Dark and gripping, smart and sure-footed—and no pretentious brooding or fanboy pandering.
It’s odd that in our coinciding Golden Age of Television and Gold Rush of Superhero Entertainments, we’ve yet to see a truly great superhero television show. The medium of TV, after all, is a snug fit for the genre: Part of the charm of superhero comics is their narrative shagginess, the nutty contortions necessitated when telling the same episodic story for 40, 50, 77 years. The open-ended expanse of television seems an obvious home for this, but in recent years superhero television shows have either functioned as glorified ads for tentpole movie franchises, or off-ramps where less glamorous properties get dumped in faint hopes they’ll be pulled along by the insatiable rage for tights and fluttering newsprint.
Netflix’s Daredevil—the first season of which drops, in its entirety, Friday on Netflix—is a shock to the senses in a number of ways, but the first and biggest is that it’s really, really good. I’ve watched only the first five episodes, but so far Daredevil is the best superhero television show I’ve ever seen; more than that, it stands among the best screen ventures that Marvel has yet undertaken. It’s dark and gripping, smart and sure-footed, and takes itself and its audience seriously while avoiding either pretentious brooding or fanboy pandering. It’s also adventurous and different, in a way a show this good was always going to need to be. It’s the first modern small-screen comic adaptation that doesn’t seem to be lustily glancing at the multiplex.
For the uninitiated, Daredevil is the alter ego of Matt Murdock, do-gooder Hell’s Kitchen defense attorney and perpetually lapsing Catholic. A childhood accident blinded Murdock while abnormally heightening his remaining senses: He navigates the world by way of a sort of mystical sonar, in the courtroom he can hear people’s heartbeats to know if they’re lying, and his sensory overload has blessed him with superhuman balance and agility (plus a mastery of martial arts, this being a comic book). Come nightfall Murdock dons a silly red costume and becomes Daredevil, billy-club-wielding scourge of the New York underworld. To non-comics readers, Daredevil is still best-known as the subject of an awful Ben Affleck vehicle from 2003, a movie made while Marvel was still finding its footing in the movie game.