Worth Watching

Photo Courtesy Of Netflix

Photo Courtesy Of Netflix

Warning: Spoiler Alert

With just over a month remaining in 2015, it looks like it’s a pretty safe bet to declare the new Netflix series “Jessica Jones,” as the best television event of the year. Marvel Studios and ABC Productions have shattered the Comic-Book Movie Genre with a creation that defies boundaries and expectations. This production’s light-years from the Avengers or the X-Men films, it’s not a family friendly blockbuster filled with special-effects and wall-to-wall violence (although this series does not lack for violence.)

Jessica Jones is a suspense/thriller that just happens to have characters with superpowers in the story. It’s a cat and mouse game in which the cat and mouse eventually change roles and a character searches for redemption in all the wrong places. It’s more of a cross between the former FOX series “The Following” and “The Silence Of The Lambs” with a dollop or two of Heath Ledger’s Joker thrown in for flavoring. You can’t put this in the same category as “Captain America Civil War,” which is a win for all as boundaries get dissolved and stereotypes get broken.

Nobody’s going to claim that Jessica Jones is in any way a role-model, however she’s a very strong symbol for female empowerment. Krysten Ritter the actress that portrays her is destined to become a huge star and this will likely prove to be her breakout role. Ritter’s a strikingly beautiful woman with a signature look and plays the character with an almost ever-present sneer on her face. Some smart Hollywood executive should be actively pursuing a deal to team her and Amy Acker in a re-tooling of Lethal-Weapon. It would become a huge gender-bending series and may open some eyes in Hollywood about expanding action roles for women.

The story’s based on a graphic-novel entitled Alias, that Marvel released through one of their comic-book lines aimed at adults and from my brief knowledge of the publication it’s far more graphic than the Netflix production. These characters  have healthy sex-drives, but the production stays away from nudity and the coupling some times seems more like gymnastics than sex. Although violence is a constant in the show it’s comparative to a broadcast-network crime-drama’s and tamer than some.

The series could be rightfully titled “The Restoration And Reclamation Of Jessica Jones,” as the woman we meet at the onset of the series is just trying to make it through each day with a lot of help from her best friend Alcohol. She’s going through the motions as a private investigator, setting up part of her apartment as an office. The Jessica we first encounter’s a victim filled with self-loathing and seeing nothing but pain and ugliness everywhere she looks. It’s got nothing to do with her location it’s the demons inside her head that control her perception.

Jessica would be the lone survivor of a car accident that took the lives of her parents and her younger brother as a tween. This resulted in her being treated by some mysterious lab leaving her with super-strength and the ability to jump pretty high and far (although she tends to land awkwardly.) She also got adopted by the mother of one of her classmate’s Trish Walker, in a publicity ploy to get some goodwill from the audience of Trish’s sitcom “Patsy.”

Dorothy Walker’s the consummate “Stage-Mother From Hell,” constantly manipulating and abusing her daughter. The two girls form a lifelong bond not long after Jessica moved in with the Walkers, when Jessica stopped Dorothy from abusing her daughter by picking her up and throwing her against a wall like a rag-doll. Dorothy’s never forgiven her adopted daughter for that indignity, telling Jessica that her decision to adopt the girl had been the worst choice of her life.

As the girls become adults, Trish becomes one of New York City’s opinion-shapers hosting a highly rated daily radio talk-show, while Jessica goes through a series of menial jobs that are clearly beneath her. Walker’s always tried to convince Jones to use her abilities to help people in the guise of a superhero. Jessica rejects the spandex costume and name that Trish wants her to use, but comes to the aid of a young man when she sees him being beaten by three other guys one night on the street.

She easily takes out the trio and starts to tend to the victim when a rather dapper Englishman with a beautiful woman on each arm starts applauding her actions and calling out bravo. The man’s known as Kilgrave and he’s also gifted with abilities, he can get anybody to do anything he requests just by saying it, however he uses his abilities for nefarious purposes. He’s enchanted by Jessica and takes over her life for the next six-months via mind-control, effectively becoming the psychopath’s unwilling puppet.

The bond between controller and subject breaks when Kilgrave orders Jones to kill a woman who just provided him with a flash-drive buried underground in a steel box. Apparently Jessica’s mind snapped when she took the other woman’s life and started walking away from Kilgrave, who was so focused on commanding her to return he failed to see the city-bus that ran him over and seemingly killed him.

