How 'Jessica Jones' Changed My Mind About Comics-based TV

‘Jessica Jones’ takes all the characteristics of the hard-drinking, wisecracking private eye and hands them to the femme fatale

Adrian Hennigan
Adrian Hennigan
Krysten Ritter in Jessica Jones.
Krysten Ritter in Jessica Jones.Credit: Netflix
Adrian Hennigan
Adrian Hennigan

It’s been a bad couple of weeks for TV lovers. First, there was a report in the Journal of Thrombosis and Thrombolysis (yes, there really is such a thing) that people who watch a lot of television have a 70 percent higher risk of developing a blood clot than those who never or seldom watch it.

Then there was the just-published book by Anya Kamenetz, “The Art of Screen Time,” which offers tips on how to wean your offspring off the small screen, since kids who watch more than two hours of TV a day are twice as likely to be obese, apparently. As a father, I have always encouraged my children to watch lots of TV and films – I once began an interview with one of the producers of “Shrek” by offering him £20 ($28) for all the times his film had babysat my kids. My proudest moment as a dad came when said kids first asked to see a double bill at the cinema. So I couldn’t help but feel a pang of something – though maybe that was just the blood clot kicking in.

I was in need of some good news, and thankfully I found it in two places: U.S. website Merriam-Webster and Netflix.

The former has just entered the word “embiggen” into the dictionary, thus proving that, nearly 30 years after debuting, “The Simpsons” is still able to make the world a better place (albeit one word at a time). The verb, meaning “to make bigger or more expansive,” was popularized in 1996, when Springfield town founder Jebediah Springfield declared: “A noble spirit embiggens the smallest man.” As Bart’s teacher, Edna Krabappel, said at the time: “Embiggens? Hmm, I never heard that word before I moved to Springfield.” To which fellow teacher Miss Hoover responds: “I don’t know why. It’s a perfectly cromulent word.”

So now we just need to make “cromulent” happen – and given that Merriam-Webster just added “Welp” (“interjection – used informally like well”) as one of its 850 new words, I’d say there’s a great chance of it making the cut next year. And while I’m on the subject of words, can we all promise each other that the day they include “bigly” in the dictionary is the day we sharpen our pitchforks, light our torches and descend on the M-W offices.

My other piece of good TV-related news was belatedly discovering Netflix’s “Jessica Jones.”

This was one of those shows I overlooked when its first season premiered on Netflix in 2015 – and I blame that on one simple reason: comic book fatigue.

If I were to catalog all of the comic-book adaptations that have been made in the past five years, the only list that might possibly be longer would be criminal investigations into Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Just off the top of my head, there’s the CW’s “Arrow,” “The Flash,” “Legends of Tomorrow” and “Supergirl”; “Gotham,” “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D,” “Agent Carter,” “The Gifted” and “Runaways.” Oh, and Netflix hasn’t been shy either: Besides “Jessica Jones,” it’s also given us “Daredevil,” “Luke Cage,” “The Defenders,” “The Punisher” unless you’re planning on a permanent move to a thrombosis ward, it’s simply impossible to watch them all.

More like pulp fiction

Luckily, it turns out that most of them aren’t worth watching anyway – welp, if Rotten Tomatoes is to be believed (please shoot me if I ever use that word again). The ones I have seen are frustratingly juvenile – with the rare exception of FX’s “Legion” (and hopefully the upcoming HBO adaptation of “Watchmen,” being developed by “The Leftovers” creator Damon Lindelof).

“Jessica Jones” is actually a show for people who don’t think comic book adaptations are for them. It feels more like pulp fiction than Marvel or DC Comics. If recent Netflix hit “Altered Carbon” took the tropes of film noir and transferred them to the 25th century, this one takes all the characteristics of the hard-drinking, wisecracking private eye and hands them to the femme fatale.

And it does so superbly. So well, in fact, I would argue that Jones’ PI (played by Krysten Ritter) is one of the most compelling characters on the small screen today – right up there with Rami Malek’s Elliot in “Mr. Robot,” Elisabeth Moss’s Offred in “The Handmaid’s Tale” and, well, “Game of Thrones” fans may want to suggest their own choice here.

In an age where we are used to seeing our comic book protagonists be thinly sketched and monochromatic, here is a woman who is wonderfully complicated – a Byronic heroine, no less: a sympathetic character who does unsympathetic things; emotionally distant yet empathetic, vulnerable yet powerful, damaged yet nigh-on unbreakable.

The 13 episodes of season two dropped on March 8, and while I would love to tell you they’re all just as good as the first season, I can’t – but only because I’m still catching up on season one and Jessica’s battles with the demonic yet debonair Kilgrave (a chillingly good David Tennant). As soon as the doctors tell me how many shows I can watch per night, I’m going to race through season two as quickly as medically advisable.

Ritter, who previously played Jane Margolis in season two of “Breaking Bad” and Chloe in the one-season-only sitcom “Don’t Trust the B---- in Apartment 23,” is a revelation here. Permanently clad in a black leather jacket and jeans, her mood invariably matches the color of her jacket, with a scowl and quart of whiskey never far from her lips. She’s like the grown-up, f*****-up version of Veronica Mars (Ritter also appeared in that whip-smart show) – except she has some pretty cool super powers and more baggage than a Samsonite warehouse.

Depressingly, season one drew some hate for one of its strongest elements: the interracial relationship between Jessica and Luke Cage (Mike Colter). The racist response was worst expressed by a disturbing article on neo-Nazi website The Daily Stormer, where editor Andrew Anglin labelled “Jessica Jones” a “Jewish superhero show” (showrunner Melissa Rosenberg and the comic book’s creator, Brian Michael Bendis, are both Jewish) that “serves to demean any white male who may be watching.” Praise indeed! We can only hope the phenomenal box office success of another Jewish superhero creation, “Black Panther,” complete with African heroes, has since caused Anglin to spontaneously combust. In the original comic books, Jessica Jones’ backstory involves a certain Peter Parker. If Marvel ever wants to shake up its tedious “Avengers” movies (aka expensive CGI in desperate search of a plot), it really should get this private eye on the case – because we deserve to see a lot more of her, even if it embiggens the risk of us getting blood clots.



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