If you read the tagline for this blog, you may notice that television is conspicuously absent. Typewriter Monkey Task Force is a blog about “faith, writing, video games, literature, life, the universe, and everything.” When I discuss television, it falls into the same “and everything” category as muffins, snow, and fist bumps.
This blog has a number of posts about Doctor Who and kids’ cartoons, but hardly any for more serious shows. I seldom write about grown-up shows for the reason that I seldom watch grown-up television. Not for me the Breaking Bads and Walking Deads of modern programming; I prefer to relax with something pleasant, not tales of violence, crime, sex, or scandal.
A few times, however, a show for adults has come along that absolutely blows me away. The last one was Sherlock, the BBC’s outstanding adaptation of the old Holmes stories. This time it’s Marvel’s Daredevil, a recent Netflix original series. It does so many things right that I’m taking a post to list a few of them, along with some miscellaneous observations.
First, a little background: Daredevil is based on a Marvel comic about Matt Murdock, a blind lawyer whose other senses are heightened to an incredible degree, allowing him to “see” without eyes. Every night, he hits the streets of Hell’s Kitchen, a neighborhood of Manhattan, to beat criminals senseless: a lawless lawyer, so to speak.
The Netflix show happens in the same world as all those Marvel movies from Disney—the MCU, or Marvel Cinematic Universe—but takes a more mature, grounded tone. One final note: Marvel’s Daredevil has no connection, thank heaven, to that dreadful movie starring Ben Affleck.
As promised earlier this week, here are my thoughts on Marvel’s Daredevil.
Be ye warned: Here there be minor spoilers.
The grand villain in Daredevil, criminal kingpin Wilson Fisk, is one of the best baddies I’ve seen on television. Too many stories disrespect their villains by treating them not as characters, but as plot elements. Fisk, by contrast, is a brilliantly developed character: menacing, memorable, and oddly vulnerable. Despite being “merely” a villain, he gets flashbacks and a love story—considerations usually reserved for the protagonist!
At first, Fisk seems completely in control. He fits the stereotype of the criminal genius pulling strings from the shadows. Only as the story unfolds is Fisk revealed to be an unstable, emotional mess of a man, a character with noble dreams and zero compassion. Fisk is a magnificent bad guy.
The characters in Daredevil drink with alarming frequency. It’s a wonder they manage to stay mostly sober for thirteen episodes. Daredevil‘s Matt Murdock and Iron Man‘s Tony Stark probably need an intervention.
Matt’s business partner is a wry young lawyer named Foggy Nelson. I expected Foggy to be shallow comic relief or the bumbling Watson to Matt’s Holmes, but he surpassed my expectations in every way. Foggy is certainly funny, and he lacks Matt’s poise, yet he winds up being a smart, independent, and thoroughly likable character.
The fight scenes
I’ve become jaded toward practically every single fight scene in the MCU. I can only watch Thor or Captain America punch people in the face so many times before I lose interest. These fight scenes are bland and bloodless. The heroes, who are practically invincible, knock out nearly every enemy in a single punch. What’s the point?
Daredevil offers a superior take on fight scenes. Matt Murdock is breakable. Many of his battles end with Matt bruised, gashed, and bloodied. He is regularly bandaged and stitched up by a sympathetic friend. Because he’s not some invincible superman, his fights are tense and engaging in a way Thor’s or Captain America’s will never be. Matt is weaker than the average superhero, and his enemies are tough. When he knocks them down, they sometimes get back up and keep fighting—a refreshing change from the one-punch knockouts of Marvel’s movies.
Finally, the fights in Daredevil aren’t flagrantly choreographed dances. They’re all-out brawls. Matt gets tired. He stumbles. His fights have the weight, momentum, and wild physicality missing in the MCU’s other media. I like Marvel’s big-budget movies, but they have so much to learn from Daredevil.
Following up on things Daredevil can teach the rest of the MCU, its writing is really good. Marvel’s movies have plenty of heavy exposition, clever quips, and inspirational speeches, but not a lot of honest-to-God conversation between characters. When Daredevil‘s characters talk to each other, they sound like people talking to each other, not actors reading a screenplay. I know Daredevil has more airtime than the average Marvel movie, but the MCU could try to mix in a little believable dialogue with its jokes and expositions.
Daredevil is really, really violent. Its blood and broken bones are earned by the story’s mature themes and gritty realism, but this show sure ain’t one for the kiddos.
Matt Murdock is nominally Roman Catholic, and I didn’t expect to be impressed by the show’s treatment of religion. The media hardly ever depicts Christians well. To my astonishment, Daredevil offers an excellent Christian character in the form of Matt’s priest, Father Lantom.
Many Christian characters in secular media are broad caricatures of religion, but Father Lantom seems authentic in both his concern for Matt and his knowledge of Christian theology. In one scene, he discusses the doctrine of the devil in astonishing detail, mentioning the fact that Satan is the Hebrew word for adversary and alluding to the liberal theory (with which he disagrees) that the devil is merely a misinterpretation of Scripture.
This is heavy stuff for a superhero show. The show’s writers really did their homework, and I love the way they wove the religious motifs of the devil, sin, and redemption into Matt’s journey. I’m impressed by Father Lantom. The heroes of Daredevil aren’t saints, but the show’s informed, respectful depiction of religion is exemplary.
Marvel’s Daredevil is one of the best shows I’ve seen in ages. It isn’t as action-packed or colorful as Marvel’s other stuff, but I loved its serious tone, smart writing, and superb fight scenes. In all the right ways, Daredevil is a show for adults, and I highly recommend it.