Jupiter’s Legacy is a story told in two time periods about the rise (and fall?) of the world’s first superheroes.
Spoilers follow for Episodes 1-4: “By Dawn’s Early Light”, “Paper and Stone”, “Painting the Clouds With Sunshine” and “All the Devils Are Here”
I have to admit this exercise was valuable enough as it gave me the push to tackle yet another “off-beat” superhero show. I think we could dissect waves of superhero media for hours but we’re certainly in the age of “not like regular superhero stories, cool superhero stories” with books getting TV adaptations like The Boys, I Am Not Okay With This, and even the upcoming Y: The Last Man.
So where did we start? The Sampson family (not to be confused with the Wi-Fi-connected alien version of a beloved cartoon family of the same name) are powered. Parents Sheldon (Josh Duhamel) and Grace (Leslie Bibb) use the monikers Utopian and Lady Liberty, while Brandon (Andrew Horton) is the son who wants to live up to his father’s expectations and Chloe (Elena Kampouris) is the party girl model who prefers her drug problem to saving the world from bad guys.
They live in a world where superheroes are celebrities, chased by people with cell phones and supes can make bank off their mass appeal. They’re regulated, have their own Union, make press releases, and work alongside the police. Brandon is a kid trying to live up to his father’s expectations and Chloe is doing everything to avoid being crushed by them. Sheldon is hard on his kids, mostly because he has a cosmic responsibility to bring truth, justice, and the American way (or is that Superman?).
This story is told simultaneously across two time periods. One is the story of Sheldon and his capitalist father who dies by suicide after the Wall Street Crash. While grieving, Sheldon starts to chase voices that will lead him to what we can assume is the source of the powers for the first generation of superheroes. The other is in the present as the family struggles to find a place for a superhero Code in a world where the rules no longer apply.
Jupiter’s Legacy was a bit in danger of feeling like fluff in a market saturated with similar media, but I like what we’ve got so far. I had a lot of fun with the character introductions and as much as I want to pick on their BAD Titans Season 1 looking costumes, they almost work in a Psycho Goreman kind of way. I think the costumes speak to the fact that the show knows exactly what it’s doing.
It opens hard on a clunkily delivered Spider-man joke, then immediately dips into “we don’t kill” in a Batman kind of way. It’s pretty on its face referencing superheroes and dumping them into something more “real.” I have to wonder if the characters of Batman and Spidey exist in this universe?
Certainly while all art is political, this show is wearing its politics on its chest like a giant red S logo. We’ve got flashbacks to depression times inter-spliced with current day. I thought it was interesting when Walter (Ben Daniels) tells his brother, Sheldon, that things are different now: the way capitalism functions, good and evil, and that Nazis are the obvious bad guys.
It definitely reflects some of The Falcon and The Winter Soldier’s themes about how it used to be easier to spot a bad guy when they wore Nazi uniforms. I’m curious how the show will take that on since we could probably drop history lessons and arguments about whether things are more or less complicated now.
What I am hoping will manifest is a comment on changing perceptions of capitalism. The source material, written by Mark Millar, leans heavily into the Golden Age of comics and is described as his “treatise on superheroes’ connection to the American ideal.” Millar was inspired to take on capitalism as a response to the 2007 recession. Speaking to CBR in 2013, Millar discussed how his story was intended as a hopeful one about American democracy, but the inspiration came from seeing poverty outside his window:
It’s a country that, growing up, I always associated with things getting bigger and better, and so to see it contracting is actually quite terrifying. That served as the inspiration for the backdrop to this story. The superheroes are impotent in the face of this complex situation, and that’s where things kick off.
Without having read the comic, the update we will see (or the more relevant feeling treatment of the material) is the interaction between superheroes and cops. Brandon kills a baddie in order to save his friends and family from certain death, something in direct contravention to his father’s Code.
