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Josh Reviews Jupiter’s Legacy

July 28th, 2021
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Jupiter’s Legacy originated as a comic book series written by Mark Millar and illustrated by Frank Quitely, that ran from 2013-2017.  (In the middle of the two main five-issue mini-series came a separate twelve-issue story called Jupiter’s Circle that explored the backstory of the characters.) The story is about the children of the world’s greatest superheroes.  That first generation of super-heroes came onto the scene around the time of World War II (just like many of today’s most famous superhero comic book characters did).  Those heroes were honest and noble and brave.  But their super-powered children, living in the present day, have mostly grown up to be spoiled and narcissistic. The series was recently adapted into an eight episode Netflix series.

I enjoyed the Netflix series, though it wasn’t the superhero epic I’d hoped it would be based on the source material.  Pulling the rug out from under my experience watching the show, Netflix announced its cancellation when I was only 3-4 episodes in.  By the time I got to the end, I was enjoying the series enough that I was disappointed the show had been cancelled.

On the one hand, I was shocked that Netflix spent the money to produce and promote this high-profile show (which they were clearly hoping would be their next The Boys — and not without reason, because I think the Jupiter’s Legacy comic book series is superior to The Boys) and then cancelled it almost immediately after that first season dropped.  Because the showrunners and Netflix made the decision that this first season would only tell the very first portion of the story, they’re now left with a useless and incomplete series.  This isn’t a one-season-and-done show that tells a complete story and so can still be enjoyed for years to come.  It’s a tease for a larger story that now we’ll never get… so I don’t see this show having any future life.  Which makes the whole thing feel like a huge waste of time, which is disappointing on a lot of levels.

Like Invincible (another great comic book series that was recently, and far more successfully, adapted by Amazon into a TV show), there are some huge twists that come a few issues into the original comic book series that turn the whole story on its head.  I still remember reading issues #2 and #3 of the original Jupiter’s Legacy comic book and having my mind absolutely blown. I was so excited to see those moments brought to life on screen!  And yet, weirdly, Jupiter’s Legacy season one, despite consisting of eight one-hour episodes, never gets to that good stuff that came so early on in the comic book series!  I was very surprised by this decision.  Clearly the makers of this show assumed they would have plenty of future seasons to play this all out.  But even had the series not been cancelled, I think that was a major misstep.  To me, those twists are what separates Jupiter’s Legacy from the pack of the many other superhero stories we’ve gotten before (both in the comics and on TV).  In my opinion, you’ve got to get those twists in there in order to show the viewer that there’s a lot more to this superhero story than you might have thought.  (The Invincible adaptation handled its narrative twists far more successfully, gently reshuffling the events from the comic so the first big twist comes right at the end of the first episode, and the next series-shattering event takes up the bulk of the final episode.)

The Jupiter’s Legacy show was also hurt, in my opinion, by the first episode being possibly the weakest of the bunch.  And in fact the very first scene (a flashback with several characters as little kids) might be the worst scene in the whole show.  It’s pretty much entirely unconvincing.  The child actors don’t sell the emotion of what’s happening.  The Utopian’s whispy white beard looks fake.  The visual effect when he flies away is pretty bad.  (I was reminded of Smallville style visual effects, and that’s not a good thing.)

It’s a shame, because there were a lot of great elements in this show that should have come together far more successfully.  Indeed, by the end, they were starting to, which is why I was bummed to end the season knowing we wouldn’t be getting any more episodes.

I really like the cast.  Josh Duhamel plays Sheldon/The Utopian.  This is the Superman-type character, the strongest and most noble & pure of all the superheroes.  Mr. Duhamel really sells the perspective of this type of character who now finds himself in a more violent and self-absorbed society that he just doesn’t understand.  Leslie Bibb (you might recognize her from her small role as Christine Everhart in the first two Iron Man movies) is terrific as Grace/Lady Liberty.  Ms. Bibb embodies the way this character is the matriarch of the superheroes, with a foot in both worlds.  She shares Sheldon’s ideals but she understands the perspective of the younger characters better than he does.  Ben Daniels might be my favorite performer on the show, playing Sheldon’s brother Walter/Brainwave.  We can see right away that Sheldon is a little cracked — the question is, how much?  I love how the show suggests that either Walter might be a far more sensible, grounded character than the pie-in-the-sky Sheldon… or he might be a villain! (The original comic played Sheldom far less ambiguously.) Mr. Daniels crushes this role, playing both sides of the character with sophistication and humanity.  I loved how this character was brought to life on the show!