Suffering from PTSD and an experience that if she shared with doctors or law-enforcement would land her either in prison or a mental-hospital, Jessica attempts to rebuild her life as a gumshoe in Hell’s Kitchen. Most of her clients hire her to investigate their wives or husband’s to see if they’re stepping out on them, which often times lead to pretty angry clients when she confirms their suspicions.

The parents of a college coed and aspiring track star Hope Shlottman hire Jessica to help find their missing daughter who seems to have fallen off the face of the earth. Jones doesn’t take long to locate the missing young woman but she also discovers that Shlottman happened to be the latest plaything for Kilgrave. The psychopath also planted a goodbye present within Hope a command to shoot her parents to death upon their reunion. Shlottman’s immediately imprisoned for patricide and Jessica’s forced to deal with Kilgrave once again in order to clear Hope’s name and save her from a lifetime in prison.

The man that Jessica saved from the beating the night she first encountered Kilgrave, Malcolm Ducasse now lives in the same building she does and he’s dropped his dreams of being a social-worker, trading them for what lies at the end of a syringe. We’re also introduced to a dysfunctional brother and sister who appear to be in their early twenties as the sister Robin berates her brother Ruben loudly enough that it resonates throughout the entire building. Jones takes a trip upstairs to tell them to lower the volume and Robin looks upon her from that point onward as her mortal enemy while her brother crushes on Jessica hard.

Turns out that there’s a connection between Kilgrave and Malcolm as the Englishman’s not only controlling his mind, he’s supplying Ducasse with his daily fix making Ducasse doubly dependent on Kilgrave. In return Malcolm supplies him with a daily array of snapshots of Jessica. We find out in one scene that Kilgrave possesses hundreds if not thousands of shots of Jones just going about her business in the city unaware she’s being photographed.

Jessica makes the connection and she’s able to follow Malcolm to his meetings with Kilgrave in public venues, that Malcolm doesn’t even know the destination of until he’s told by some stranger from the street that Kilgrave ordered to contact him. Jones, Trish and Walker’s “Friend With Benefits” Will Simpson, attempt to take Kilgrave by surprise and imprison him until he agrees to clear Hope’s name. However their plan falls apart as Kilgrave hired a private security firm to protect him and they grab Kilgrave back.

It does however result in an uneasy truce between Jessica and Kilgrave, starting with an agreement that he’d stop controlling Malcolm in return for Jessica sending him a selfie every morning. Jones handcuffs Malcolm in her toilet and forces him to go cold-turkey to beat his addiction. She saves him once again however as Ducasse stays clean and he becomes perhaps the piece’s most empathetic character. After all that he experienced Malcolm still just wants to help other people.

Kilgrave’s convinced that he can get Jessica to love him without using any of his abilities. He buys her childhood home and recreates it to look exactly as it did when she left it before the accident that took her family in 1999. He assures her that he won’t use his mind-controlling powers on her at all, but if she hopes that he cooperate to gain Hope her freedom she has to agree to live with him willingly in the house. Jessica has some ground-rules such as he’s never to touch her but agrees to move in.

Jones actually gets Kilgrave to stop a tragedy in the making from happening in heroic fashion, as he orders a father and husband that’s holding his wife and children hostage with a rifle to let his family go and surrender to police. Kilgrave actually gets a rush from the look of gratitude he received from the mother after he saved her family. He proclaims that Jessica and he will become a team and he’ll become a hero.

Jessica brings back some takeout Chinese food back to the house to celebrate the days events and insists that the chef and housekeeper that Kilgrave has on staff join them for the meal. Jones’ laced both the chef and the housekeeper’s food with sedatives and when they collapse at the table she takes Kilgrave by surprise and knocks him out with a heavy anesthesia drug. When he wakes up he finds himself in a hermetically sealed room that cuts off his powers to the outside world. Jones has also installed what she refers to as a kill-switch, covering the room’s floor with water that comes up to Kilgrave’s ankles and a button that she can hit zapping him with enough electricity to send him to the floor shaking like a bowl of Jell-O.

We learn that Kilgrave acquired his powers through a series of experiments conducted on him when he was just a child in England. Albert and Louise Thompson a pair of highly trained scientists attempted to save their son Kevin from some mutation that left untreated would have according to them, left their son brain-dead at the age of twelve. Instead they introduced viruses into his system that kept him alive but the torture he went through as a child was horrendous. The experiment resulted in Kevin emitting a virus to all those around him forcing them to do what ever he wished, a very scary power for an angry ten-year-old boy who suffered through a nightmarish childhood to possess. He forced his mother to scorch her face with a hot iron after she yelled at him and the incident convinced Albert and Louise to abandon their child and run as far away as possible.