To Sheldon – or, more specifically, to his alter-ego hero, The Utopian – everyone deserves a fair trial and punishment. But after Brandon takes a life, police officers greet him with a wink, as if to say that superheroes could alleviate the need for that pesky justice system and allow law enforcement (be they superheroes or cops) kill in the streets. It’s pretty heavy subject matter, being that we’re halfway through an eight episode season and haven’t seen how this will shake out, but my eyes are wide open.
Joe, how does this compare to other recent superhero shows to you? Are any of the performances standing out for you? And how do you feel about the shift in storytelling between episodes two and three?
Having just come off the most recent season of The Boys, which has always tackled the commodification of superheroism, but really leaned into how “villains” co-opt social media messaging and optics in the last season (and not coincidentally also featured Nazis!), it’s *interesting* to see another superhero property tackle the same ideas.
I’ll confess that I’m not as entranced by the time-shifting in these first few episodes, Linds, if only because it’s a bit ungainly. In some ways, the past sequences are more mythology and mystery heavy, because the audience is kept constantly wondering where and how the powers are introduced. Even beyond that, there are questions about Sheldon’s fiance (who is obviously not around in the present), and his best friend George Hutchene (Matt Lanter) who gets nearly the entirety of episode three to himself.
The issue, then, is how the past connects with the present, and in that regard, Jupiter’s Legacy often feels like two different shows. Obviously the flashbacks are clues to the origins of superheroism in this world, as well as Sheldon’s Code of morality, but the actual editing (and lack of rudimentary storytelling techniques like indicating what the year is) feels messy and almost amateurish.
The Titans comparison feels particularly apt in this regard. Jupiter’s Legacy lacks the polish of a stronger show like The Boys, operating instead in a more sensational, slapdash fashion like the DCU series. For whatever reason, the show doesn’t quite work, be it visually (the occasionally janky superhero FX, most evident in the climactic episode one fight), characterization (stock types as opposed to actual three dimensional people) or storytelling (the rote “daddy issues” for both Brandon and Chloe has an immediate been there/done that vibe).
Hell, even the attempts at cliffhangers are only so-so. Take the episode one reveal that…something? has impersonated Blackstar (Tyler Mane). It’s clearly meant to be intriguing, but it’s actually pretty shrug worthy.
Which is not to say that it’s not watchable. If anything, in its first two episodes, Jupiter’s Legacy is compulsively, simplistically watchable.
It’s episode three that throws a slight wrench into plans, with an episode that veers away from Sheldon and his family to introduce a bevy of new characters and conflicts, seemingly out of nowhere. Both George and petty criminal Hutch (Ian Quinlan) could be compelling characters (indeed, they get more screen time in this episode than any of the other series regulars, which helps to define immensely), but in an era of binge-watching, it’s jarring to suddenly spend most of the hour with these unknown figures.
Still, if the series slows down a touch to focus on its one-dimensional characters in order to flesh them out, there could be some really good stuff here. I was particularly taken with Chloe and Sheldon’s terse breakfast conversation in episode two: there’s the usual anticipated absent father drama, but Kampouris’ brings a great deal more to Chloe than the routine depiction of a vapid model. There’s a vulnerability to this performance that’s intriguing, despite the potential for cliche, that makes me want to see more.
Linds, how are you feeling about the back and forth narrative? Are you more intrigued by the past or the present storylines? And as we head into the middle section of S1, do you anticipate we’ll be getting answers to how these superheroes came to be any time soon?
If anything, the combination of the seriousness of the subject matter being at odds with the janky style is what throws me. The present day silliness feels self-aware but the flashbacks and themes don’t. The recession scenes paired with the opening credits and superhero poses evoke The Golden Age of comics. This was a time where heroes were punching Nazis, those simple times that Walter (Ben Daniels) referred to when the heroes chatted at the Union table. Oddly, the flashbacks look much better than the present day scenes and it’s something I find tough to reconcile when they’re side by side. The Depression era stuff feels weighty and gorgeous, which is tough compared to the heavy discussions about capitalism and policing atop jesty Kostanski-looking scenes in the present day.
