Daredevil: Season One Review
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While Marvel superheroes rule the box office, they’ve had a much harder time gaining traction in series television. ABC’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. still hasn’t quite gotten over a languid first season that tried too hard to save the big reveals for the movies. In many ways, Marvel’s deal with Netflix to produce five new series—four featuring a single hero and one team-up show—gave them a chance to start over fresh. If Daredevil is any indication, they’ve learned their lessons.

“Year One” is a common term in superhero comics to indicate a story that takes place early in a character’s career, detailing that phase between their origin story and fully realizing their heroic potential. Season one of Daredevil wisely follows that model, getting the childhood accident that blinds Matt Murdock and supercharges all of his other senses over in the first five minutes. Another five minutes and 15 years later, Murdock (Charlie Cox), dressed all in black and wearing a mask over half of his face, beats the hell out of a gang of human traffickers.

The season traces Murdock’s gradual development as a vigilante as he also opens his legal practice with partner Foggy Nelson (Eldon Henson) and client-turned-secretary Karen Page (Deborah Ann Woll). He also finds an ally in local nurse Claire (Rosario Dawson) and an archenemy in rising criminal kingpin Wilson Fisk (Vincent D’Onofrio).

That seems like a lot, but one of Daredevil’s best features is its relatively compact nature. Murdock doesn’t want to save the world—or even New York City. He’s focused on his home neighborhood of Hell’s Kitchen, here stuck between its modern sheen and its grimy pre-gentrification phase. Shooting in New York reinforces the street level feel of this story. There are no flying suits or alien invasions—just a conflicted good guy and some very mean bad guys.

I also have to single out the show’s stunt team for praise. The only other show operating on this level is the distinguished competition’s Arrow, and while both shows bring the action, there’s something noticeably rawer about Daredevil’s approach. Fights are not only deftly choreographed, but they truly show the toll taken on all participants. The second episode features a 5 ˝-minute single-shot fight between the hero and some goons in a hallway that is quite simply something I’ve never seen done on series television before.

Of course, all this visual goodness doesn’t have any staying power without characters that we care enough about to keep revisiting. Charlie Cox strikes the right balance as a man who wants to work within the law but can’t resist breaking it. Henson and Page bring a welcome dose of humanity as his best friends, and the pair’s natural chemistry would be a shame to ignore in coming seasons. The real standout, however, has to be D’Onofrio’s take on the long-time comic villain, Kingpin. He conveys not only the character’s immense physical presence, but also his intelligence and drive, along with the season’s most surprising love story. Marvel hasn’t always fared very well in the villain department, but they’ve got something here that can play out for years if handled well.

Despite a rough start on series television, Marvel’s cinematic universe continues to expand. Daredevil proves that they’re learning to match tone and pacing to the character rather than adhere to simple formulas and more of what’s worked before. The next Marvel Netflix series, A.K.A. Jessica Jones, arrives later this year, and it’s got one tough, dark, and nearly flawless act to follow.

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