What ever moral-compass that Kevin would have retained had his parents stayed with him vanished when they did and the boy used his abilities at first to survive. To get enough food to last him through the day and a proper place to rest his head at night. However as he grew older his appetites grew with him, without anybody strong enough to refuse him took what ever and whom ever he wanted until he tired of them and then onto his next conquest.

Jessica locates Albert and Louise Thompkins and convinces them to go with her to see their son. Albert’s reticent at the thought to say the least but his wife convinces him that their son’s their responsibility. Jones secretly hopes that Kilgrave seeing his parents once again will cause him to lose his mind. However because of conflicting agendas of some of the characters, Kilgrave once again regains his freedom after ordering his mother to stab himself to death and for Albert to cut out his own heart.

Kilgrave got badly wounded in the exchange, stabbed and then shot in the same shoulder. He orders Jones’ attorney Jeri Hogarth into driving to the medical practice that she’s got the most confidence will keep this story from ever being know. Jeri drives to the home she shares with her soon to be former wife Wendy whose a physician and although the tension’s so thick in the room you could cut it with a chainsaw, Wendy patches Kilgrave up. Jeri’s intent in bringing Kilgrave to her home was to get him to “persuade” Wendy to sign divorce papers, but when the doorbell rings the psychopath orders Wendy to kill Jeri by stabbing her five thousand times and flees the scene. Wendy’s stopped and killed when Jeri’s secretary and girlfriend cracks her skull open with a stone figurine.

Kilgrave “persuades” the New York City District Attorney and a Judge to clear Hope of all the charges and Jessica’s to pick-up the college student when she gets released the following morning. However an incident occurs that keeps Jones from getting there on time and Shlottman once again falls into Kilgrave’s hands. He contacts Jessica to arrange a trade, he’s willing to give Jones the college student in exchange for his father. However Hope’s so intent on getting Jessica to terminate Kilgrave, she takes her own life by stabbing the stem of a wine glass into her throat.

No longer having any reason to restrain herself this sets up a fight to the finish between Jessica and Kilgrave. The psychopath becomes even stronger and more powerful and soon he’s able to control the minds of scores of people simultaneously. How does Jones defeat this demon, save New York City and the planet and regain her self-esteem in the process.

The role seems tailor-made for Krysten Ritter as she inhabits this character’s skin and lets us see beneath the bravado and snappy comebacks. We discover a woman who refuses to cut herself any slack for her actions while under Kilgrave’s control. One gets the feeling that Jessica would consider it a weakness to take herself out to end all her internal pain, but she would consider death a welcome relief from he daily battles against internal and external demons.

David Tennant does a superb job in the role of Kilgrave, many would have played the part broadly and bigger than life throughout the production. Tennant however plays Kilgrave as refined and a proper English gentleman, so the moments when he does chew the scenery pop and make an impact. Tennant plays the psychopath as charmingly as he portrayed the Time-Lord from Gallifrey, however without any of the whimsy and one can see the contempt bubbling under his skin.

Carrie-Ann Moss looks far more matronly than she did in the Matrix Trilogy and she’s far from being in fighting shape. However she still evokes fear from others in her portrayal of high-powered attorney Jeri Hogarth, a woman that’s every bit as evil and self-centered as Kilgrave. However she’s learned to play the system to make up for her lack of super-powers.

Mike Colter got introduced to Marvel fans as Luke Cage, a man with unbreakable skin and incredible strength who chooses to keep his abilities hidden from most. Jessica and Cage discover each have super-powers when they team-up in a bar-brawl which leads to a powerful sexual attraction between the couple after the fight ends. Cage’s story will be the subject of the next origin story that Netflix and Marvel present and he seems to be a pretty intriguing guy.

Eka Darville may bring the most humanity to the screen in the role of Malcolm. For the first half of the story Malcolm’s a member of the Walking Dead, he seems more like a piece of furniture than a person. However Malcolm makes the most of becoming clean and sober. He becomes one of Jessica’s staunchest allies and he believes in her even when she’s stopped believing in herself.

Jessica will be one of the stars of the Defenders along with Luke Cage and Matt Murdock, a production that’s scheduled to reach homes sometime in 2017. Halfway through this series, I wondered exactly how the creators of this story expected Jessica Jones to become a heroic member of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. There was no doubt that she had the physical skills to take on all comers, however was she strong enough mentally to overcome her self-doubts and to help others fight injustice? Jessica Jones answered the question to my satisfaction with this voiceover as the series concluded.

