Netflix series Jessica Jones redefines Marvel heroines for TV

Comic book heroine Jessica Jones swears, drinks too much and is flawed, and fights in leather jackets and combat boots

Everything about new superhero TV series Jessica Jones is indicative of how its producer Netflix dares to take risks.

With all of the show's sexually explicit scenes as well as the presence of the uber violent and creepy villain Kilgrave (David Tennant), the series ventures into far darker territory than the average family-friendly Iron Man films.

While the titular character, played by relatively unknown actress Krysten Ritter, is part of the popular Marvel comics universe, she is hardly mainstream. She swears, drinks too much and is flawed and tortured in equal measure.

Oh and do not expect her to be that leotard-wearing sexy female superhero stereotype that is the stuff of all comic book fanboys' dreams, either.

 

Speaking to The Straits Times in Tokyo to promote the show, she says: "Jessica Jones is not, visually, what would come to mind as your usual female superhero. I had input on the wardrobe because I see that as part of my character building and I didn't want to show my figure or wear anything too eye-catching.

"It's more important to be practical. It's hard to fight in high heels or jeans that are too tight. I wanted her to feel real," she says of the character, whose wardrobe of choice comprises leather jackets and combat boots.

The drama, based on Marvel's comic book series Alias, is about a woman with super strength and who can fly, but hopes to live as normal a life as possible as a private investigator.

Haunted by her tormented past where she was once mind- controlled to do bad things by the evil Kilgrave, her life is thrown into turmoil when he returns from the dead.

The show is one of several Marvel TV series that streaming service Netflix has commissioned in recent years, all of which feature lesser- known superheroes.

It has also produced Daredevil and will reportedly dole out upcoming series focused on superheroes Luke Cage (incidentally, Jones' love interest) and Iron Fist.

Ritter certainly loves the fact that her character is not famous like Supergirl or Wonder Woman.

"I say this is all pros and no cons. It's not like I'm playing Batman and so you'll compare me to Michael Keaton or Christian Bale. I won't be compared, so there's a lot of freedom for me in the role," she says.

The 34-year-old star is quick to point out that even though the character originates from Marvel, she sees the show as a "psychological thriller first, superhero show second".

She adds: "Jessica has superpowers, but the show is not all about that. She is just written as a really great character and I saw her powers as extra things built into someone who has two feet on the ground.

"She's such a bad***, so grounded and so tough. I think the show is so much grittier than you might think," she says of the series, which deals extensively with rape, assault and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Netflix, which was launched last week in 130 countries including Singapore, is known for being groundbreaking not only in the way it releases content (it typically uploads entire seasons all at once for binge-viewing), but also in the actual content it produces.

On top of the Marvel slate of programming, Netflix is behind acclaimed, edgy shows such as political drama House Of Cards, prison comedy Orange Is The New Black and crime drama Narcos, about the late Colombian drug kingpin Pablo Escobar.

As Ritter has acted in network TV shows before - she was the star of ABC sitcom Don't Trust The B- In Apartment 23 (2012 - 2013) - she recognises the liberties that her new show gets to take on Netflix in comparison.

She says: "The thing about Netflix is that you get more minutes in your episode because there are no commercial breaks.

"You get to see an entire scene play out instead of just jumping halfway in. There are a lot of times when Jessica Jones is alone in her house and there's no dialogue. You spend time with her and see her being vulnerable."

Since the show was launched on Netflix in the United States last November, it has received rave reviews, with many critics citing the unapologetically bleak nature of the story. Forbes called it "the best show on TV" that will "surprise you, thrill you, terrify you and leave you hungry for more".

Among comic book fans, it has also gotten the thumbs-up as a special early screening of the pilot played to much enthusiasm at New York Comic Con a month before it went online.

So, is Ritter ready for international fandom? She says: "I just love to act, so I don't really think about that kind of thing.

"But New York Comic Con - wow. Some girls went to the event dressed as Jessica Jones, so that was so much fun. I'm still riding that high."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 13, 2016, with the headline 'Super anti-heroine'. Print Edition | Subscribe