The final nail has been struck. The last two remaining Marvel Netflix shows have not been renewed. We’ve still got Jessica Jones season 3 to come. Hopefully it’ll live up to the wonderful first season, but it will not receive a fourth season irrelevant of how well it does. Just as The Punisher, after a strong showing this year, won’t receive a third. The first and second seasons of JJ are examples of the quality story telling and production we have come to expect from the Marvel Netflix pairing. The shows of last and this year, Daredevil S3, The Punisher S2 and even Iron Fist S2 showed an upward trend in quality after a brief dip which started with the first season of Iron Fist. Even after recovering from a dip the shows struggled to retain the audience of their initial seasons. It may not however be a ratings issue that has caused these shows to be cancelled. Netflix may be focusing more on 100% owned and made shows as they move away from collaborations and hosting others productions. Essentially Marvel may not have made them enough money.
This leaves a big TV show vacuum for me. I enjoyed these more violent, street level hero shows. I enjoyed the (almost) interlinked stories and that they all inhabited the world together. These shows had a grit to them that’s hard to find elsewhere; whether that be other heroes or in different genres entirely. The sheen on most other shows all too apparent. Even with their story, or character flaws all the Marvel Netflix shows gave us something we hadn’t had before and, I feel, will be hard to replicate for Netflix. So why with no more instalments in these juggernaut shows should I keep Netflix?
I am watching some other Netflix distributed, and made shows. These just don’t have the same grit, nor the same grounding that I was getting from the Marvel heroes. Some shows are of a similar production quality. Star Trek Discovery, a very different show to the Marvel ones, gives me that excitement, strong well acted and written characters and a plot I enjoy. However Discovery is super polished almost to a fault. The sheen on the final product showing through even on the grimmest of scenes. I turned then to another super hero show, Black lightning, but that just isn’t good.
There is hope for me though. Three shows have recently released on Netflix that I’ve enjoyed. They’ve filled that vacuum but in very different ways both between them and to the Marvel shows.
The Umbrella Academy
I hadn’t heard of this franchise until it popped up on the Netflix front menu and my wife showed me the trailer. Although a very different kind of super hero show to the Marvel fair it’s got some excellently played characters. Klaus, Number Five and Hazel are standouts in a well-rounded and likeable group. The story is all over the place but focused at the right times allowing an easy understanding of events and for all of the characters reasonable development time. Nothing strays too far, Klaus’ Vietnam experience and the characters earlier lives limited to flashbacks. Number Five gets perhaps the biggest departure from the rest of the team but that all ties in nicely with some creative time travel. As well s fantastically played characters The Umbrella Academy pairs violence and comedy excellently. The scene between Diego and Hazel is a perfect example of this. There isn’t anything quite like Daredevils prison scene but that’s a good thing as it doesn’t take itself too seriously. It has that grit I’m looking for. A blending of fantasy and reality missing from most other shows. Whilst the characters have powers they all struggle with the realities of them. They struggle with their lives and how they fit into society often blaming their upbringing and the hardships they had to face with their Father. It has a reliability even in its world ending story and violent carnage that has me wanting season 2 as soon as possible.
Grim (sci-fi) fantasy? Check. Flawed characters? Check. An absurd plot which twists and turns around its single through line? Check. Super powers? Well, almost. Nightflyers is giving me almost exactly what I want. Set in space on the Nightflyer, rather than a dark New York, it follows its central characters as they travel through space to intercept the Volcryn and save humanity. Violence and fear are almost central to every episode as it drives its tense plot forward. I like that it doesn’t let up for the crew at all. Everything seems to be set against them from character confrontations to issues with the ship. It’s a constant barrage of problems with little time to react and solve them. This keeps the action tense and moves the show along at a frantic pace. I do have a few issues with the show but these are mostly with the acting and a few of the characters motivations. Certain actions are briefly explained away by the ‘Teke’ waves getting stronger during the journey. The sheer change in some characters motivation is a little too much for me and is never really discussed or explained. Sure they’re in space for a long time and perhaps I missed a key piece of dialogue but I’d have liked a little more exposition on this. It does seem that we won’t be getting a second season though as Syfy have cancelled the George R.R. Martin novella based show. A shame that it won’t get to provide any more explanation or build on a fairly solid first season.
A show I don’t need any further explanation for is Russian Doll. It’s plot is so ambiguous that I became invested in following Natasha Lyonne’s Nadia as she tried to understand what was happening. Why does she die then reappear back at the same point in time on her birthday. Whilst her character is flawed and slightly narcissistic, Natasha Lyonne is excellent in her portrayal. I cared about Nadia even if she did drag her feet and make the same mistakes over and over again. She really makes this show special. It’s a very different kind of show to the Marvel shows I’m missing. It’s not particularly violent but can be very funny to then hit you with a brutal death. It ramps up tension at the right points releasing it in both satisfying and frustrating ways. I think the difference in tone, pacing and structure helped me care about the characters and what was happening to the world as it explored a new kind of story telling. It can be compared to Groundhog Day with its seemingly never-ending time loop but I never cared for Bill Murray’s Phil the same I care for Nadia. I had that itch the whole way through of wanting to know how she would escape. It could just be that it’s mostly set at night in New York giving me the Marvel vibes but Russian Doll is a wonderful character piece set to an ominous plot.