I have total trust in the AGENTS OF SHIELD showrunners. I rewatched the entire show a few months ago and saw them struggle through the restrictions of Season 1, create their own mythology in Season 2, rebuild their own version of SHIELD in Season 3, delve into the magic and reality-bending plots of Season 4 and leap into the future with brilliance and aplomb for Season 5 and with a drastically reduced budget. I think they are splendid and I have complete faith in their creativity and commitment.
So, Marvel-Netflix. I finished THE PUNISHER's second (and probably final) season and... it's fine, I guess. It's a Marvel-Netflix show and I've come to the reluctant conclusion that Marvel and Netflix have the completely wrong approach to superhero stories.
Like all Marvel-Netflix shows, THE PUNISHER has an excellent cast, thoughtfully scripted dialogue, gripping action sequences, expensive location filming and in-depth characterization. It also has entire episodes of characters standing around talking with no progress made.
THE PUNISHER has enough plot for maybe six episodes (Frank wandering and getting involved with Amy who is hunted by John Pilgrim; Frank returning to New York City to face Billy Russo; Frank and Amy confronting John Pilgrim). It's padded out to 13 through having the characters sit around having solemn conversations. However, the conversations are about the characters as opposed to THE DEFENDERS where the conversations were about "the substance" and "the city."
Frank, Amy, Madani, Pilgrim and Curtis have strong arcs that are unfortunately slow. Russo's arc with his therapist is awkward; Floriana Lima is a great actress who doesn't convey why Dr. Krista Dumont would shelter and bed a murderous psycho and upend her life as a successful health care professional.
The script indicates that Dr. Dumont has sadomasochistic tendencies, but Lima either by decision or direction, plays her role as very rigidly in control with only brief glimpses of madness, so brief it's forgettable. As a performer, Lima seems best when she plays active characters like Maggie Sawyer on SUPERGIRL. She's a great actress; she's just the wrong actress to play reactive passivity in the Marvel-Netflix house style of standing around talking solemnly.
DAREDEVIL's third season showed greater concern for episodic progression than previous Marvel-Netflix shows. By the end of each episode of DAREDEVIL S3, we'd learned something new, gotten somewhere different. With THE PUNISHER, the episodic endpoints are arbitrary. Aside from the first two and the last two episodes, there is no real thought given to giving each episode specific developments.
THE PUNISHER has many of what Darren Mooney on The M0vie Blog calls "narrative cul-de-sacs" with Frank and Amy and Madani waiting on or pursuing a plot point that doesn't advance the story but fills out the length. And unlike the other shows, THE PUNISHER's plot doesn't allow standalone stories.
The other four shows could have given the heroes a few one-off villains or cases to add bulk. THE PUNISHER, however, features Frank being drawn back into a war he's trying to leave behind; neither Season 1 nor 2 lend themselves to one-off situations. THE PUNISHER would have worked better by telling its Season 2 story in six episodes -- and then coming up with a new story for the subsequent seven, perhaps with a brief hiatus between the two segments.
I think we've only got 13 Marvel-Netflix episodes left: JESSICA JONES, Season 3. We're near the end (unless I'm wrong!). And, looking back, the Marvel-Netflix deal was a mixed bag. DAREDEVIL's first season was excellent, JESSICA JONES was terrific but the cracks showed with Kilgrave repeatedly entering and leaving and entering to stretch the story to a 13 episode size.
LUKE CAGE did well for six episodes and then fell into disarray in the second half. DAREDEVIL's second season was incoherent with three movie length plots (Elektra, the Punisher, the Hand) stretched across 13 episodes. IRON FIST was a disaster. THE PUNISHER S1 was adequate. THE DEFENDERS featured all of the Marvel-Netflix characters but also all the problems. DEFENDERS' vivid characters were muted by the dull tedium of the series. Overall, the Marvel-Netflix aesthetic is that of people standing around having solemn conversations. If that's the sort of story that Marvel and Netflix want to tell, then superheroes are the wrong characters to feature in these stories.
Audiences watch superhero shows to see them using their powers and dealing with the results; audiences want to see superheroes investigating plots, fighting villains, saving civilians, protecting their secrets, cracking wise, training their abilities, solving problems and engaged in action. Even the worst episodes of SMALLVILLE had Clark using his superpowers to save somebody and SMALLVILLE is one of the stupidest superhero shows ever made.
I don't know what Marvel TV and Netflix were thinking. Audiences who want to see characters standing around talking are unlikely to watch superhero shows; they would find a different genre where characters aren't so defined by their physical actions and abilities. The Marvel-Netflix aesthetic is a creative death sentence for superheroes.
Shockingly, the aesthetic of a Marvel-Netflix show is the same as a Season 5 episode of SLIDERS -- episodes where showrunner Bill Dial rewrote scripts for the budget by cutting anything expensive and then filling the massive content gap with scenes where characters re-state previously established information until the timeslot is filled. His rewrites on "The Great Work," "Please Press One," "Map of the Mind," "The Java Jive" and other episodes where characters meander aimlessly while repeating information is precisely the Marvel-Netflix model.
Which leads to my guess that despite the high production value of location filming on New York City, the budgets weren't sufficient and that's why action on these shows was constantly isolated and restricted to individual episodes with the bulk of the content featuring overstretched, elongated scenes.
JESSICA JONES and LUKE CAGE had solid second years with CAGE's showrunner even apologizing for the last six episodes of Season 1. (Informant disagrees with that.) IRON FIST's second season was good and DAREDEVIL's third season was masterful. Overall, these four showrunners had either found their feet with their budgets and episode counts or learned from their predecessors. And THE PUNISHER's second season was absolutely fine, at times great and often very slow with long conversations to stall the plot. It was a Marvel-Netflix show.
I would like for this era to receive a proper conclusion with a short second season for THE DEFENDERS. But to be honest, I'm not really broken up about Netflix ending their partnership with Marvel. All the shows found reasonable(ish) points of conclusion. And the Marvel-Netflix shows were very inconsistent, often overstretched, shockingly short on superhero action and frequently dull.
These shows were constantly boring. Season 3 of DAREDEVIL defied this reputation, but in totality, there were just too many episodes of Matt, Jessica, Luke, Danny, Frank and Sigourney Weaver having slow and solemn discussions. All too often, it was like watching Season 5 of SLIDERS, specifically "Map of the Mind" in which the sliders perform a procedure to heal Diana's brain damage -- then perform the procedure again -- and then describe what they just did to Diana as though the viewers needed a third iteration of the same action.
It's repetitive, it's tedious, and it's been an interesting experiment and I'm sorry it's ending, but I'm not sorry to move on. Anyway. I might copy-paste some of the above after JESSICA JONES airs its third (and probably final) season.