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The penultimate episode of Disney+’s WandaVision generated a wave of adulation (and predictable knee-jerk Twitter backlash) for the line, “What is grief, if not love persevering?”
Even if you don’t think the line was a pinnacle of scripted meditations on loss, it could still be acknowledged as a neat and pithy summation of the themes of a frequently provocative season of TV.
In the penultimate episode of Jupiter’s Legacy, Netflix’s new superhero show takes its own stab at something comparably reflective. “I’ve learned that there’s a terrible gift to loss, which leaves nothing left to lose, which means you have everything to gain,” declares Josh Duhamel’s Sheldon Sampson, a musing that’s half word salad, half idiotic mathematical equation, all hollow nonsense.
The title of Jupiter’s Legacy, adapted by Steven S. DeKnight from the comic book series by Mark Millar and Frank Quitely, refers vaguely to the legacy left by a senior generation of superheroes for the new generation of heroes facing a wildly different world. The show’s only actual legacy is arriving in such a superhero-glutted landscape that it’s almost impossible to find a single character or plotline or thematic beat here that you won’t be instantly comparing to a previous show.
Whether Jupiter’s Legacy is found lacking as a vehicle for delving into the way grief can lay even the most powerful people low, as a mismatched superhero team-up in the vein of Umbrella Academy and The Boys and Doom Patrol, or as a commentary on superhero daddy issues like Invincible or Superman & Lois, this eight-episode drama is one of the weakest and most forgettable entries in the busy genre. It’s a derivative bore, without even visual inspiration to compensate.
The season takes place in two timelines. In the present, Duhamel’s Sheldon and Leslie Bibb’s Grace have been married for 60 years. As superhero duo the Utopian and Lady Liberty, they’re protecting the Earth, stopping bad guys and following a “code” that dictates that they never kill anybody, however evil, nor do they ever attempt to influence policy. Sheldon and Grace got their power in the distant past along with Sheldon’s brother, Walter (Ben Daniels), but somehow there are a ton of 20-something heroes who got their powers in some other way, heroes who aren’t convinced that Sheldon’s code still applies. The new heroes include Sheldon and Grace’s son, Brandon (Andrew Horton), struggling to emerge from his dad’s shadow, and rebellious daughter Chloe (Elena Kampouris), who uses her notoriety — superheroes are celebrities in this world — to get endorsement deals and do photoshoots.
In the other timeline, we see the circumstances that led to Sheldon and Grace and Walter and Sheldon’s buddy George (Matt Lanter) getting their powers, an event situated around the stock market collapse of 1929.
Neither storyline works at all. To their credit, they fail for different reasons, though the very questionable decision to cast every role in the middle of two age extremes doesn’t help. In the flashback, it’s hilarious to have Duhamel, Bibb and especially Daniels pretending to be in their 20s. In the present day, even accepting that superheroes age at a different rate, it’s hilarious to have all of the stars in shoddy old-age makeup. It’s part of the gimmick of the comic, mind you, to have these geriatrics in tights. But whether aging up or down, neither makeup job is good or consistent — there are times they don’t even seem to be trying to make Bibb look anything other than fabulous — and so the actors all look uncomfortable throughout, and none of the stars is inherently good enough to withstand eight hours of perpetual discomfort.
It’s easier to pinpoint why the flashback side of the story is so bad, and it isn’t just because the actors are as convincingly period-appropriate as a Great Gatsby-themed frat party where nobody ever read The Great Gatsby. Simply put: There are no stakes and no twists or turns for the entire flashback, stretched over all eight episodes.
Netflix’s trailer for the show starts with footage of the “younger” characters arriving on the island where they get their powers, an event that takes place at the end of the seventh episode. Netflix sometimes begs critics not to reveal plot details that transpire in the first 15 minutes of a pilot, so if the streamer has no compunctions about spoiling a plotline from the next-to-last episode of a drama’s season because it’s so unsurprising, what possible reason could audiences have for wanting to go on that part of that journey?
Smarter structuring would have been to do a full flashback stand-alone episode two-thirds of the way through the season, probably casting younger versions of the core stars. That way, you could have treated the provided information as “filling in the blanks,” as opposed to a storyline meant to maintain interest hour-by-hour, which it most surely does not.
Then again, the present-day story isn’t all that thrilling either. There’s a villain, but the main hook is the moral conflict between the intractable Sheldon, clinging to the code to mask his increasing obsolescence, and Brandon, who doesn’t exactly want to kill bad guys willy-nilly, but likes having the option in his tool box. The show is an ideological void, which is especially surprising given that Millar (Wanted, Kick-Ass) tends to have pointed (if occasionally contradictory) things to say about the erosion of modern society and the corrosive effects of vigilante violence. Here, Jupiter’s Legacy doesn’t get much deeper than, “We live in fragmented times and that’s bad.”
Even with nothing of note to say, you sense there’s one version of this show that’s centered on this father-son clash of law enforcement styles, only Sheldon is an unbearably sanctimonious pill and Brandon is beyond boring. Structurally, Brandon should be the protagonist of this story, only there are three or four episodes in the middle of the season in which he’s nearly absent, and if you asked me for a single adjective to describe the character’s personality or Horton’s performance, I would draw a blank. There’s nothing there.
Throughout, I kept feeling like I’d missed key pieces of plot or character development and I kept checking to see if I’d skipped episodes. I hadn’t. It’s even worse in the storyline focused on Chloe doing drugs and jumping into a not-even-slightly compelling romance with a rising criminal named Hutch (Ian Quinlan). That plot mostly exposes how completely Jupiter’s Legacy is without a target demographic — despite occasional swearing and some cartoonish violence, it’s practically BYU TV–level bland compared to The Boys — and messes with the show’s focus, because as uninteresting as the characters are, Kampouris and Quinlan are the only actors in the cast who aren’t on acting autopilot, who didn’t apparently have half of their scenes edited out and who aren’t fighting to be recognizable through layers of latex … or all three.
There’s at best a 10 percent chance the Chloe/Hutch show might be worth watching, but that’s higher than the rest of the series. To throw Sheldon’s reflections on grief into my own blender: When there’s nothing to be gained from watching a superfluous superhero TV show, at least there’s nothing to be lost from skipping it entirely.
Cast: Josh Duhamel, Ben Daniels, Leslie Bibb, Elena Kampouris, Andrew Horton, Mike Wade and Matt Lanter
Creator: Steven S. DeKnight, based on the comic book series by Mark Millar and Frank Quitely
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