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It should surprise no one that we love superhero TV series around these parts, and the current influx is as generally enjoyable a trend as any in television’s long history. And how do we know that this comic-friendly shift is in no danger of slowing down? Because the latest example, Netflix’s Daredevil, is absolutely the best of the superhero bunch at this point, beating out both its fellow Marvel series as well as everything DC is offering. Even a blind man could see that – sorry! – and here’s why. (Minor spoilers ahead.)
This is the story of two men on opposite sides. Like all good comic book stories, Daredevil centers on the safety of a city, in this case Hell’s Kitchen, New York, and the two men dedicated to keep it thriving. For Charlie Cox’s Matt Murdock, this is done through street-level vigilantism as a man in a black mask, trying to attack the seedy underworld both with fisticuffs aided by his heightened senses and through his small-time law firm. For Vincent D’Onofrio’s Wilson Fisk, this is accomplished by using his own vast criminal empire to wipe out everything and everyone that he can’t control. Their combative idealisms are so much more entertaining to me than watching a mysterious organization or a never-ending line of villains seeking otherworldly artifacts or doing widespread damage for seemingly no reason.
The superpowers are a part of the story, not the whole story. Yes, Matt’s blindness is supplemented by bizarrely keen senses of hearing, smell, and even taste. But even though he’s able to tell when people are lying, or pinpoint when certain people are in danger, that doesn’t mean he’s always able to do something about it. Despite being a trained fighter – hey, Stick! – Matt isn’t godlike in his conquests or so smart that his plans are infallible, and he fails as often as he succeeds. Which, as you might imagine, definitely doesn’t help with public opinion. But don’t let that fool you into thinking this isn’t one of the most action-packed shows on TV, as its fight sequences are consistently as good as anything you’ll see on the big or small screen, with coherent direction and scope throughout.
The stakes are real. Death is obviously the highest stake imaginable for a TV show, and we’re at a point where that’s all some shows know how to do in order to make things feel legitimate. That said, superhero series tend to avoid this route, with younger viewers always in the mind of networks and showrunners. As a Netflix Original from Spartacus creator Steven DeKnight, Daredevil mostly doesn’t need to worry about such matters, and it is therefore able to use whatever tactics it needs to make things feel real. From the multiple gashes and bruises across Matt’s body to city block explosions, everything is genuinely full of repercussions, and seemingly no one is safe. Except for Matt's face, of course, as you can't keep a good jawline down.
Wilson “Don’t Speak His Name” Fisk. Other than Loki and The Joker, Wilson Fisk is easily the most captivating, fearsome and multi-tiered comic book villain ever brought to live action. And since those other two were only in the movies (beyond the 1966 Batman series), this puts Fisk at least three big bald heads above everyone else currently making life hell for comic heroes. Had Gotham focused more on Carmine Falcone, instead of the joyously daffy Penguin, perhaps it would have had a shot. But no one in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Arrow, The Flash or Agent Carter is even in the same neighborhood, largely because Daredevil dedicates about a third of its story to Fisk, his history, and his uprising.
The cast is perfect. It should go without saying that D’Onofrio is impeccable, but Cox is just as good as a man struggling to keep bad guys (and his secrets) from ruining those closest to him. That includes Elden Henson’s affable comic relief Foggy Nelson and Deborah Ann Woll’s distressed damsel (and office assistant) Karen Page. Other winners on the good side include Rosario Dawson as troubled nurse Claire Temple, who aids Matt when needed, and Vondie Curtis-Hall as investigative journalist Ben Urich, who gets involved as the season goes on. On Fisk’s side, we have Toby Leonard Moore as slimy right hand man Wesley, Bob Gunton as the equally despicable money man Leland Owlsley, Ayelet Zurer as his art dealing love interest Vanessa Marianna, Wai Ching Ho as Chinese crime lord Madame Gao, and Rob Morgan as the street thug Turk Barrett. Other excellent recurring roles are filled by the likes of Scott Glenn, Nikolai Nikolaeff, John Patrick Hayden and Gideon Emery. And everyone is great for the most part, with no glaring faults.
I could keep going, mentioning how the dark and gritty subject matter is balanced at times by hope and humor, or how Daredevil tells one hell of a serialized story, rather than defaulting to “stories of the week.” (Which is understandable, given it’s a binge-worthy show by nature.) But I’ve said enough. The rest is waiting for you to discover for yourself.
All 13 episodes of Daredevil Season 1 are now available on Netflix.