After watching the shockingly bad premiere episode of Jupiter’s Legacy, Netflix’s new potential superhero franchise, I started wondering when those in involved in a bad TV show really know it’s bad. But as I kept watching the 8-episode season, based on Mark Millar and Frank Quitely’s graphic novel series (and adapted by Daredevil’s Steven S. DeKnight), the show got… not good exactly, but less bad. The wigs were still laughable, it took itself far too seriously for a show where senior citizens wear spandex hero suits, and half of its story was still truly awful. But buried within was something that could have been worthwhile in a bizarro universe.
But this is not about what Jupiter’s Legacy could have been; rather, what actually is. The series takes place over two timelines: In the early 1930s, a group of sundries band together to chase a prophesy that ultimately grants them superhero powers. Flash-forward to the present day (more or less), and the children of said group—who are in their 20s, while their parents are in their 100s…stay with me—are grappling with their own powers and destinies. What holds them all together is the Union of Justice, and a code that simply states thou shalt not govern and thou shalt not kill.
That last part, as evidenced in the first episode, is getting increasingly difficult for the young guns. Ignoring all of human history, the characters tell us over and over again that things are “worse” now, that the world is not how it used to be. Today (they say), criminals aren’t just gangsters and bank robbers, they’re politicians! And corporations! Somehow, though they probably fought against the Nazis, there’s just something different about supervillains today. Ya gotta kill baby, kill!
The leader of the old guard, Sheldon Sampson (a.k.a. The Utopian), is played with respectful verve by Josh Duhamel. He’s matched by Ben Daniels as his brother Walter (a.k.a. Brainwave). Both really give it their all, and it’s a shame that none of their peers on the show—including Sheldon’s wife Grace (Leslie Bibb) and fellow supers played by Matt Lanter and Mike Wade—are provided any good material in which to join them. An exploration into the past and present lives of this circle of founding heroes would have been worthwhile, especially since Jupiter’s Legacy presents its superheroes as almost errand-minders; their powers are used to simply fight crime and occasionally push a rogue comet off-course so that it doesn’t collider with Earth. Unlike the MCU, The CW’s Arrowverse, or Netflix’s own Umbrella Academy, the stakes are not world-ending. The supervillains are put in jail. The heroes live fairly normal lives. The kids turn into influencers and social media stars, leveraging their special abilities in a way that feels realistically selfish. It gives weight to the Code—the Union isn’t controlled by any government, nor are they trying to get intergalactic with their powers. Their augmented abilities allow them to be special, and also especially messy.
Again, there are interesting sparks of narrative interest here, but they are all but snuffed out over and over again by the flat, shallow scripts and the way the show’s women and minority characters are handled about as well as they would have been in the actual 1930s. Not to mention how dour and slow the pacing is, or how pointlessly cynical it all feels. And then there are the cheap wigs and overdone makeup and ghastly attempts at de-aging (or aging up). For those who remember it, we’re in Inhumans territory here.
Where the show overcomes some of this is in that 1930s storyline. The setting is different for this current superhero landscape, and to its credit, the show does at least want to grapple with the idea of whether a simple moral code can stand up to the complexities of modern society 100 years later. It just does so in the dullest, most ham-fisted way possible. But what can’t really be defended is the show’s modern timeline, in which we are forced to contend with the two spoiled brat children of our heroes and their forgettable friends. At some point Jupiter’s Legacy itself seems to realize how utterly boring that plot is, and slowly abandons it until, late in the season, the 20-somethings are hardly shown at all.
Jupiter’s Legacy may not be an abject disaster, but it’s certainly a baffling misstep. All Netflix really requires from its series, though, is that they convince viewers to keep watching. Though the premiere is likely to turn many away (except the perversely curious), Jupiter’s Legacy more or less serves as a middling background show. The chaos of its production values, lack of narrative cohesion, and underwhelming characters simply do not deserve your full attention. It’s a shame, really, because there is potential here for something better. But given its track record (with Umbrella Academy as an exception), maybe it’s time for Netflix to adopt a new code: No more superhero shows, please.
All 8 episodes of Jupiter’s Legacy are currently streaming on Netflix
Allison Keene is the TV Editor of Paste Magazine. For more television talk, pop culture chat and general japery, you can follow her @keeneTV
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