Burning slowly like a 1970s urban street thriller, “Luke Cage” feels more comfortable in its suits and shades and bullet-riddled sweatshirts than it did in its first season. Bushmaster (Mustafa Shakir) and his Jamaican cohorts – all of the actors doing a wonderful job with the dialect – are entertaining antagonists, but we slowly realize the uber-villain of Season 2 (2018, Netflix) is slick Harlem councilwoman Mariah Stokes Dillard (Alfre Woodard). Cheo Hodari Coker’s series – after many examples illustrating what powerful people can get away with – morphs into a smart meditation on the cost of holding on to power, and how a few bad decisions can see that power spiral away.
“Gotham” (8 p.m. Eastern Thursdays on Fox) starts its fifth and final season in bats**t-crazy fashion (pun intended). In a way, that’s par for the course with this show, but it intends to go out in an especially big way. It’s doing the same risky thing “iZombie” did last year: expanding the scope beyond the city to a national scale (even though the events are contained in the city).
These are the movies and TV shows I’m looking forward to in the new year:
In the tradition of legendary matchups such as “The Cape” vs. “No Ordinary Family,” “Almost Human” vs. “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” and “Riverdale” vs. “Supergirl,” I ask the question on the mind of every fan of middle-of-the-road superhero television: Which is the less bad show – The CW’s “Black Lightning” or Fox’s “The Gifted?” Rather than go by gut feeling, let’s break down these sophomore sci-fi series by category.
Maybe it’s because I got more accustomed to the show’s rhythms, but I liked “Jessica Jones” Season 2 (March 2018, Netflix) more than the first. Everyone is established in their roles, and things like Jessica (Krysten Ritter) being perpetually drunk, or someone making reference to that fact, flow in a natural noir-detective-drama way. Even though the overall plot leans more superpowered than hardboiled, Melissa Rosenberg’s series is as comfortable in its genre trappings as Jessica is in her favorite pair of jeans.
After his memorable introduction in “Daredevil” Season 2 (2016) – which could’ve been called “Daredevil and Punisher” – Frank Castle/Punisher (Jon Bernthal) gets the spotlight in his own 13-episode season. The revelation of who killed Frank’s wife and two children at the merry-go-round leads to a conspiracy that goes to the highest levels of the U.S. government and military. One approach for showrunner Steve Lightfoot’s “Punisher” Season 1 (2017) might’ve been 13 mini-“John Wick” movies. That would’ve been viscerally satisfying, but I appreciate the meaty roster of characters. The season is not faced-paced, but nor is it boring.
It’s been a strange year for the “X-Men” Universe. “Legion” Season 2 and the excellent “Deadpool 2” came out, but those are peripheral stories. Two films – “Dark Phoenix” and “The New Mutants” – were pushed back to 2019, so no stories on the main timeline had been told since “The Gifted’s” (8 p.m. Eastern Tuesdays on Fox) first season ended in January. For me, this week’s Season 2 premiere, “eMergence,” is an exercise in “Wait, what happened again at the end of last season?” and “Oh yeah, I remember that guy.”
The MCU’s first crossover TV series, “The Defenders” Season 1 (2017, Netflix), has all the fun of a superhero team-up, along with all the clunkiness. Despite being written by four veterans of “Daredevil” – Douglas Petrie, Marco Ramirez, Lauren Schmidt Hissrich and Drew Goddard — it is a notable step down from that bar-setting series.
After watching “Iron Fist” Season 1 (2017, Netflix), I feel like I’ve completed the same hero’s journey as Danny Rand/Iron Fist (Finn Jones). I’m exhausted not from doing 13 episodes of kung-fu fighting and harnessing my chi into a fist of iron, but simply from watching what is easily the slowest-paced of the Netflix MCU shows to this point.
For the third time, the Marvel Cinematic Universe gives a starring role to a superpowered New York City vigilante with “Luke Cage” Season 1 (2016, Netflix). Showrunner Cheo Hodari Coker, whose credits include “Almost Human” and the upcoming “Creed II,” brings a slightly different sensibility to the genre by name-dropping bits of Harlem history, music and art and showcasing live music at the club that serves as the main setting.