Blindspot makes no al­lowances for your in­tel­li­gence, while Jes­sica Jones is a tough gem of a show

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - TICKET STUBS -

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

PA­TRICK FREYNE

Bag lady: Jaimie Alexan­der as Jane Doe in Blindspot

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