I had zero expectations going into this show. Part of that was because I kind of have a thing about spoilers; I don't even like to watch trailers because I'm concerned that it will make the actual viewing of something less fun or impacting. The other reason is I just plain forgot about this show. It hasn't been on my radar since I first heard it was put into production. When I was looking up release dates for the Marvel movie-verse this week, I discovered by accident that the Daredevil series was releasing on Netflix on April 10th. "Great," I thought. "I have that day off, so I can take a look at it." Then I spent the better part of the last 3 days binge-watching every episode.
I've watched the entire thing thus far, but I have no idea how far other people have gotten, so I will try really hard just to discuss the basics of what is so great about this show without giving anything away (again, no spoilers; I hate them.)
My first impression of the pilot and the first couple episodes was that it's Marvel's stab at dark and gritty. I have smarmy, preliminary notes about "shaky cam" and overdone images, like red blood dripping in a grey, washed-out background. I've never been happier to admit I was wrong about a first impression. Yes, the tone of the show is dark, and I guess you could call it gritty, but those sentiments do a huge disservice to what ultimately becomes a fantastic show: one that kicks the ass of pretty much every other superhero show currently on television. I think maybe that's because this show is not about a superhero, it's about a story. It's a movie that plays out in 13 parts, with remarkably good pacing for such an endeavor.
In case you don't know the story of Daredevil, I feel I at least need to cover the basics. Matt Murdock grew up in Hell's Kitchen, a dismal slum in New York, with his father, a bush-league boxer whose paydays were more often from throwing fights than winning them. They were mostly just struggling to get by when one day Matt was blinded in an accident, and, as a result, his other senses became near superhuman. In this show, we first see adult Matt as a lawyer, starting a practice with his best friend, Foggy Nelson (and the story of Matt's childhood unfolds as you go). The very first client they take on to defend at their idealistic little start-up is Karen Page, a woman who claims she is innocent of murder despite being found with a knife at the bloody scene. Little do they know, that one case would prove to be the thread of a much larger tapestry of corruption in the city of New York, and when they start to pull on it, everything begins to unravel.
That's all I really want to say about the story. The devil is in the details (yes, I just said that). The acting starts a little stilted, but as the story grows, so does possible range for the characters. I guess the actors just had to get settled in their roles. Charlie Cox as Matt can be pretty cold, but I think that is a function of the characterization. Elden Henson very animatedly portrays the lovable goof that is Foggy. His character seems a little one note at first, but as challenges for Foggy appear in the story, his nuance gets a chance to show through.
Let's just skip to the meat of this, shall we? Written by Drew Goddard*, the two sides of this story's coin are Matt Murdock and Wilson Fisk. Fisk is the main villain of the story. But you will rarely see a character study of an antagonist like you will in Daredevil. Just how Matt's past shapes him into who he becomes, so too does Fisk's past. If the amazing fight choreography is what drew me into the first episodes (seriously, that shit is mind-blowing), the narrative of Wilson Fisk is what kept me coming back. How a villain can simultaneously seem both human and like a terrifying monster is hard to describe, but this show does it almost without you realizing it's happening. The performance that Vincent D'Onofrio (from Full Metal Jacket fame) gives us of the slightly awkward, somewhat stoic Fisk is award-worthy. I can rarely remember being so afraid of what a villain would do next—it's that knotted-up anticipation you get from observing a soft-spoken giant whose rage you know is ever-simmering just below the surface.
In fact, it feels like that sense of fear and danger is one of the themes of this show. That's one of the reasons why I feel it's underwhelming or discrediting to simply call this show "gritty." Whereas many productions heavy-handedly set dark scenes to impose that grim tone onto shows, the tone of this show seems totally organic. Yes, it is dark, because Hell's Kitchen is dark. Yes, the show is grim a lot of the time, but because the reality of the characters' lives is grim. It is the story of struggling to keep hope alive and keep your friends and neighbors safe in an environment where there is corruption in every possible office and good intentions are often met with tragedy.
Did I also mention that this is a cool show about a guy with abilities becoming a hero? I feel like I should have. It's basically just the icing on the cake, though. The acting and direction is great, the production is solid, even the music is good. Some other things of note: I could do with a little more diversity on this show. The major players are all white, but there are some great supporting characters of color. In that regard, not terrible, but could be better.
You know what? Just stop reading this. Do yourself a favor and go watch the show. You won't regret it.
*EDIT: Drew Goddard created the show and was on board for the first few episodes, but the bulk was written by Steven DeKnight.
Image via TV Fanatic.com