review roundup

What Critics Are Saying About Jessica Jones

Marvel’s Jessica Jones. Photo: Myles Aronowitz/Netflix

Jessica Jones premiered on Netflix early Friday morning. Some critics say the show, second in a lineup of Marvel superhero series coming to the streaming service, following Daredevil, has a Netflix-inherited pacing problem and a jarring hyperfocus on the Jessica’s one nemesis, Kilgrave. Most of the criticism seems to be outweighed by celebration of the show’s feminist undercurrent and willingness to tackle dark subject matter like rape, abuse, alcoholism, and abortion. Take a look at what critics are saying so far. We’ll be updating this post as more reviews roll in.

“It’s also a treat to see a multicultural and sexually multivalent cast integrated, in every sense, into the sort of story that’s more often defined by straight white folks, and that treats anyone who doesn’t fit that mold as an exotic. Cage’s sexual magnetism and wary intelligence are color-coded, in that they seem like a response to living in a white world as well as a harsh one, but he’s a completely imagined character. The camera worships his physique the way detective stories might feast on a voluptuous dame’s curves, but here, too, it’s more about admiration of beauty than putting an actor on cheap display. (This is a rare show that can truly be said to have a female gaze.) One of Jessica’s clients, attorney Jeri Hogarth (who was a man in the comics), is a lesbian, and the series does her the favor of treating her sexuality as different from but equal to all the other flavors of love and lust shown on the series.” — Matt Zoller Seitz, Vulture

“The show’s greatest triumph is in exploring how women can be powerful, multi-faceted masters of their fate. Jessica Jones, while nowhere near as bloody as Daredevil, is psychologically brutal, and women largely bear the brunt of that violence. The series delves deeply into abuse, sexual assault, and rape from the outset. But no matter what trauma they experience, the women of Jessica Jones are all consistently portrayed as either having control of their lives or working hard to regain it. No Marvel Studios property — not even Agent Carter — has ever done that so effectively, and after months of seeing a character like Black Widow be sidelined by her male counterparts, this is a breath of fresh air.” —Kwame Opam, The Verge 

Jessica Jones stands by itself as a fascinating work of TV, and represents the evolutionary leap Marvel has been waiting to take in terms of telling a wider variety of stories. You can enjoy it without knowing a thing about any other comic-book title, on the page or on the screen, and that’s just about the highest praise one can bestow on a Marvel property.” —David Sims,  The Atlantic

“Tennant is also an innately watchable actor, which the role and ‘Jessica Jones’ both need, because the series is focused almost entirely on the Kilgrave story. Like an increasing number of streaming series, it’s less a collection of individual but linked episodes than a really long movie. While concentrating on Kilgrave makes sense both narratively (he’s a great villain, who provides an instant hook for the series) and thematically (Jessica once had her entire life taken over by this guy, and now fears he’s in the process of doing it again), it gets wearying at times, even with occasional breaks for subplots about Jessica hooking up with Luke, Jeryn’s complicated love life (Robin Weigert plays her wife), Trish’s backstory as a former child star, etc. The comics did a slow build to Kilgrave, first letting us watch Jessica work cases so we could get a sense of her self-destructive behavior — as well as the innate heroism she refuses to admit is still there — before getting at the root cause of it. The TV show heads there very quickly and only makes token attempts at showing Jessica doing her day job.”—Alan Sepinwall, HitFix

“It should be said: Jessica Jones is a deeply feminist show, all the way down to its depiction of sex, which is pointedly empowering for the women. More than that, its central conflict is its lead character struggling to maintain her agency against an abusive man. All the people in positions of power (minus Kilgrave) are women… All of which makes it frustrating that the show seems so loath to dive into what Kilgrave’s mind control activities involving Jessica and other women really mean. It takes a while for the word ‘rape’ to be said out loud, and the conversation doesn’t extend beyond that one scene. The show’s timidity regarding the implications of what its main villain does is disappointing, particularly for a series that otherwise so fully embraces a female perspective.” —Lisa Weidenfeld, A.V. Club

“Like all Netflix shows, Jessica Jones has serious problems with pacing; in this case, it’s because Kilgrave’s crimes are of such an enormity that time spent away from him, on tangential aspects of Jones’s sleuthing, feel like filler material. But what works aboutJessica Jones is its understanding of how, particularly, Kilgrave’s crimes tie into Jones’s identity as a woman. Having your body and free will stolen from you is a story that TV’s told in many different ways, but one that Marvel would have seemed an unlikely suspect to do so right. The problem with the Black Widow plotline (well, one of them) is that the big-screen Marvel movies are so laughably overstuffed, so intent on overwhelming the audience, that they can’t possibly do justice to anything so serious. More tightly focused and stripped of the weird attempts at bonhomie that have defined recent Marvel movies, Jessica Jones has no such problem.” —Daniel D’Addario, Time

