroes gradually take over television like they have taken over the movies, any variation in tone, subject matters, and thematic content from the standard male adolescent power fantasies and authoritarian postures so common to the genre is highly welcome. And so the 13-episode-long mission undertaken by the hard-drinking, distinctly prickly trauma survivor and superhero-turned-P.I. Jessica Jones (Krysten Ritter) to foil her mind-controlling nemesis Kilgrave (David Tennant) carves out its own distinct territory of guilt, regret, and dogged feminism in the ever-expanding Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Jones was dominated, tormented, and raped against her will for years by the violet-clad Kilgrave before breaking free at great, painful cost. Residing in a cruddy apartment building of the sort that probably only jessicajonesexists in a fictional version of New York City like this one, she now uses her superhuman abilities to delve into other people’s lives for a fee in order to support herself, although she never seems to change her clothes and spends money on very little other than cabs, alcohol, and her cell phone. Not that much different from most other young underemployed Manhattanites, then. She’s single and has no family to speak of, with the sole exception of her best friend and adoptive sister Trish Walker (Rachael Taylor), a radio talk show host and former child star with her own painful past of being used and abused by her stage mom. Jones’ attempts to fly under the radar and stave off interpersonal involvement are frustrated when she crosses paths with fellow “special” Luke Cage (Mike Colter) and, even more seriously, when Kilgrave returns to enslave the mind and body of a young college girl (Erin Moriarty).

Jessica Jones mightily resists and even scoffs at the manner in which comics superheroes have been portrayed onscreen, even within the MCU itself: Jones joins bitter citizens in sneering at the exaggerated godlike heroics of the Avengers, sneering at the “green guy” and the “flagwaver” and distancing herself from their mass-destructive planet-saving exploits. If the show increasingly gives in to comics-style plotting, frame-like visual compositions, and showpiece fight scenes as its initial season moves along, creator Melissa Rosenberg refuses to compromise her staunchly righteous feminist perspective. Jessica and Trish resist and battle against the smugly patriarchal Kilgrave’s sexualized assaults and manipulative violations, and don’t need any muscle-bound man to do the heavy lifting for them (even the indestructible Cage, who is headed for a Netflix Marvel series of his own). This is an onscreen universe wrapping its tentacles around much of big-budget American entertainment but still struggling to square decades of representational tradition and gendered tendencies with progressive politics. Jessica Jones is a vicious punch to that hoary old proverbial glass ceiling, and the cracks are spreading.

Detectorists (BBC; 2014-Present)

A sweet, droll, and sneakingly profound Britcom set in a town in Essex, Detectorists amusingly follows hobbyist metal detectorists (not detectors, they are constantly correct others; that’s what you call the machines that they detect with) scanning England’s green fields for hidden Anglo-Saxon gold hoards like the treasured Sutton Hoo find. Of course, they mostly dig up buttons, ringpulls, toy cars, and other detritus of modern life, not to mention accidentally unearthing piles of personal issues.

Andy Stone (Mackenzie Crook, who also writes and directs), a schooled archaeologist and temp worker, detectorizes with Lance Stater (Toby Jones), a forklift driver. They are members of the Danebury Metal Detecting Club, which is really just a half-dozen oddballs who bicker at each other in the parish hall once a week (like most other clubs, I imagine). The club has a fierce (or perhaps just stroppy) rivalry with the AntiquiSearchers, a competing detecting group with institutional backing, and they clash over detecting on the property of the eccentric Larry Bishop (David Sterne). Lance still flutters around his ex-wife Maggie (Lucy Benjamin), who runs a New Age supply shop, dates a jockish sort (Adam Riches), and takes advantage of Lance and his money while treating him with shoddy disregard. Andy’s longtime girlfriend is schoolteacher Becky (Rachael Stirling), who mocks his hobby and the sad sorts it brings him together with, but becomes more sharply resentful of the pursuit when she discovers that one of those sorts is a young university student named Sophie (Aimee-Ffion Edwards) who seems to fancy Andy.

Crook’s stewardship of this portrait of quotidian absurdity is steady-handed and sometimes even transcendent, leaving aside the indulgent auteur’s conceit of having two attractive women fighting over a bloke of such a, shall we say, interesting appearance. Detectorists gives the always-underrated Toby Jones ample space to craft a singular pathetic but pluckily funny character, and has a fine recurring folk-song soundtrack via Johnny Flynn (Scrotal Recall). But it’s also a stealthy commentary on both the common reality of modern Britain, scouring for gems of a rich but fleeting past among the discarded effluvium of Americanized capitalism, and the contemporary existential truth of searching ever deeper for glinting treasures of meaning beneath the undifferentiated dirt of our lives.

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Categories: Reviews, Television
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