I've loved all the Netflix shows, so it was a no-brainer that when I bought my theater, I planned to save my first screening party for when Luke Cage came out. I even made little classic Powerman cookies. And holy crap, was the first episode of Luke Cage worth busting my projector's virginity.
Luke Cage takes place after the events of Jessica Jones, with Luke laying low, working at an old-fashioned barbershop run by a charming ex con named Pop, and dodging blatant passes by babely single mothers.
Pop seems to be the only one in the show who knows Luke's secret, and encourages him to do something with his "abilities". He also moonlights at one of the swankiest clubs in Harlem, run by Cornell/Cottonmouth—a ruthless businessman/crime lord who's willing to do what it takes to gain power and money. His cousin is a councilwoman named Mariah, a much more up to date, complex, and uh, less racist take on Black Mariah from the comics—who wants to keep Harlem black and has fronted Cornell money from the city's funds to run an illegal gun deal. When the weapons deal negotiated by Cornell goes south and a group of people we met at the barbershop goes south, all Hell breaks loose, Mariah is facing an audit without the money, and pacifist Luke Cage gets dragged into the fray—as well as Misty Knight, a badass detective.
While the story is compelling, and the characters are beautifully nuanced and complicated, the real star is the music. Beautifully curated, the juxstaposition between the brutal scenes and the incredible musical performances are incredible.
I already love Misty Knight, and would watch a police procedural with her at the center. Misty is incredible—there's something about her sense of humor, earthiness, and badass-ery that reminds me of Buffy Summers. Her partner, though—who I will now and forever refer to as Detective Mayonnaise—is awful. In a show full of strong black characters, his glaring whiteness is obnoxious and unwelcome. He comes off as more of a painfully out of touch Straight White Dude than a republican senator from Kentucky who likes crossword puzzles, televised fishing tournaments, golf, and sharing vaguely racist Minions memes on facebook. Out of every character on this show, he's the one I'm hoping gets shot the most. He's not a villain, just...kind of awful.
Speaking of villains, If there's one thing the show suffers from, at least this early on, is that there's no real threat—the villains are so sympathetic and complicated that there's no real character to hate besides Detective Mayonnaise and maybe Shades, one of crime lord Diamondback's goons who is tasked with helping Cottonmouth get back the stolen money. He's like what would happen if someone Doctor Moreau'd Pitbull with a muskrat and gave the resulting abomination some expensive sunglasses. Which he almost never takes off. THE DUDE WEARS SUNGLASSES INSIDE. AND HIS NICKNAME IS SHADES. SHADES! That is almost CERTAINLY a nickname he gave himself. YOUR NAME IS HERMAN, SHADES. STOP IT. He's weirdly slimy in an earnest sort of way, kind of like Moby or Cory Feldman.
My only other issue is that Luke Cage runs the risk of Superman syndrome—the stakes aren't all that high for Cage, who is nearly indestructible and isn't super close to anyone, so the show risks a serious lack of conflict. I'm anxious to see how the show plans to put him in danger. Overall, though, the first episode is a solid start to what I'm hoping is going to be another winner for Netflix, and the show comes off like a love letter to Harlem. The music, the sweeping shots of the city, the color—all of it is absolutely beautiful.
—Yup, this is a Marvel/Netflix show. You can tell by the stunning cinematography, which seems to have become a trademark. The juxtaposition of the charming chaos of Pop's barbershop with the perfectly symmetrical clean lines of Cornell's lair is jarring and beautiful.
—I really hate Detective Mayonnaise.
—The showrunners are clearly well aware of how babely Mike Colter is, and they take every opportunity to capitalize on it. Luke, darkly lit, in tight tees. Luke, in a suit jacket a little too small for him. Luke making sexy, well lit love to Misty Knight. This show may be an action show based on a comic, but there's definite pandering towards straight women. My lady friends and I were practically squirming in our seats. Sweet Christmas.
—The Biggie/Crown iconography in Cornell's pad is absolutely perfect, but enough with the shots of Cornell with the picture behind him so it looks like he's wearing the crown. It was subtle the first time, but you're really hammering it home. OMG HE'S THE KING GUYZ! HE'S THE KING OF HARLEM GET IT GET IT GET IT?!?!?!
—On a show with a man with actual superpowers, the most unbelievable moment was how bloody Cornell got from punching a dude to death. I'm no doctor or, you know, fancy forensic murder expert, but I feel like when you punch someone with your bare fist, you don't get liberally sprayed with blood like it was fucking Psycho.
BODY COUNT: 10—pretty modest for a Netflix show, but it is the first episode after all.