Friday, July 3, 2015

TV Binge Review - Daredevil Season 1

Daredevil by Netflix!

  I like movies and TV but never felt I needed to sign up to a subscription service like Netflix or Hulu. If I want to watch a movie that’s not in the theater it’s always been easy enough to go to a video rental store and then a DVD rental store and now a Redbox and pay a few dollars to see what I want. Missing a television show used to require waiting for a rerun but now most networks allow viewing shows for weeks and months after the initial air date from their web sites.

  I’ve never been a binge television watcher – when there are shows I really want to see like ‘The Last Ship’, ‘Falling Skies’, or ‘The Walking Dead’ I’ve always been content to schedule my week around the show times and make sure I’m parked in front of my TV. I like shows like ‘The Flash’ and ‘Arrow’ and will watch them when we are both around my television but I don’t like them well enough to clear my calendar or get upset when I miss an episode. In May Kathy and I watched the first three episodes of the Netflix series ‘Daredevil’ on her computer at the rate of one episode per week. I could have watched the entire run of 13 episodes at once but I was content to follow a regular television schedule. I didn’t watch any episodes for a month and last Friday watched episodes 4 and 5 with Kathy. I was hooked and wanted to watch the other eight episodes right away. Kathy wasn’t as taken with the show as I was so I just started watching them in my spare time. I must have a lot more spare time than I think because I finished the 13th episode 4 days later on Wednesday morning.

Daredevil captures the grit and grime of New York City better than Nolan's Batman

  Daredevil is a Marvel comic superhero dating to the 1960’s. Matt Mudock is a child when he saves a pedestrian from being run over by a chemical tanker truck. The truck overturns and spills its radioactive chemical load on Murdock. The chemical cocktail blinds Murdock but gives him super senses which allows him to read newspapers by the raised impression of the ink on paper, tell if someone is lying by listening to their heartbeat, hear a conversation halfway across the city, and most importantly an intuitive sense of his surroundings with a sixth sense akin to a bat’s sonar. Murdock becomes a lawyer by day and a masked crime fighter by night using his super senses, gymnastic skills, and martial art abilities as Daredevil.

  Daredevil has had many incarnations over the years. The Netflix show focuses on his early career set in grimy Hell’s Kitchen and the ‘devil’ aspect of his persona that Frank Miller popularized in his run on the comics in the early 1980’s. Charlie Cox played Matt Murdock. It can’t be easy to play a blind man but I never got the impression that Cox wasn’t blind. He mixed Murdock’s easygoing manner with his constant lies and deceptions to everyone around him about his secret identity and super senses in a very believable manner. As Daredevil, Cox was athletic without going too overboard (jumping and running from tenement roof to tenement roof instead of swinging from cables and ropes). The amount of punishment he took in the form of bruises, cuts, and punches was beyond belief and more the fault of the showrunners than Cox.

  All superheroes these days have a support network and Daredevil is no different. Murdock’s law partner and childhood friend Foggy Nelson and secretatry Karen Page are professionally played by Elden Henson and Deborah Ann Wohl. Both look exactly like their comic counterparts. While Nelson is forever stuck as Murdock’s sidekick, Page has a major part in the events of the season, starting as Murdock’s first client to working with reporter Ben Ulrich to expose a plot to run the poor working people of Hell’s Kitchen out of their rent controlled apartments to make way for expensive high-rise condominiums. I liked how Vondie Curtis-Hall played grizzled reporter Ben Ulrich as the newshound that chases his story 24/7 no matter where it leads or what personal dangers he exposes himself to. Since Murdock is forever cut and bruised during the season it was fortunate that one of the first people he meets is Claire Temple, who becomes his own private nurse that stiches up his many wounds and serves as a possible love interest for future seasons. Except for Ulrich I thought Daredevil’s supporting cast was as stereotypical as most other superhero shows.

Vincent D’Onofrio's was amped to play the role of The Kingpin!

  Every superhero needs a villain and Daredevil had one of the best I’ve ever seen in a TV show – Wilson Fisk AKA the Kingpin. Vincent D’Onofrio of ‘Law & Order : Criminal Intent’ fame stole the series with his multi-faceted performance as the crime boss that commands a group of crime bosses in order to reach his goal of rebuilding Hell’s Kitchen into his own empire of skyscrapers and condominiums.

  Fisk commands a Russian mob led by the sadistic Ranskakov brothers , the Yakuza headed by the ninja Nobu, crooked Wall Street financier Leland Owlsley, and the heroin distribution network of Madame Gao. Fisk has half the NYPD and at least one senator in his pocket and everything is running smoothly (except for the annoyance of the masked Daredevil) until Fisk falls in love with art gallery owner Vanessa, which causes a rift between he and his criminal allies that think he has lost his edge and gotten careless. D’Onfrio seemed to have bulked up to play the massive Kingpin and he masterfully alternates between the fastidious creature of habit that makes his daily omelet (even cutting the chives he sprinkles on the omelet) to the calculating killer that orders assassinations and mass killings to the shy teenager around Vanessa to the rage-filled man-child that was abused by his father until he beat his head in with a hammer to protect his mother.

  In one of the more memorable scenes Fisk is having a quiet dinner with Vanessa in an exclusive restaurant when they are interrupted by one of the Ranskakov brothers who is thinking he showing respect to Fisk by conveying his agreement to some business terms in person. Fisk is enraged at having his dinner with Vanessa interrupted by a Russian mobster. He is so enraged that after getting Ranshakov alone to continue their conversation privately, he beats him senseless, hitting him with the car door of his SUV until he beheads the hapless Russian. This was just one of Fisk’s many eruptions of hulk-like rage. Eventually Fisk’s underlings are eliminated by either Daredevil or Fisk himself which sets up the climactic showdown between the two.

An epic fight scene...

  The main theme of the first season of Daredevil seemed to be how far the main characters will go to get what they want and specifically if they will kill to achieve their aims. The Kingpin wants everything and has proven that he will kill for need, rage, or pleasure. Karen has to deal with the possibility of committing murder to save herself, Murdock swears he won’t cross that line but comes dangerously close a number of times in the season. This topic will likely be explored in greater detail in season two with the main adversary scheduled to be ‘The Punisher’, a hero who has no problem killing criminals in his one man war on crime. However the new season plays out I will probably binge watch it the first week it becomes available. I never thought I would binge watch a show but I never saw a show as compelling as Daredevil before.