Telling a story out of order is only ever good when it is intrinsically important to the story. (Need we look at how Arrested Development’s first Netflix season was recut in different orders? Yikes). There’s a reason a prequel isn’t the same thing as a first installment.
Thus far, save for finding out what created the first generation of superheroes, I can’t find a reason why these flashback scenes need to exist in this way. It brings Watchmen to mind, a novel that flashed between two storylines. In that book, which also was referencing Golden and Silver age comics, the flashbacks filled in gaps about character motivations in ways that moved the story along. I don’t feel that in Jupiter’s Legacy.
The comics actually spend more time in the future than in the past. It’s curious to me how much time is being spent building up to Sheldon gaining his powers, but I have to assume it’s for the “then and now” political commentary.
The present day narrative is setting itself up to be a more compelling exploration of the current climate, but I don’t have a lot of confidence that it will stick the hero landing. It feels like a lot to take on in the back half of the show. Again, that the eras are being compared works for me, but the way the show is playing it doesn’t.
There isn’t a lot to Sheldon; he’s a grieving man with a code of conduct. Aside from learning where he got his powers, I don’t feel a ton of excitement over what the big reveal will be in that past timeline. I am more interested in watching George behave like Ozymandius.
You mentioned the introduction of the new characters and, whew, we’ve got a whole wave of newcomers before we know the mainstays. At this point, while I enjoyed their introductions, I don’t care about anyone save for maybe Brandon and Chloe. Flashing from them to characters who are just sad-rich-people-with-golden-tinted-outfits doesn’t give much time to care about anyone.
What do you think of the show’s comparison of these two times? Do you think Jupiter’s Legacy is biting off more than it can chew by taking on policing, Nazism, and capitalism in a few short episodes? Who are you rooting for (or worried for)? Are you more compelled by the story driven parts of it or the character driven parts?
Ahhh, these are loaded questions! The short answer is that I don’t think the series is actually tackling issues of policing, Nazism and capitalism. Aside from the talking points that felt very shoe-horned in in that first episode, Jupiter’s Legacy has steered away from timely social / political commentary (if anything, those now seem like last minute additions to try and make the series more relevant in the wake of the BLM movement).
At its core (or at least in the first half of the season), Jupiter’s Legacy is most content to tell two stories: one about a rich man who embarks on a journey to become a superhero and one about what heroism looks like in the modern age. The issue is that by filtering them both through incredibly narrow lenses, the focus is on a more individualistic level. This is merely a series about Utopian and his kids.
This could be fine, if the storytelling were more engaging and the characters more intriguing. In my last section, I praised Kampouris’ Chloe…but that was before she got the featured player treatment in episode 4 and the creative team did nothing except portray her as a bratty, coked up model. Again, this kind of characterization could be fine, but it hardly merits half of the runtime of a 47 minute episode when it’s offering a) nothing new from a storytelling perspective and b) very little new information about the character.
So yeah, I’m still intrigued as to where this is all going, but my patience is being tested. Jupiter’s Legacy either needs to lean into its social commentary more, stop dedicating entire episodes to very little plot development, and/or start offering different perspectives on superheroes.
We’re at the halfway point of the first season and while there’s every indication that this isn’t a limited series, the glacial pacing and shallow characterization isn’t driving viewer engagement, in spite of Netflix’s binge drop model. This isn’t a fun, propulsive, buzzy series, nor is it a serious, contemplative character study.
It’s falling somewhere in the middle, which is entirely detrimental to its success.
At this point, I can’t imagine the two-pronged storytelling will change (despite the past and present storylines only tangentially commenting on each other), so I’m wary of how the back half of the season will develop.
We’ll see when we come back for a season-long spoiler post in a few days!
All 8 episodes of Jupiter’s Legacy are now available on Netflix.