Harlem Nights: Luke Cage S1E1 – “Moment of Truth” Review [ZERO SPOILERS]

Sep 25, 2016

claire-temple-luke-cageMarvel’s Luke Cage
NetFlix Original Series

Season 1, Episode 1: Moment of Truth
Air Date:
30 September 2016
Starring: Mike Colter, Frankie Faison, Simone Missick, Theo Rossi, Frank Whaley, and Alfre Woodard

It’s an interesting strategy by both Marvel and NetFlix. This being that there are a limited number of shows that will be supported on a per annum basis, and that number being two. It is interesting because I wonder what the dynamic would be if there were a couple of these shows on at the same time, with interlinking plot points that would connect one to the other.

The question of whether or not there really is a greater Marvel Universe lingers, and Luke Cage is no exception to that rule. A lot of people prefer it that way. It feels like it allows for some breathing room and some more down-to-earth stories, rather than constantly being spider-webbed to the goings on of the big three and their friends. The first thing that strikes you from the very opening music Luke Cage and through the rest of the first episode is that this show is a thing apart from not only the rest of the MCU, but even a bit from the TV and NetFlix realms. I mean, sure, there are nods to “The Incident” in New York, and references to “Fisk”. But the show, in its representation of ethnicity and inner city urbania, is markedly different in tone.

One thing to know about my general tastes is that I have not been a huge fan of the NetFlix “Daredevil” series. It’s not that I think it is bad; it just does not hold my attention. It is one of those luke-cage-promo-posterlingering shows in my backlog. While I jammed through Marco Polo Season 2 this summer during my move, I have not been able to get into DD and stick with it. I think I am stuck on like Episode 3 of Season 1. My interest in Jessica Jones is greater I think, but my procedural mind is not allowing me to get into that until I get through DD Season 1 at least. With Luke Cage (LC), I didn’t have a choice; duty calls and all that. All of that is to say that I did not go into LC seeing myself as predisposed to like it. While my interest in Jessica Jones (JJ) is piqued, all of these NetFlix shows seem to have the same feel and atmosphere. I enjoy the Avengers and Captain America, and even what I have seen of Agents of SHIELD (still on season 1 there too) due to their overall uplifting tones. The Marvel Knights (nope; not calling them The Defenders) shows are gritty in a Tim Burton / Frank Miller 1990s kind of way and maybe feel a bit antiquated in their teen angst to a certain degree.

LC is similar, but different. One thing is that Harlem feels authentic. The dialogue is maybe a bit lightened from what I would expect to typically hear, but it has sort of a 1970s Shaft feel to it. Harlem Nights might be a better label, without the comedy. Luke Cage is painted as a Hemingway-style ex-con to me, full of anger, bitterness, but spiritual heroism almost. Refusing to be bent by the ill that has befallen him. He is perfectly poised, much like that opening line in the novelization of Episode III: he is in the wrong place, at the wrong time. Naturally, he becomes a hero.

misty-knight-luke-cageMike Colter’s acting and portrayal of a man who owes society nothing, but for the moral will of his conscious, is the defining element of this show and without it, there is not much else. Frankie Faison as Pops is a solid get as well. But while the show’s core, consisting of those two roles, is solid, there is not much else in the way of dressing and condiments. In Episode One, there just is not much else to grab onto. I hate to malign him, but Cottonmouth is nothing much other than an African American Kingpin. Alfre Woodard’s characterization is fine, but feels short of other performances that I have seen her pull off. Almost as if she is uncomfortable with the role. Off course, with Cottonmouth, there are several scenes of shock value that are akin to Snipes in New Jack City, and LL Cool J in In Too Deep. There is some theatrical value in that, and adds the small bits that there are when Colter is off-screen.

One thing missing from this series is the wild lament I always feel in these “becoming” season one’s of any superhero show, where I yell at the screen every episode “Put on the damned suit!!!” In the 2000’s, I highly doubt that we are going to see Mike Colter in the iconic 80’s outfit of yellow, open-chest disco shirt with pointy collar and blue trousers. The most I expect we’ll see is the gray t-shirt and black jeans of the 2000’s, which already feels anti-climactic. Maybe we’ll see him holding a chain, at best.

The best this show can hope for is probably a Kingpin, Matt Murdock, or Krysten Ritter guest appearance. Luke Cage has some potential, and I expect it to be very workman-like in its approach based on what Episode 1 presented. Solid, interesting, but not necessarily earth-shattering. There is not much to grab the general public who are not fans and historians of the Marvel Universe. I don’t expect to be on the edge of my seat, tempted to plow through the entire series in a weekend. Slow and steady is the more likely scenario, which I think also defines the show at the outset. Episode 2 might just wow me, though; you never know. Tune in for our Episode Two review to see if that is the case. Of course, the show drops for regular viewers this Friday. By then, you ought a have a decent feel for one early viewer’s perspective on the first half of the season. As always: more to follow.