Iron Fist Bleh. Every flaw of the Marvel TV shows is on display. Endless exposition. Meandering plots. Superfluous characters and scenes. A pointless villain shift halfway through. Poorly executed attempts at humor was delivered in such a sorry way that I could not tell if it was intended as humor or just bad writing. In this case we have to pile on an annoyingly overwrought lead actor, a bland supporting actress, and disappointing action. Yikes. The previous installments (Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage) all felt like 8 episodes stretched to 13. Iron Fist feels like 5 stretched to 13.
Was there anything good? Of course. The Meachum family and the portrayal of them were very entertaining (Tom Pelphrey's Ward is mesmerizing) although as villains they weren't really memorable. Rosario Dawson reprised her supporting role as Claire and totally dominated the two leads in the charisma department. There was a fun "drunken master" fight scene. That's about it. Apart from that it was the rough equivalent of a third rate network TV drama -- NCIS: Kun-Lun.
You know, all these series are ripe for one of those mad genius types who take indulgent films and re-edit them into something tight and entertaining, like so? You could cut/combine all four of the Marvel TV universe shows into say, 24 episodes -- one full old school season -- and it would be Yuge. It could be they've gotten the message on this because the upcoming combo series, The Defenders, is only going to be 6 episodes.
Legion And yet I may have spoken to soon. Legion is a Marvel property of X-men orientation that goes for full on creative madness and actually achieves it. It's the brainchild of Noah Hawley of Fargo (TV series) fame and it's a visual treat. Beneath the surface it is a bit derivative in concept, but cleverly so. Sourced from the X-Men mythos, it's the standard "fear of mutants leads to their oppression" theme, although this time it's not so banally parroting a dull normal social justice narrative. It also weaves in what is essentially a demonic possession plotline reworked such that the demon is actually a bizarre form of mutant.
Mad, hallucinogenic visuals can only go so far, though. Luckily Legion doesn't depend on them. Quirky, surreal, well-portrayed characters help, but the is a key indicator of a quality TV show is the amount of exposition in the dialog. There is little here. Hawley is obviously a big "don't tell, show" guy. Lots of good writing flows from simply following this principle, including pacing and character development. And the good writing here is evident, especially in contrast to, say, Iron Fist. The final scene and post credit tag was a clear set up for next season, which in this case is unquestionably a good thing.
Aside It's interesting to see how the other Marvel streams have reacted to the astoundingly consistent high quality of the Avengers stream. X-men, through Legion and Deadpool and (I hear) Logan, have chosen to push the envelope in various ways and have generally succeeded. Spiderman, on the other hand, appears to have said "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em." Fantastic Four, well, maybe they've just given up -- that's probably for the best.
Coming Attractions While these Marvel shows are nice distractions, the good news is that some real quality drama is coming back soon. Both Better Call Saul and Fargo are imminent. Also encouraging, the stylish but ultimately disapppointing True Detective looks to be getting a dose of David Milch. No word yet on the only quality drama on TV that is not centered on crime, Halt and Catch Fire.
Comedy, too, is looking up with the return of the funniest show on TV, Archer, and Silicon Valley promos starting to appear. Plus, I will be giving side-eye to the new version of Mystery Science Theatre 3000 to see if it's a worthy of its comeback. Don't know how I'm supposed to get things done with all this on the horizon.