Have you ever seen a really great episode of a Netflix drama?
There are certainly some excellent Netflix dramas — “Stranger Things,” “The Get Down” and “Jessica Jones,” which dropped its long-awaited second season last week, are some personal favorites. And those shows certainly have memorable moments that happen within them.
But a well-crafted, instant classic single episode, along the lines of The Sopranos’ “Pine Barrens” or Breaking Bad’s “Ozymandias”? I can think of memorable episodes of Netflix’s anthology series, like the “USS Callister” episode of “Black Mirror.” And many of the comedy shows, like “Bojack Horseman” or “GLOW,” have had some terrific episodes.
But the dramas usually aren’t built that way. Unlike cable or network shows, which air a new episode every week, Netflix dramas are released a single binge-able season at a time, so it seems less important to show creators whether an individual episode has a solid beginning, middle and end. In fact, it almost doesn’t matter when one episode ends and the next begins. The stream just keeps flowing.
Sometimes that deep, long-form structure can really pay off. But in watching the first few episodes of the new season of “Jessica Jones,” one of my favorite Netflix shows, I see the limitations. To cut to the chase (something “Jones” has trouble doing), this season takes a long time to find its footing.
“Jessica Jones” is the best of several Netflix series based on Marvel Comics superheroes. But Jones is a lapsed hero, having hung up the cape for a career as a private investigator in New York’s Hell’s Kitchen. She’s still super strong and can leap tall fences (if not buildings) in a single bound.
The show is perfectly suited to use the superhero genre as a metaphor for gender politics. In the first season, for example, Jones (Krysten Ritter) tangled with an old supervillian boyfriend, Killgrave, who used mind control to make her do whatever he wanted. It used comic book superpowers as a resonant metaphor for being in a controlling relationship.
In the first few episodes of Season 2, Jones is still traumatized by having to kill Kilgrave, and she’s also investigating the mysterious organization known as IGH that supposedly gave her superpowers through medical experiments. Jones’ investigation into her buried past is intriguing as well as a metaphor for unearthing buried trauma. This season rings with the righteous anger of the #MeToo movement.
The problem is that “Jessica Jones” takes its own sweet time to get there. Each episode is around 55 minutes (10 minutes longer than the average TV show), and the show’s writers wander away from Jones’ investigation for a host of other subplots and secondary characters.
This will test the patience of a lot of fans, especially since some of the subplots — Jones’ feud with a rival investigator or her problems with her landlord — aren’t that interesting. Ritter remains a strong lead, infusing Jones with a self-destructive ferocity as well as a barely hidden vulnerability. But the first few episodes really drag from time to time.
Reportedly, things gear up around the middle of the season when we learn the identity of the “monster” who has been killing people with links to IGH. But that’s six or seven episodes in. And with so many shows out there, on Netflix and elsewhere, it’s a lot to ask a viewer to commit to that much television in the hopes that things will pick up.
Also on streaming: Benji, that beloved pooch from 1970s movies, is back in a new Netflix movie premiering Friday. Brandon Camp, the son of the original movie’s director, Joe, is the writer-director of this reboot, and the dog that plays Benji is a rescue animal that was abandoned in a Florida parking lot. Who can resist?
Celebrate St. Patrick’s Day by watching the favorite drama of Ireland, “Striking Out,” which has its second-season premiere on Acorn.TV on Friday. The show stars Amy Huberman as a Dublin attorney who starts her own private practice after her personal life is turned upside down.