Jessica Jones might be the realest superhero we’ve ever met.
The title character of Netflix’s latest, which begins streaming on Friday, mines elements from the Marvel Comics superhero’s backstory to create a protagonist who’s wounded — but not defeated — and above all, genuine.
Jessica (Krysten Ritter) has a penchant for cursing and hard liquor, cries alone in her apartment and runs out of toilet paper at inopportune times. In tabloid speak, she’s just like us, her “gifts” notwithstanding.
The New York City-based hero earns her living as a private investigator, which gives the show its engrossing noir vibe, along with Jessica’s deadpan — occasionally corny — narration, which is delivered sporadically throughout each episode.
As a gumshoe, Jessica often calls on her heightened abilities to jump, scale, run, intimidate or beat up people twice her size, but she also makes inquiring phone calls and rifles through trash cans.
Her talents lead her to the law firm of Jeri Hogarth (Carrie-Anne Moss), who might not be what Marvel purists expect. Hogarth bristles at some of Jessica’s borderline-illegal intel-gathering tactics, but can’t argue with her ability to get the job done.
As with most comic book adaptations, there will inevitably be a debate about how closely the show follows its source material — a debate for which I’m woefully underqualified and which shouldn’t have any bearing on its merits as a television show.
Where other heroes struggle to define (or mask) their true identities, Jessica Jones is just trying to get by. That she helps people in the process is less a testament to her superpowers and more about her humanity. In this regard, creator and showrunner Melissa Rosenberg pulls from a diverse résumé that includes writing stints on “The O.C.” and “Dexter,” and screenplays for the “Twilight” series.
We meet Jessica as she’s reeling from catastrophic events that have left her suffering from PTSD. Jessica was previously under the control of a lively-but-diabolical villain named Kilgrave (David Tennant), who possesses the ability to bend others, even superheroes, to his will. An unsuspecting stranger can become a temporary messenger or his personal assistant for a day. At his most evil, Kilgrave can compel his subjects to kill — themselves or others.
Jessica met Kilgrave just as she was embracing the idea of trading in a string of dead-end jobs for what she does best: using her powers to help people. Her best friend, Trish (Rachael Taylor), a former child star with a popular radio show, had even succeeded in planting the idea of a moniker — Jewel — and a costume, although Jessica snarkily dismissed both.
The effects of what Kilgrave forced Jessica to do linger in the form of overwhelming guilt, which she attempts to mask, but barely. It’s this guilt that leads her to Luke Cage (Mike Colter), who boasts some superhuman gifts of his own.
Luke and Jessica have an instant connection and chemistry, which they explore in ways you’d expect warm-blooded, adult superheroes to do. “Adult” is an important word here — in many ways, “Jessica Jones” stands in stark contrast to CBS’s “Supergirl,” which stars Melissa Benoist as a plucky millennial who decides to embrace the powers she has shrugged off for years. There are no girl vs. woman debates here.
That is not to diminish either series — both have woven smart and thoughtful feminism into their respective narratives. “Jessica Jones” deals with heavier topics — rape and drug addiction, among them — and does this without sweeping speeches or grand statements. It’s a refreshing antidote to television’s overabundance of self-important monologues.
“I’m not hiding, but I’m not advertising,” Jessica tells Luke when they compare notes on superhuman strength. This refrain could also sum up her approach to heroism, which is low-key, even when she’s saving the world. Or trying to.
“I’m still not the hero that you wanted me to be,” Jessica tells Trish at one point.
“You are exactly the hero I wanted you to be,” Trish replies, without missing a beat. She makes a good point.
Jessica Jones (13 episodes) begins streaming Friday on Netflix.