Lately, I’ve been reading and thinking a lot about aesthetic. Almost always, I’m thinking and reading about various superhero shows/movies coming out or already existing. The more I dive into the superhero genre, the more I notice how these on screen adaptations represent themselves to the public. DC strives for a gritty realism while also becoming entangled with philosophical material. Meanwhile Marvel steers into a brighter appearance and relies on a good dosage of humor.
Then of course the TV series for both franchises go on their own paths. Agent Carter seeks out a vintage style, Supergirl is a little more bubblegum, and Daredevil places itself in the shadows to illustrate the dirtiness of Hell’s Kitchen. Then there comes along Jessica Jones which I think has the most unique style because it incorporates the above aesthetics while also molding itself into something new while still having an air of familiarity.
One of the most evident elements in the Jessica Jones aesthetic is the noir theme. This captures that vintage style which has been finding its way into more pop culture. People like the look of older times while not always wanting to be there. Think of the 1950s ideal where people look at photographs of girls in big skirts and sweaters sipping a milkshake at the diner with their main squeeze. Those people want to go back there, but they don’t want the values and mindset of the 50’s – just the look.
Jessica Jones answers that need by placing a modern story with modern ideals on a stage with vintage decorations. She is the classic detective sitting in a dank office waiting for a case to walk in. The office itself is set up like one you’d see in an old noir film, but it still manages to stay within its time while replicating the style elements people yearn for. It’s the single desk in front of a window, dim lighting (possibly to capture that black & white feel), the straight man delivery of lines, and the typical customers one might see strolling in. Only this time the detective is a woman who also saves the day as a hero (though she wouldn’t want to be called that). This series mirrors that past aesthetic, but it doesn’t forget what and where it is. That’s partly why I was drawn to the series.
Another aesthetic this show uses is the grittiness that DC has been experimenting with. The show is dark both in manner and appearance. Hell’s Kitchen is a dirty, run down place with little sun and often seems cold judging by the heavy jackets the characters wear.Yet somehow the show never feels dark or lost in the shadows. There’s actually quite a bit of color popping onto the screen, most noticeably with purple. Even in the darkest moments of the show, there’s one vivid color standing out. This could represent a ray of light/hope in the worst times or even present a warning of danger (after all, Killgrave is the man in purple).
It’s refreshing to see how they take the gritty aesthetic and add in a splash of color. Just take a look at the poster for the series – it’s on a darker pallet, but the pallet still exists. It finds color in the shadows and satirizes those shades to make it stand out. The series never felt to me like the characters were trapped in a dark room – there was plenty of room to breath in the noir feel and bring it into day’s world.