Samuel Brace on Marvel’s The Defenders…
Less is more. This is never truer than when it comes to TV content. Too much of something, even a good thing, can become damaging. Netflix has unfortunately ignored or just failed to understand this concept when it comes to its Marvel properties. However, with their latest series, The Defenders, they have at last put the theory into practice, and the results have been there for all to see.
We’ve been waiting quite some time for the team up event known as The Defenders to make its way to Netflix. Beyond worrying whether the creatives would be able to handle such a complicated exercise, many were concerned, or rather expecting, the series to fall prey to what has consistently ailed the platform’s other Marvel properties: mainly that there are far too many episodes per season for the storylines being produced. Bilbo’s “butter scraped over too much bread” line has always come to mind. But thankfully, this is one of the very issues that The Defenders has addressed.
Coming in at a trim and lean eight episodes (as opposed to the traditional 13) The Defenders feels like a much more focused, organised, and nimble beast. What normally happens with one of these series, Daredevil season 2 perhaps being the biggest culprit, is we start with something very interesting (the Punisher) that gets seemingly wrapped up by the halfway point, and then… NINJAS!!!!!!! These Netflix shows often feel like two seasons in one, like they couldn’t come up with a story to last the 13 episodes. Luckily, this isn’t a problem for The Defenders.
While the focus of this latest show is entirely focused on the least interesting part of the Netflix/Marvel universe so far, The Hand, the fact that they only have eight episodes to tell their story, and are not trying to add in any other ingredients into the mix, helps the show retain that focus, fix those pacing faults, and remedy those frustrating structural issues. The results are fantastic, and a thoroughly enjoyable experience.
Less is more.
This concept has also helped to fix one of the biggest weakness that The Defenders was perceived to have going in: Iron Fist. Danny Rand’s own series was an ‘interesting’ affair. It was very enjoyable in places, showing a lot of promise, but hampered by bad acting, weak writing, repetitive fights, and of course having to focus solely on The Hand. But with the very nature of The Defenders, many of these issues have thankfully been corrected.
The fact that there are only eight episodes, and that Danny has to share the screen with three other heroes, means there is only so much time for Iron Fist to become grating, for Finn Jones’ wood block performance to reveal itself. Also the fact that his fighting style is mixed in with those of his hero counterparts, helps keep things fresh. And the fact that this isn’t an Iron Fist series has worked to make Danny Rand not just palatable, but at times an enjoyable character to watch.
It’s even funny to watch him explain who he is, “I’m the immortal Iron Fist”, and describe his back-story, “I plunged my fist into the heart of a mystical dragon.” The show plays on how dumb this sounds and because you don’t have to put up with it for 50 minutes, you kind of root for the guy. The result is the handling of Iron Fist being one of the show’s biggest achievements. He isn’t perfect, I still don’t want to watch a full 13 episode series of his antics, but within the confines of The Defenders, propped up by the likes of Daredevil and Jessica Jones, what we have here is more than acceptable, and at times even fun.
Less is more.
The less is more approach has truly helped The Defenders in myriad ways, not just in the examples above, but also with Jessica Jones – her show was terrific but her abrasive personality can start to become… well… abrasive after about episode 10 of nothing but her. The show’s sidekicks are also benefitted by the series’ lean approach: they all show up here but never are around long enough to become frustrating, obstructionist plot devices, or have their annoying character traits become egregious. Everything here is in moderation. It’s wonderful, and all future Netflix/Marvel series should take note. Fewer episodes, fewer storylines within one season, less Danny Rand, less mass fighting to help make the fights more fun when they do happen. Less of pretty much everything.
This, unfortunately, won’t be entirely put into practice with The Punisher, the upcoming solo show will be the usual 13 episodes. Our only hope is that they have a sufficiently beefy storyline to last the distance, and that they show restraint in the right places. But going forward, hopefully Netflix can look at the success of The Defenders and realise why it has worked, and what has made it such an enjoyable experience without any dips in form throughout. Hopefully they have learned that less is more, because I for one have enjoyed this latest effort tremendously, and it seems obvious that the practice of this particular concept is largely responsible.