The most wonderful time of the movie-going, TV-watching year is finally upon us. Both the Screen Actors Guild and Golden Globe nominees were revealed last week, allowing us fans plenty of time to play Monday Morning Quarterback as we dissect and debate those who made the cut, as well as those who did not as we approach the meat of award season.
Netflix, as a relatively new player, has taken the TV world by storm with their original programming. Both Orange is the New Black and House of Cards have cemented their places among the yearly nominees. At this point they don’t even need to hang on to their old movie/show libraries to keep you renewing your subscription, and they’ve earned it with some excellent originals. But two of their newer hits have been the talk of 2015, despite being almost entirely ignored by the award-giving powers that be.
It’s no secret that superheroes dominate this decade’s pop culture. Batman fighting Superman and Captain America’s tussle with Iron Man will flood our internet, televisions, and daily conversations once we return from a galaxy far, far away. They make it difficult to remember Deadpool, the X-Men’s battle against Apocalypse, and the Suicide Squad all coming in 2016 as well. These make it even more difficult to remember the slew of incoming Avengers and Justice Leaguers we’ll be meeting soon after. There’s no delicate way to say that the superhero market is becoming oversaturated, even for today’s rabid fans.
The only effective way to combat oversaturation is to add layers of diversity within the genre. Studios aren’t likely to slow down their superhero production; in fact, they’re going to speed up. And we as fans are even less likely to ever want that. I certainly don’t want fewer superheroes per year, artistic integrity be damned. Instead, we’ll demand even more comic book adaptations and just complain about all of them until someone changes the stale formula. Fortunately, one studio is already beating us to that punch.
Let’s circle back around to Netflix. When Marvel announced their upcoming Defenders project, the excitement among fans was present but mitigated, at least in comparison to the bigger budget movies we’re so used to seeing. This looked like a B list roster used to flex the Marvel “we can make anything and you’ll love it” muscles, which isn’t the worst thing in the world by the way. But what we got was something much greater that absolutely changed the superhero game.
I won’t write a whole review here but put simply, Daredevil and Jessica Jones exhibit a mastery of tone while delivering serious, grounded, and believable superhero stories that still never forget they come from comic books. Other movies of this genre have been near perfect, but still did not achieve this. The Avengers is an almost flawless superhero movie, but I never once suspected it might be happening outside my office on the streets of New York. The Dark Knight defined dark and gritty for this generation, delivering legendary performances, but it almost seems to resent the very fact that their source material was ultimately a series of comic books. Daredevil kicked down this weird door between serious and fun, revolutionizing its genre without running away from it. And Jessica Jones is built on that very same formula. Outside of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, no work of superhero art has been able to do this until now.
As promised, no full review. There’s the bare bones look at Marvel’s blossoming relationship with Netflix. So the much delayed point of this whole thing is the outright criminal nature of both Daredevil and Jessica Jones’ absence from the SAG and Golden Globe nominations. To clarify, Daredevil scored a nomination for stunt work, which is almost more insulting than nothing. Because that’s their way of saying “Oh we didn’t forget your show. We just didn’t nominate it for anything good.” In a year where Game of Thrones is finally getting the love it deserves, I am not here writing an article claiming Daredevil was the best drama of 2015. But as far as nominations go, there is plenty of room to properly recognize two of the best new shows of 2015. You could make a number of arguments, but I’m eyeing three spots in particular.
While the supporting cast is great, Charlie Cox carries Daredevil and gives a previously disenfranchised character new life. His understated performance personifies the exact tone I attributed to the show as a whole earlier. Every hero we’ve ever seen on screen is one of four archetypes. He or she is either the witty charmer, the naïve boy scout, the tough guy, or the tortured soul. Flash, Superman, Aquaman, Batman. Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, the Hulk. There’s nothing wrong with these types. They’ve worked for years and those are some of the most beloved and interesting comic book heroes. But Charlie Cox’s Matt Murdock is none of the above. He’s a real person. He has moments of emotion and a dark past, moments of levity, and is just plain cool to watch and listen to. Surely there must be some room for him in the best actor in a drama category. To me anyone except Jon Hamm and his farewell tour is theoretically replaceable. And Cox would only have to replace one.
The fact that the SAGs and Globes only have three leading men in common nominated for this category tells you that there are very few standout, must-haves in this group of five. I personally think Peter Dinklage’s spot in the SAGs is unnecessary, as amazing as he is on that very amazing show. Seasons four, two and even one, in my humble opinion, were much stronger for Tyrion’s character. After a breathtaking ten hours from him in Thrones’ fourth season, season five felt more focused elsewhere. Even if he deserves a nomination, that character wasn’t the lead by a long shot this time around. That role clearly belonged to a young bastard from the north who may or may not still be with us. Even Kevin Spacey’s Frank Underwood, who gave us another strong season, didn’t further the same demonic transformation that shocked viewers in the first two seasons of House of Cards. This last nitpick may not be as valid, but as much as we all like Bob Odenkirk I don’t think the Breaking Bad universe needs another pat on the back right now. At least not so soon. I’ll be the first to admit I haven’t seen Mr. Robot or Ray Donovan or several other quality programs, but I do know there must be some room for such a unique and memorable hero among TV’s best actors. Let’s not forget that playing a blind man, albeit it a very capable one, cannot be easy.
Aside from the outstanding Tom Hiddleston and his Loki, Marvel tends to suffer from an assembly line of bland and uninteresting villains. The casual fan can’t even tell you the difference between, for example, Ronan and Malekith. After seeing their movies, I’m not so sure I could either. Just the big angry blue guys from space, each wielding an infinity stone to end the world. Ultron was serviceable, but we expected better. They turned one of the most menacing villains in comic book history into a stand up comedian. I guess that’s what happens when you make him an evil Tony Stark instead of an evil Hank Pym (just imagine for a moment how awesome he would’ve been if they based him off of Michael Douglas’ character instead). Getting back on track, Vincent D’Onofrio’s Kingpin reintroduced us to a proper villain, giving us someone to obsess over to play opposite our lawyer by day, vigilante by night hero. And he’s not even the guy I want for best supporting actor. Because David Tennant’s Kilgrave is pure evil, in the best way. Never has such charm been successfully balanced by some of the most cleverly despicable actions. This was the character this show needed and, while Krysten Ritter is excellent, Kilgrave is the character that defines and dictates the flawless pace of this show.
Without exhausting the praise for these shows, I’ll just say it would’ve been nice to see either nominated for best drama for the many reasons we’ve discussed. Understandably, that may be the toughest spot to squeeze into. And so be it. But walking away with zero major nominations between these two shows seems, more than anything else, indicative of the stigma carried by the word superhero as far as these voting parties are concerned. Take away Daredevil’s costume, or Jessica’s strength, and I guarantee there’s more award buzz around them. I guess we have to break in these dull voters one very small step at a time. First, lets get them to finish rewarding dragons and White Walkers. Maybe next year we’ll do superheroes.