Giving Mr. Daniels a run for his money for my favorite character on the show is Matt Lanter (who has been so great for so many years as the voice of Anakin Skywalker on Star Wars: The Clone Wars and other animated shows) as George Hutchence/Skyfox.  This was one of my favorite characters in the comics, and I love how Mr. Lanter brought him to life on screen, showing us how this spoiled rich boy (a sort-of Bruce Wayne character) has a lot more depth than you might think.  George has a great storyline in the comics and I’m bummed the show never got to the good stuff with him.  (Also, is it just me or was the show going down a path of giving George the backstory that Richard/Blue Bolt had in the comics?  In the comic, Richard was the sixth member of the original team, but he was barely in the TV show at all.  It felt like they decided to give all of Richard’s backstory over to George.  I wonder why?)

I really liked Mike Wade’s work as Fitz/The Flare; I just wish he’d gotten more to do.  This first season didn’t allow us to get too deep into his character.  There could have been a lot of story to play with his being a superhero paraplegic in the present day, but we didn’t get to that.  (I was glad to see that the show allowed this character, who is white in the comics, to be played by an actor of color.)

Whereas the original comic book series focused on Sheldon and Grace’s kids, Chloe and Brandon, right from the beginning, it took a while for them to come into focus for me on the show.  But I was interested in these characters and wish we’d gotten to see more of their stories.  The early going of the show spends a lot of time on the fraught relationship between Brandon and his father, both of whom seem to feel that Brandon will never live up to his dad.  Andrew Horton is solid at playing Brandon’s growing frustrations.  We don’t see much of Chloe in the show’s early going, but I really loved Elena Kampouris’ work in the role when Chloe finally got her spotlight episode.

The showrunners made some curious decisions in the structure of the show.  One of my biggest surprises was seeing the way the show basically played two parallel stories throughout this first season.  We follow the characters in present day, and also we follow them in 1929 as we see how they all originally came together and got their superpowers.  That origin story is told in just a few pages in the comic, but I loved the way the show expanded upon that journey so that it’s almost half of the show.  I think I liked that 1929 section of the show more than the present day stuff!!  I did not expect that.

They also decided to structure the show so that, while the show’s storylines carry through in a serialized way from episode to episode, each episode focuses in on one character.  I understand the reasons for that approach (which was popularized by Lost and has been much imitated in the years since), but that felt less successful to me.  In such a short season, on a show with so many characters, it results in a strange effect of characters dipping in and out of the show in a way that felt choppy to me.  For instance, we spend a lot of time with Brandon in the first episode… but then we hardly see him for the rest of the show, and his arc doesn’t develop much beyond where we left him at the end of that first episode!  Another example: the third episode spends a lot of time with George’s son, who goes by the nickname Hutch.  (Hutch is played wonderfully by Ian Quinlan, who has the tremendous charisma this character needs.  Also, here too I love that the show gave this role to an actor of color.)  Hutch becomes a major character in the comics, so I understand why they wanted to spotlight him early on.  But in this first season, we don’t get deep enough into the story to understand why Hutch is important.  So his episode feels like a weird digression that doesn’t go anywhere.

Overall I enjoyed watching Jupiter’s Legacy.  There are a lot of entertaining moments/sequences/characters to enjoy!  Individual episodes did manage to start to hook me into the stories and the characters.  I just wish that either they’d told more of the comic book story in this first season, or that Netflix had allowed them to make a second season.  As it is, this show is unfortunately an unsatisfying start to what could have/should have been a great story.  Bummer!

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