“They say everyone’s born a hero but if you let it, life will push you over the line until you’re a villain. Problem is you don’t always know always know that you’ve crossed that line. Maybe it’s enough that the world thinks I’m a hero. Maybe if I work long and hard, maybe I can fool myself.”

 

Photo Courtesy Of TNT

Photo Courtesy Of TNT

Warning: Spoiler Alert

Over the last few years the TNT Network’s created original programming, resulting in some surprisingly good shows, that can hold their own against most series presented on broadcast networks. Tuesday night marked the conclusion of the first season of “Proof,” a medical drama with a twist starring Jennifer Beals who stole American’s hearts in the movie “Flashdance” back in the early eighties. Her character Dr. Caroline Tyler’s a highly respected heart-surgeon, who’s just gone through the toughest year of her life. Tyler survived a car accident, that took the life of her teenage son Will and she blames herself for his loss. Soon after Caroline survived a plane crash and had what is known as a “Near-Death-Experience.”

The crash caused Tyler’s heart to stop briefly and while her life hung in the balance, she saw her son Will near her and tried to grab his hand. She also recognized someone else in her vision, an elderly woman with short gray hair, wearing a green scarf. Caroline got revived before she had a chance to talk to her son or the woman, but the vision’s haunted her ever since she had it.

Tyler’s estranged from her husband Dr. Len Barliss, portrayed by veteran TV actor David Sutcliffe and both doctors work in the same hospital. We’re under the impression that their marriage fell apart due to Caroline’s accident, that killed their son, but we find out the reasons are far more complicated than that. They have a teenage daughter named Sophie (Annie Thurman,) whom like most teenage girls can be both adorable and incredibly frustrating, depending on her mood.

The stars from the Eighties keep arriving as Caroline’s life gets altered forever when she meets Billionaire Industrialist Ivan Turing. Matthew Modine, who as a young man starred in the movies “Vision Quest” and “Full Metal Jacket,” as well as a score of other films, takes on the role of the brilliant visionary diagnosed with terminal cancer. Wanting to find out what, if anything awaits us on the other side, he offers to build a new wing for Tyler’s hospital if she consents to help him in his research.

Yet another actor who came of age in the eighties, Joe Morton who portrayed “The Brother From Another Planet,” plays Dr. Charles Richmond, who encourages Tyler to work with Turing, so the hospital can get the new wing, but he’s unaware of the nature of their research. Caroline enlists the help of a young doctor Zed Badawi (Edi Gathegi) a young man from Kenya that Tyler’s taken under her wing and expresses passion for the project.

Throughout the series ten-episode run, the show explored topics such as reincarnation, receiving messages from the dead and in one episode, a young woman who woke from a coma without any memories of her own had distinct memories from the lives of the other patients she shared the coma ward with. Although the series left open the possibility, that there could indeed be an afterlife, they also presented the full spectrum explaining that there could be very logical reasons, behind the seemingly paranormal events.

The characters are empathetic, the writing’s strong and the episodes seem to pass quickly, all benchmarks of mine for an enjoyable viewing experience. TNT has yet to announce whether Proof will get brought back for a second season next summer, but the finale ended in a way that gave the viewers closure, while leaving open the possibility for another season. TNT’s currently streaming the show on its website, it’s a show worth checking out.

Photo Courtesy Of FX

Photo Courtesy Of FX

Warning: Spoiler Alert

Growing up in the Sixties and Seventies, sitcoms were a major part of this writer’s TV diet, a relationship that remained intact until about ten-years-ago. From the early exploits of Lucy and Ethel, Norton and Kramden, through the more controversial eras of Archie Bunker, Fred Sanford and Murphy Brown, these shows never failed to bring a smile to my face. However whether it was due to changes in the medium or in me, it’s been years since I’ve sat through a 30-minute sitcom, that is until last month.

The FX Network debuted “Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll,” last month and it brought the sitcom genre back into my world. It’s not warm and fuzzy, or a show that I’d recommend for family night, it’s sometimes a hard and edgy show and the language is far from family friendly. In that respect it mirrors the show’s star stand-up comic Dennis Leary, whose not known for pulling punches in his act. If Leary’s stand-up act offends you, then likely this show will as well. However if you’re a fan of Leary’s, you’re going to enjoy this series and his character Johnny Rock.

