Been meaning to write something about this series for a while, having finished watching it a few weeks ago. I still haven't sorted my thoughts out though, beyond my initial and sustained impression that Daredevil is an exemplar of everything that is good about TV as a medium right now. Perhaps that's why I haven't sorted out my thinking yet. It may not be possible to appraise the series without considering it within context.
This is not a show that could have been made before the advent of subscription TV, and specifically before the arrival of premium content makers who don't care for aggregating mass audiences with product for the lowest common denominator.
If you haven't watched Marvel's best TV adaptation yet (it is much superior to Agents of Shield) that's probably because you don't have a Netflix subscription. Netflix, like HBO, can afford to invest in original series like Daredevil, Narcos, House of Cards and Orange is the New Black because its business model is so different from the free to air networks and even the cable aggregators like Foxtel – although with reboots like The X-Files you can see Fox catching onto the game (and HBO's model is not perfectly aligned with that of Netflix. Not yet, anyway).
It's not just the sex and violence and grown-up concepts, it's the narrative space afforded to a 'narrowcaster'. You can see this in the establishing episodes of Sense8, which I wrote about a while back. You need to take a few hours to fill in back story and build character? Sure. You got 'em. You're not going to lose huge swathes of your audience after the second commercial break airs and the A-story is still no closer to exposition, let alone resolution.
I neither binge-watched nor eked out Daredevil. I watched a couple of episodes back to back, and at times went for weeks without watching any, usually when work and life got too busy. This is a crucial advantage for content-on-demand providers. Their program directors don't have to schedule an hour-by-hour line up, night after night to lock in millions of viewers. They effectively narrowcast to a time-shifting audience of one. Each subscriber is his or her own market, a single cell demographic. You don't have to lock them in with the six o'clock news and keep them locked in until they switch off the set and go to bed. If the viewer wants to drop out for a while, the next episode is always there, always waiting for immediate replay and already paid for by monthly subscription.
More than once I watched only a single episode of Daredevil because the intensity was so great that to watch any more invited overload. It is famously grittier than the movies that have made Marvel Studios a modern cultural power centre, and although it references the wider Marvel universe, the smaller more intimate story is not held in thrall to the demands of that meta narrative. Ask Joss Whedon about how frustrating and constraining those demands can be.
So, the synopsis. Daredevil tells the story of Matt Murdock, Roman-Catholic son of Hells Kitchen and only child of 'Battling' Jack Murdock a local boxer who couldabeen a contender, if only a local guy could get an even break. Which of course they can't.
Young Matt is blinded. Old Jack is done in by the perfidy of lesser men. And Thor's evil brother Loki opens a crack between the worlds above Manhattan unleashing Hell. The destruction in New York which occupied the final reel of Whedon's first Avengers outing, preoccupies the concerns of all the little people without spandex or superpowers in the opener of Daredevil. Matt and his college bud Foggy Nelson have opened a boutique law firm in their old stomping ground of Hell's Kitchen but it is boutique only in the sense of being very small and obscure. There are no polished floorboards, no Swedish furniture, and no epic narrative. At least not to begin with. A small case leads to one, however, in the doings and a-goings on of one Wilson Fisk, a towering villain played with the full range of Shakespearean flaws by Vincent D'Onofrio. Fisk is a very Manhattan super villain though. He doesn't want to destroy the world, he wants to redevelop its disgracefully undervalued waterfront property. It's the smallness of the story, the base criminality, which foregrounds so well against the Homeric scale of the greater Marvel universe. The violence is intimate but it hurts more for that.
People die in this show, and it hurts. When they get hurt, they carry the bruises and scars for weeks, even months, just like you would. Sometimes for years in the case of the two main protagonists. Murdock is a traditional comic book hero in needing to maintain his secret identity. Tony Stark he is not. There are emotional consequences for everything he hides and all that is revealed and it's a mark of the storytelling craft that went into this series that you can never quite be sure, right up until the end, how those consequences will play out.
The biff is excellent. Again, it all happens at such a human scale, the opposite of say Ironman vs the Hulk in A2. Matt Murdock, who resists his embiggening into Daredevil, is gifted with heightened senses by the loss of his sight and, it's implied, by the way he lost it – in a chemical spill. But he is not possessed of superhuman strength or speed or the ability to stretch his hand out all the way across across the room to grab a beer from the fridge. He just trains really hard at a bunch of martial arts and mostly fights in the dark, where he is at home. He still takes more than a few beat downs.
The kinetic exchanges are choreographed and performed with painful and violent authenticity, but also with real nuance. If you watch closely you can see Murdock alter his fighting style depending on the nature of his opponent, especially when he is forced by circumstance to take on somebody with whom he has no actual disagreement. It is the emotional exchanges, however, which power the series. Daredevil is driven by relationships, not action. Even Fisk's humanity is afforded sympathetic treatment and his friendships and the love he finds as he seeks dominion over the city are no less genuine than our heroes'. In the way of all great dramas it is sometimes hard to watch because human beings are hard to watch when they decide to destroy themselves.
Season 2 of Daredevil has been confirmed and started shooting in July. A pilot season of The Punisher is due and will reportedly tie in with Murdock's story arc like Arrow's with The Flash. I've never read the comics so I can't speak to future storylines, but as the best TV shows improve with every season (up to and including season 4, after which it's usually all down hill), I'm very much looking forward to getting back to Hell's Kitchen.