THE SHOW “Marvel’s Jessica Jones”
WHEN | WHERE Begins streaming Friday on Netflix
WHAT IT’S ABOUT Jessica Jones (Krysten Ritter) is a private eye in New York City. Business is not so good, or at least palatable. Her specialty is collecting evidence against cheating spouses, while also moonlighting for ruthless lawyer Jeryn Hogarth (Carrie-Ann Moss). Mostly friendless, Jessica spends her nights working cases and drinking cheap whiskey. Estranged from stepsister Trish (Rachael Taylor), a radio talk show host, Jessica is just trying to recover from a tragic incident in her past, instigated by the shadowy Kilgrave (David Tennant). Super powers? Oh, sure, she has some (you’ll find out what), but for the moment, she just wants a drink and some TLC. Will new acquaintance Luke Cage (Mike Colter) oblige?
MY SAY “Marvel’s Jessica Jones” succeeds in all sorts of ways, especially the one that counts most: Ritter just might be the shrewdest casting move of the season, maybe several seasons, because she so fully inhabits the multidimensional Jones. And there are so many dimensions to inhabit, beginning with the visual.
Raven hair, alabaster skin and vermilion lips, Ritter is a striking portrait of a gothic heroine — if not quite a goth one. Tightly shot in scene after scene, that face fills the foreground while a restless, noisy New York jangles in the background. A lesser actor would fall back on a few notes (happy face, sad face, mad face), but Ritter has many notes and uses every one. The reason is that Jessica Jones is another classic Stan Lee Marvel superhuman who tends to be more “human” than “super.”
She’s lonely, embittered, cynical, fearful, guilty and angry. It almost goes without saying that she’s a commitment-phobe, but there’s yearning in Ritter’s portrayal alongside a fundamental human need for love — and to love. That’s mostly shrouded behind the tough talk and tougher moves, making Jones a mystery woman who’s unwilling — or unable — to yield her secrets.
Jessica’s noir pedigree is well-established on screen, too. She’s a direct descendant of those classic private eyes from the ’40s — a female Philip Marlowe or Sam Spade — who’s good at investigating others, not so good at investigating themselves. In “Jessica Jones,” that’s a job left to viewers. What happened to Jessica to make her this way? Answers are not necessarily forthcoming.
Meanwhile, Jessica Jones is a popular figure in the Marvel universe, but this series decided you don’t need to know that. She has a traumatic past which is pieced together from recovered memories that flash on-screen, reflecting her subconscious, or conscious mind. Otherwise, the special effects range from negligible to nonexistent. This is a psychological thriller, and the story’s driven by the same tropes that drive so much of that genre, going back to Hitchcock: Obsession, paranoia, grief, mind-control and guilt. The superhero stuff comes sporadically, but don’t hold your breath waiting for it.
In fact, “Jessica Jones” is more often about holding back instead of piling on. The bad guy is out there, lost in the crowd. He’s just out of Jessica’s reach, but you suspect — or Jessica does — that she’s not quite out of his.
Meanwhile, there’s this chilling premise: What’s the good of super powers if someone else controls your mind?
BOTTOM LINE Ritter’s terrific, and for the most part, so is her new series.