“For all its drop-dead cool, Jessica Jones ultimately feels caught between the desire to be authentically grungy and merely pulpy and escapist. This is in contrast to Netflix’s previous Marvel collaboration, Daredevil, where a dour ambience chimed with the overarching themes of urban decay and familial angst. Jones is a darkly compelling anti-heroine, as richly drawn as Tony Soprano or Mad Men’s Don Draper. She deserves better than this formulaic escapade that drably blends crime procedural and comic book cliches.”—Ed Power, The Telegraph

“Yes, Jessica Jones (Ritter) is a woman granted extraordinary strength and, apparently, the ability to fly. But it’s her superhumanity, rather than her superpowers, that makes the show so riveting. […] Owing more to Tony Soprano, Jane Tennison and ‘Orphan Black’ than Iron Man, Black Widow and ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.,’ ‘Jessica Jones’ is Marvel’s first official foray into the Emmy-tempting world of prestige drama.” —Mary McNamara, Los Angeles Times

Jessica Jones will likely be widely discussed for its treatment of sex, which it addresses with unprecedented frankness for a Marvel property. The first episode features a torrid sex scene between Jones and Cage that’s shockingly detailed, not in terms of graphic nudity but rather in its depiction of fumbling desire and angsty energy and the sheer mechanics of superheroes having sex. Later there’s an amusing scene of a thwarted (female) orgasm; characters crack jokes about female superhero costumes and ‘camel toe.’ Perhaps most strikingly, there’s a harrowing abortion-related plotline that enters around Episode 6 and is dealt with in surprisingly forthright terms. It’s nearly impossible to imagine any of these sorts of things in a Marvel movie.” —Jack Hamilton, Slate

“It’s tempting to say that ‘Jessica Jones’ is to the superhero show what ‘Transparent’ has been to the sitcom or ‘Game of Thrones’ to the sword-and-sorcery series, extending and reinventing a television genre. It would be a stretch, though. The premise of the former costumed hero turned detective after catastrophic events was established in the comic book Alias, which introduced the Jessica Jones character in 2001. And in the new series, whose 13-episode first season will be available to stream on Friday, it doesn’t really feel as if Ms. Rosenberg is refashioning the superhero genre. It feels as if she’s adapting it to another goal: making as fond and meticulous a homage to the spirit of ‘Veronica Mars’ as possible.” —Mike Hale, the New York Times

“In no uncertain terms, Jessica Jones is the best thing Marvel Television has ever produced. It contains all the hopeful anticipation S.H.I.E.L.D., all the feminist-overtones of Agent Carter and all the grittiness of Daredevil. While each of the aforementioned can be defended on their own merits, they are very much divisive (even the latter). It will, however, be very surprising if Jessica Jones ends up receiving a similar reaction from viewers. —Merrill Barr,” Forbes

“If Jessica Jones has a serious flaw in the early-going, it’s that, as intriguing as Kilgrave is, the show shares Jessica’s monomaniacal fixation on the character, and the result is a sort of narrative claustrophobia. Even Jessica’s interest in the man we quickly learn is Luke Cage is Kilgrave-related. Taylor’s Trish becomes part of Jessica’s Kilgrave fascination and even ties in thematically because of the manipulation she experienced in her days as a young actress, as well as some other dark events that have Trish learning Krav Maga in a fortress of an apartment. Everything in these opening episodes ties back to Kilgrave, and Kilgrave is such a twisted figure that it’s hard for any light to get in.” —Daniel Fienberg, The Hollywood Reporter

“If you know the history of those two characters from the comics, then you have some idea of what to expect going into this show. That dynamic is preserved here, with an emphasis on the aftermath of that history. There’s no way around the rape and abuse allegory inherent in a character who uses mind control to override other people’s consent. And while it would be nice to have a female-led show that didn’t use rape as its primary storytelling device, this show addresses it better than most. […] Jessica Jones has the smallest scope of any Marvel property, and that was a smart choice. It means that it can focus in on character development, on building out its themes, and on resonating with audiences. It is very tightly-plotted, with a laser-focus on Jessica dealing with Kilgrave. This means that characters learn from previous episodes and make new plans when old ones fail. Not a single moment is wasted.” —Katharine Trendacosta, i09

“The cinematography captures the Gothic beauty of the real New York, its skyscrapers reflected in gutter puddles, lighting up a violet night that suggests Jessica’s archenemy, Kilgrave (David Tennant), might be lurking down the next alley. And Jessica’s life feels authentic for an ambitious-but-lonely New York woman: She has a sweet workaholic friend (Rachael Taylor) and a ruthless client (Carrie-Ann Moss, in the gender-swapped role of high-powered lawyer Jeri Hogarth) but spends many nights alone, Rear Window-ing neighbors like Luke (Mike Colter). All of this could’ve made for a gritty character drama if it weren’t for the noir clichés (saxophone music, shadows through glass) and a procedural structure that’s very CSI: Marvel. The show’s biggest weakness is the same as Jessica’s: It starts out with extraordinary potential, but somewhere along the way, it loses what make it special.” —Melissa Maerz, EW

What Critics Are Saying About Jessica Jones