When a tv series is successful, it can sometimes be hard to come to it late in the game. If it’s critically successful, if fans are enthusiastic about it, if it’s made any kind of cultural impact, this can be both a good thing and a bad thing. If you watch it with all of these pressures and also enjoy it, you’ve joined the party, and you can share the enthusiasm everyone else is enjoying. But if those pressures become any kind of a negative thing, then it can impact your interaction with the series in turn.
When Daredevil first premiered back in 2015, I knew early on I wasn’t going to have an easy time with it. We were well into the days of Arrow-verse and Agents of SHIELD, and here was a brand new series (to lead off a slate of new series, no less) to further compete with all of that. Competition can be a good thing, for certain – and anyone who loves comic book television can enjoy the fruits of that. But sometimes, it’s easy to become so committed to one product that you look resentfully at the presence and success of others.
A year and a half ago, Arrow was my favorite show on television. A fact that, I’m a little sad to say, is no longer the case. Though I’m rooting for the series to be good, it has rather faltered more and more as the newer seasons have progressed. But back in early 2015 when Daredevil was hitting it big, I was committed to Arrow.
And I don’t find this fully unjustified. In my estimation, Arrow’s second season is still the gold standard for comic book television. Something that all other series should aspire to – something that even Arrow itself is struggling to live up to.
At the same time, the commitment to the one entity can make it difficult to interact with others. And this is what happened to me with Daredevil.
Because almost right out of the gate, it was a hit. It got such high viewership that Netflix – who almost never releases this kind of data – gave numbers as to just how many people were watching. Comic book fans were praising it as one of the best – if not the best ever in the genre just from that first season alone. It was widely praised by critics, and wound up on many a best-of list at the end of the year.
Arrow was, at the time, still struggling to find itself creatively in its third season. A season I very much wanted to love (and, in some ways, do). But because of these factors – because Arrow was my Show of the Moment – all I could feel at the time toward this other series (very much the MCU’s answer to Arrow) was resentment. Waltzing in and claiming all those accolades. There’s nothing quite like the resentment of hating another show for being better than the one you’re currently committed to.
I watched the first two episodes of Daredevil and they didn’t quite catch my interest. What’s more, beyond the resentment, I felt enormous pressure to like the series. Which, I knew, in turn would potentially damage any relationship with the show. When I feel like so many others are practically sitting in the room with me each episode ready to spring up and ask me, “Don’t you love it yet? Don’t you love it yet?” then I find that, in turn, I look for reasons to not love it. It’s not a fair way to approach a series – but I do think it can be a common one under the circumstances.
So I backed away from the series. I knew that, given the pressures at the time, it was unlikely I would be able to give it a fair shot. To actually watch it on my own terms – on its own terms – and try to form my own relationship with it separate from that of what everyone else was telling me to feel.
Part of the sad truth is that it also required a lessening of my commitment to Arrow. And despite a bout of Person of Interest madness earlier this year, I don’t have much in the way of my Show of the Moment. Which does offer me a better circumstance for getting to know Daredevil.
And it’s almost kind of a relief. What’s more, it’s kind of a relief to actually watch it and learn to love it myself. I worried that might not be possible. (I never did learn to love Matt Smith’s Doctor for similar reasons.) It’s the advantage of emotional distance. A more ready willingness to accept the Defenders series for what they are – because this has gotten me very excited for Defenders. As an avid fan of the MCU, it’s precisely where I want to be.
I’ve been surprised by the show in both good and bad ways. Some of the bad being that it’s oddly archetypal – something I wasn’t expecting given all of its praise. Perhaps it’s not as important a denominator for others. But it’s still the basic superhero origin story with familiar tropes (he’s an orphan with superpowers; his mentor advises him to act as a lone wolf; his best friend has a meltdown upon learning the truth of his identity; he has to save the city!). It’s well-told and well-produced – but it also doesn’t do much radically new.
At the same time, the character intimacy is a very welcome thing. Plot pacing can be a bit of an issue at times (which I also found to be the case on Jessica Jones) but there’s something rather freeing about letting scenes – and sometimes individual plot threads and story mechanics – get some solid breathing room. Rather than speeding breakneck down the track toward the next plot point for fear of losing audience attention. This has been something consistent with the Netflix MCU series, and I find it enormously refreshing.
The characters are also quite great – even wonderful – at times, and that’s often one of the most important factors. A series can thrive with solid characters, even when it struggles under the weight of incoherent plots (just ask Legends of Tomorrow).
And so in my own way, I’ve gradually learned how to love the show all on my own. It’s a relief to be away from the praise and adoration, because this means it’s an individualized love. That I’ve been able to form a solid relationship with it – rather than merely reacting to everyone else’s reactions to it.
It’s also a good reminder for me in the future, when similar circumstances occur. If I don’t click with something that everyone else loves, sometimes it’s a good idea to pause, take some time away from it, and then find your own way back to it on its own terms. There might be pleasant surprises along the way when you do.