Blindspot makes no allowances for your intelligence, while Jessica Jones is a tough gem of a show
US television producers have been putting the “high” into high concept television for more than a decade now. High concept television = an intriguing idea that can swiftly impress a studio executive in an elevator, but which makes less and less sense the longer the show goes on. Plane-crash confusath on
Lost was the highest of all. By the end of it we were all so high on the concept that we wouldn’t be able to tell a concerned paramedic what it was about (“A time-travelling polar bear buys an island . . . I think”).
Other high-concept dramas have included the baffling
Flash Forward, in which everyone on Earth gets a premonition of life six months in the future, the Mr Benn-like
Dollhouse, in which brain-wiped bodies are implanted with expertise and sent out as assassins/postmen/astronauts/ pirates/TV-licence-inspectors, and now Blindspot (Tuesday, Sky Living) in which a suspicious bag in Times Square is found to contain, not a bomb, but a heavily-tattooed naked amnesiac. Twist: her tattoos are clues to crimes that haven’t happened yet. Before the Garda scribble this down as a crime-reduction plan for 2016, it’s clear that this concept will soon wobble unless the unknown baddie starts sneaking in to add more helpful tattoos.
While the concepts and presumably the writers are higher nowadays, characters were more colourful in the procedurals of days past. 1980s crime fighters supplemented their simplistic psychology with characterful raincoats (Columbo), lollipops (Kojak), bicycle baskets (Jessica Fletcher) and tiny shorts (Magnum). Today’s scowlers grimly report for corpse-handling duty grunting grim platitudes with no peacocking costumery and no personalities whatsoever.
Blindspot has really just gone a teensy bit further by featuring a character who has literally no clothes and no personality.
There are other cast members. There’s bearded hunk Kurt Weller, FBI, for example, who has homeopathic levels of character; he’s surly and perplexed. He arrives here in order to say: “I’ve never seen that woman before in my life.”
“Then why is your name tattooed on her back?” say the business-like police chief.
Kurt Weller, FBI, turns to the camera, slaps his face like Kevin in Home Alone and goes “whaaaaat?”
Okay he doesn’t do this, but he should. Blindspot is a show in which every revelation is accompanied by dramatic punctuation and every plot point is explained for the dimmest bulb in the room (I know that’s not you; I’m subtly gesturing towards your spouse’s chair).
A sciency character, whose name might be Mr Scientist, explains (to your spouse), how the now-named “Jane Doe” is in a “chemically induced state of permanent amnesia” but carefully adds how this doesn’t mean she won’t remember how to speak, use the toilet, or turn out to be a Chinese-speaking high-functioning karate bad ass.
Jane Doe soon proves that she can speak, use a toilet and that she is a Chinese-speaking high-functioning karate bad ass with some high functioning karate bad-assery perpetuated against a couple of Chinese goons. This is a bit of a trope in pop culture now. I doubt an amnesiac turns up at a hospital these days without everyone gleefully waiting for them to break someone’s arm with a flying kick.
So Jane Doe and Kurt Weller, FBI, assisted by a team of shockingly well-resourced special agents (I’d divert some of this funding towards social programmes myself), decipher a tattoo that leads them to find a Chinese student who’s planning to blow up the Statue of Liberty for some reason. Luckily Jane Doe is also a crack shot and shoots him. This act of violence stimulates a flashback. Then a nefarious bearded man from the flashback sneaks into a hospital dressed as a nurse and kills the Chinese student before he can reveal any of his secrets. If I’ve learned anything from US crime drama, it’s that hospitals in America have terrible security.
It’s not over, of course. “One thing’s for sure,” says Kurt Weller, FBI, “someone likes playing games, and this is just the beginning.” It’s a bit shameless. He might as well rub his hands and add: “Yup, there’ll be episode after episode of high-octane fun, and there’ll be loads of explosions and plenty will-they-won’t-they tension. Speaking personally, I think it’s going to be a very exciting programme and I can’t wait.”
The highest concept of all
Meanwhile, Netflix is collaborating on the highest concept of all, transferring the entire Marvel comic-book universe on to the small and big screens. Jessica
Jones is the second in an ambitious interconnected sequence of Netflix series about streetlevel superheroes less lauded than the Avengers. While the Avengers battle aliens, gods and super computers, Jessica Jones (Krysten Ritter) faces her own abuser, Kilgrave (David Tennant), a man who literally has the power to make people do what he wants.
Jones comes from a short line of avenging heroines in clever genre-dramas such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Veronica Mars (in which Ritter also starred) and Orphan Black. The genre here is superhero noir. Jones is a hard-drinking, self-narrating gumshoe who relies mainly on sleuthing skills and uses her super-strength only sporadically to break locks, climb walls and throw wayward clients through doors (there’s an argument to be made that Jones’s archenemy is “woodwork”, given how much of it is broken over the course of the series).
There’s a lot more wit here than in the slightly humourless
Daredevil, though as we see the obsessive Kilgrave use his power to increasingly horrific effect (making a man stare at a wall forever, for example) it becomes a much darker story about rape-survival and trauma.
Kilgrave has an unbelievable power but, as played by the brilliant Tennant, he’s a very believable and terrifying villain. He doesn’t want to destroy mankind or take over the world. He just does whatever he wants and, like many abusers, doesn’t really believe he’s doing anything wrong. “I hate that word,” he winces, when Jones says he raped her.
Creator Melissa Rosenberg takes abuse seriously. She doesn’t use it to as a cheap way to generate shock or propel a male revenge fantasy. Jones is buffered by strong women, the amoral lawyer, Jeri Hogarth, and her best friend, Trish Walker, and unusually, nurturing men like sweet heroin-addicted neighbour Malcolm and soon-to-have-hisown-Netflix-show superhero, Luke Cage. Despite the show’s dark trajectory, Jones is damaged but not destroyed. Jessica
Jones is a tough gem of a show.
Jane Doe and Kurt Weller, FBI are assisted by a team of shockingly well-resourced special agents. I’d divert some of this funding towards social programmes
Bag lady: Jaimie Alexander as Jane Doe in Blindspot