I have now watched most of Marvel’s MCU-related TV shows, aside from later seasons of Agents of SHIELD and some of the TV one-shots. Also haven’t watched Legion – but that is an X-Men related property and hence outside of the shared universe thing Marvel are trying to do.
There are two strands of TV shows: the gritty, New York set Netflix shows and the less gritty shows with closer ties to the movies. The latter group amount to Agents of Shield and Agent Carter. The former group is Jessica Jones, Daredevil, Luke Cage and Iron Fist. In development or soon to be released is a Punisher series (Nextflix), The Defenders (Netflix), Cloak & Dagger (Freeform/ABC) and Inhumans (ABC) – only one of which sounds like something I actually want to watch.
So, in reverse order, here is my ranking of what I’ve watched.
8. Agents of Shield.
Best at: Sustained continuity. Multiple likeable characters.
Best characters: Phil Coulson, Melinda May
Quite weak to start with in Season 1 and then it got better and then I sort of drifted away from the show. Of the lot, this is the only one that was trying to be a regular TV show with a large cast. The longer I watched the more I was watching because I liked the people in the show but wasn’t particularly invested in the stories. Consequently, having missed a few episodes, I didn’t really care about finding out what happened next.
7. Iron Fist (series 1)
Best at: earnestly making no sense
Best characters: Colleen Wing, Harold Meechum
‘Ill advised’ is a term that comes up a lot when looking at the show. It has its fair share of blood and at least on sex-scene but tonally feels more like Agents of Shield than the other Netflix shows. Weird the things that disrupt your suspension of disbelief – for me the point when Danny and his pals decide to to fly to China to check out a factory run by the evil Hand and all I could think of is how long it takes to get a visa for China.
6. Luke Cage (series 1)
Best at: music, atmosphere, setting, letting supporting characters shine
Best characters: Misty Knight, Clare temple, Luke Cage
Great central character and a show with a real commitment for a look, feel and sound. What it lacked was a story with real drive. Cottonmouth was an interesting character for the main bad guy (for the first two-thirds of the series) but wasn’t enough to really sustain a longer story. Cage has the problem of being over-powered for the story he was in. Being super-strong and bullet proof, the story focused on his main obstacle being self-doubt.
5. Daredevil (series 2)
Best at: Capturing the feel of the comic book, questioning its own premise
Best characters: Stick, Karen Page, Matt Murdock
While series 1 was more compelling, series 2 had the advantage of getting beyond an origin story. As a whole it was more episodic and didn’t always juggle the demands of multiple story lines. By including The Punisher as a character, the show did make some attempt to question the dubious ethics of the beat-up-criminals-for-information approach of the main character. I say ‘question’ but an answer was not really forthcoming. Instead, the main enemy became supernatural ninjas and criminal gangs became more of a side threat (or at times people who needed protecting from being murdered). Also, a show about lawyers actually had some court scenes – they didn’t make much sense but at least they happened.
4. Agent Carter (series 1)
Best at: setting and originality, a great sense of fun
Best character: Peggy Carter
The show most closely connected to a Marvel film, Agent Carter followed Peggy Carter from the first Captain America film to her immediate post-war career in New York. I found the multiple attempts to tie it back to the first Captain America film annoying, mainly because it forced Peggy Carter to be defined by Captain America. As the show progressed either the writers understood that the show worked better without those constant reminders or spotted that thematically the show was about a woman being recognized for her own skills and capabilities.
3. Daredevil (series 1)
Best at: fighting, trying out a more serious toned superhero story
Best character: Wilson Fisk
A violent and ethically dubious show but compelling and well acted. All of the Netflix shows rely on a 1970s/1980s vibe, both for the sense of urban decay and vigilante justice. That is a very odd thing to build nostalgia for but there you go, I enjoyed Frank Miller comics in the past and crime-fighting superheros make very little sense without the Frank-Milleresque proto-fascist view of a society collapsing due to a lack of order and a need for more nitezchean supermen to impose it. The clever, clever trick of the show was to cast Vincent D’Onforio as Wilson Fisk and create a genuinely deep portrayal of a criminal mastermind. Both the Kingpin and Daredevil are people who have been brutalised in the proper sense of the word: made brutal. The show doesn’t entirely commit to the parallels or really suggest that Daredevil’s actions are inherently wrong but creates an element of doubt around them.
2. Agent Carter (series 2)
Best at: setting, costumes, fun
Best character: Whitney Frost
Opinions may differ but I enjoyed the second series more than the first, mainly because it felt more confident in its own premise and trusted the audience to accept Peggy Carter as a lead character in her own right. The Los Angeles setting was an excellent idea, allowing for a post-war setting but with a more colourful world. The story line was as bonkers as it should be.
1. Jessica Jones (series 1)
Best at: snarky humour, committing to its themes
Best character: Jessica Jones
It is dangerously easy to focus on David Tennant’s performance as the mind-controlling villain Killgrave but the heart of the show was Krysten Ritter as Jones. Easily the most compelling story line of all of the shows, there was minimal padding or red herrings. In addition, it never shied away from its wider theme of abusive and toxic relationships, and without belabouring the point picked up on that theme from multiple perspectives beyond the horror of Killgrave himself.