Johnny was on the verge of becoming a Rock And Roll legend back in the early nineties. Dave Grohl in a cameo in show’s premiere, stated that Johnny and his band the Heathens were a huge inspiration for Nirvana. However the day that the Heathens’ debut album got released, the band busted-up, mainly due to Johnny’s excesses and his sleeping with his band mate’s wives and fiancés.

Fast forward to 2015 and Johnny’s manager Ira Feinbaum’s threatening to drop Johnny as a client, unless he takes a role with a tribute band. His longtime girlfriend Ava’s afraid they’re going to lose their New City loft, with a great view of the city. Then suddenly, one more chance to grab the brass ring enters Johnny’s life, in the form of a daughter he never knew existed. His daughter’s a beautiful young woman named Gigi, the daughter of Johnny and a former back-up singer with the Heathens, that moved to Ohio and never informed the singer he had a daughter.

Gigi’s got the desire to become a Rock-Star, so she travels to New York City to meet her father. She’s gotten 200 grand from her mother to pursue her dream and she wants Johnny to get the Heathens back together for a jam session, with her handling lead vocals. Unfortunately, except for Bam-Bam (Robert Kelly) the Heathen’s drummer, Johnny hasn’t spoken to the other two band members since the nasty break-up. Although he has misgivings, the bass-player Rehab, (John Ales) agrees to the jam session, but Johnny still has his work cut out for him trying to convince the Heathens’ lead guitarist Flash (John Corbett) to join them.

Flash’s making great money as the lead guitarist for Lady Gaga, but Johnny realizes that the gig’s nothing more than a payday for his former band mate. He tries to connect with Flash on what they had with the Heathens and the magic they created on stage. However it takes a photo of Gigi in a pink bikini to finally entice Flash to consent.

Johnny expects his daughter to be talentless, but she has the band play one of their old songs Animal and quickly shows she has the voice and stage presence to become a superstar. The Heathens will reform with her as the new lead singer and she wants Johnny and Flash to write five new songs, for a new album. Johnny’s greatest fear is that Flash is going to sleep with Gigi, as revenge for Johnny having sex with the guitarist’s wife when they had the band together. Gigi’s not doing anything to allay those fears, telling her father she’ll date whom ever she wants. She also hires Ira to be hers and the band’s manager.

So far all the stories have centered around Johnny, but it’s the entire cast that makes this series work. Kelly’s Bam-Bam has given up his dependence on drugs and booze for yoga and a food addiction. John Ales’ portrays the bassist Rehab as an angry man, whose just really seeking recognition from the rest of the band. He stays “Clean and Sober,” due to a gym bag filled with prescription drugs, which include drugs that keep him from killing himself, others that keep him from killing Johnny, while others quiet the voices in his head.

Corbett’s Flash brings what Gigi described as that Rock Star nobility in the first episode into the equation. Although he’s added some years and some pounds since his days on Northern Exposure, Corbett’s still a good-looking guy and has retained some of that outlaw edge.

Elaine Hendrix brings a mature and beautiful woman to the small-screen in Ava, the girl who dreamed of marrying David Bowie, ended up with a knock-off but she’s fine with that. She truly loves Johnny and is his biggest supporter, any aspirations of stardom faded long-ago and she doesn’t seem to have any pangs of regret. Elizabeth Gillies plays Gigi as a young woman who can talk smack with the best of them, but deep-down she’s seeking her father’s approval and unconditional love.

Leary’s Johnny Rock’s the scam-artist whose suddenly acquired a conscience. Now in his fifties and suddenly presented with a fully grown daughter, he realizes that this is a second chance not only for himself, but for the others as well. Perhaps for the first time in his life he’s become a team-player and he’s willing to take a step back for success of the band. Leary’s scathing humor’s razor-sharp, but he also gives Johnny a poignancy and sensitivity that makes him a complete character.

Three episodes in, the plots are clever, including trying to improve Johnny’s songwriting ability by keeping him off drugs and booze. That experiment was deemed an abject failure, when Johnny’s first sober composition made everyone run out to restock Johnny’s loft with drugs and liquor. Ira also planted a story on the Internet that Johnny died as a result of Flash shooting him, resulting in a club debut gig for Gigi and the Heathens. Joan Jett was among those who showed up at the club and telling Johnny that the only thing they did, the night they slept together was sleep.

Perhaps this show was built to appeal to the “Dad-Rock Generation” and if that’s the case, then it hits the mark. However I don’t think you have to be over the age of fifty to enjoy this show, this show should appeal to a wide spectrum, kind of like “Dad-Rock” does.

The Series Airs Thursday Night’s at 10:00 pm on FX.