Television series that air on the CW network sometimes get a bad rap.
I get it.
The Berlantiverse shows—our foray into DC Comics on the CW—have, honestly, been an uneven offering. Some of the more solid series, such as Arrow and The Flash, demonstrated a downturn in quality during later seasons. Some, such as Black Lightning and DC’s Legends of Tomorrow, never really gelled for me. Others, such as Batwoman and Stargirl, just didn’t entice me at all, and I never watched them.
Supernatural was on for fifteen seasons, and was mostly good, sometimes great, during most of these. Plus, this was the home of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, and Smallville, all long-running series with huge fandoms.
You can talk about the sometimes inconsistent writing of some of the CW series, the poorly explored ideas and a tendency to lapse into formulaic plotting. These are all legit complaints. Add that there is a persistent reliance on the found family television trope and emotional character melodrama, and you’ll see that I’m nodding my head in agreement with you.
This is all true. However, I’m drawn to the found family trope myself, and I firmly believe that the family you choose to become a part of is, at least, equally important as the family to which you’re related by DNA. I like stories that feature a “team” of characters who choose to unite for a common purpose.
Also, the presence of emotional character drama means that exploring characterization is an important part of the series. Making the stories emotional and relatable gives them some extra narrative weight. I like an exciting plot as much as the next guy, but if you don’t give me characters who I can care about, then I will quickly lose interest.
Just earlier today, I was talking with my brother about the movie Buckaroo Banzai. I didn’t recommend the movie for my brother to watch, because I’ve never thought it was a very good movie. I know that there are many out there who disagree with me. It’s just that I believe there are cartoons with more depth to them than this movie, and the movie gave me zero reasons to care about the characters, especially Buckaroo himself, played by Peter Weller, who was presented as perhaps the coolest individual who has ever lived. Some interesting and exciting things happened in the movie, I guess. But, who cares?
The series I have watched on the CW seem to consciously avoid this problem by trying to make the viewer emotionally identify with several of the characters, at the same time. I think, by and large, they have been highly successful with this business model.
They are successful with In The Dark as well. Let me tell you how I came to watch this one.
There are no superheroes or supernatural characters or monsters in this series. I know, that makes this show a bit of a departure for me. The main character is blind, from a young age but not since birth. While she isn’t Matt Murdock, she does become a bit of a crime-solving vigilante. In fact, that’s the premise of the series.
My wife, Sharon, watched this first on Netflix. I remember her telling me about the series, and adding that she thought I would like it. I told her that I’d watch it as soon as I opened up space on my schedule. I only half-believed myself when I said it, but that’s exactly what happened. I had a slot open on my planned entertainment schedule and I took the series on a test drive.
The first episode intrigued me enough to watch a second, which led me smoothly into the third, and by then the hook was firmly set and I was watching the entire series.
The story centers around the blind Murphy Mason (Perry Mattfeld), whose adoptive parents run a training school for seeing-eye dogs. Murphy is an adult. She is also an alcoholic and sleeps around a bit, another in this refreshing surge of flawed female characters on television. I feel I should also point out that she has the same initials as Matt Murdock as well.
A year prior to the beginning of the series, Murphy was saved from a mugging by street kid Tyson Parker (Thamela Mpumlwana), whom the blind woman befriends. This series kicks off with Murphy discovering the body of Tyson in an alley behind her building. Tyson’s body disappears before the police can arrive to investigate.
The big Mystery Box for the season is “Who killed Tyson?” It drives everything else that happens during the season. In this it was a lot like the first season of Veronica Mars, which was also built around a central murder mystery, as were Riverdale and Twin Peaks when they began. We’re not reinventing the wheel with this show, but this familiar story design remains effective.
You could name several other shows that are similarly constructed, I am sure.
Along the way, we’re introduced to members of Murphy’s found family, which include: her best friend since childhood, Jess Damon (Brooke Markham), who is a lesbian; a pleasant homicide detective, Dean Riley (Rich Sommer), who also has a blind daughter, Chloe (Calle Walton) who looks up to Murphy; food truck operator Max Parish (Casey Deidrick), who becomes romantically involved with Murphy; Tyson’s cousin, local gang leader Darnell James (Keston John); Murphy’s collegue and (at least in the first season) foil, Felix Bell (Morgan Krantz); as well as her adoptive parents Hank (Derek Webster) and Joy Mason (Kathleen York).
As the plot unfolds like the blooming of a fractal flower, we learn more and more about our characters and their backstories. We learn more about Dean’s partner, Jules Becker (Saycon Sengbloh), who is also romantically involved with Darnell. We also learn more about the incarcerated Nia Bailey (Nicki Micheaux), the drug lord responsible for a lot of what happens during the season.
The season spends thirteen episodes building to what seems to be an inevitable—and, if I’m being completely honest here, unwanted—conclusion, solving the mystery of Tyson Parker’s death. There are a couple of side trips along the way, mostly in the interest of character building, which I did not mind, but limiting the season to thirteen episodes helped keep the story arc tight and mostly focused.
Perry Matfeld, as Murphy, carries much of the series on her shoulders. She does this well. She is a sighted actor playing a blind woman, but she is quite convincing. I recognized her from a minor guest-starring role on the US version of Shameless over several episodes. She is a beautiful actress who doesn’t seem to mind making herself look less-than at times. The character herself—imperfect in so many perfect ways—is a refreshing breath of whiskey-scented air. I have to imagine that playing the role of Murphy is in many ways an actor’s dream job. Not just handicapped, but a promicuous alcoholic who is often not a good person. Al Pacino probably wanted the role.
As I’ve no doubt let out of the bag by now, I liked this season. And I like this series. A lot.
It’s good storytelling with memorable characters and a central mystery plot with just enough twists and turns to keep my interest until the end. I don’t know what’s going to happen in Season 2 yet (although the final episode of this season offers some potential storylines), but that’s okay. This season told a complete story on its own.
Firewater’s That’s-Not-a-Thing-I’m-Not-Daredevil Report Card: A
I started to play coy with an A-minus, but I was only fooling myself. This one was a solid A that left me immediately wanting more. I believe the series has been renewed through Season 4 now. I plan to watch it all.