I’ve been trying to write up on why superhero properties (either adaptations or originals) aren’t working for television even as they are thriving on film. There probably isn’t a single answer across the board. Some shows have died out because the story telling was weak and without clear direction (Heroes), others because the creators didn’t understand that in the post Sopranos (and now Breaking Bad, The Shield, et al.) world a person doing the right thing all the time, without any inner conflict, is of little interest to audiences (The Cape), and others still just didn’t seem to understand the nature of comics or what endeared fans to particular characters to begin with (Wonder Woman*).
More than likely the streak of poorly received superhero television shows won’t end with Fox’s newly announced The Punisher hour-long drama they will be developing. I will now be prophetically placing The Punisher under the latter reasons for a superhero property’s lack of success. Much like the failed Wonder Woman the new The Punisher is being described as a “new take” on the popular comic character, which is – more often than not – a bad sign. Rather than let the character stand on its own they place it is a contrived television set up and comic book it up a little bit.** Here is Deadline’s description:
“The Punisher is described as an hour-long procedural… [about] Frank Castle, a rising star detective with the New York Police Department who moonlights as the vigilante Punisher, seeking justice for those the system has failed.”
While, as I understand it, there are some instances in comics where Castle is a former police officer this not the origin he is best known for (or the one anyone thinks about when they think about The Punisher). Frank Castle has two extrinsic motivators that make him The Punisher: the tragic and senseless death of his family, and disillusionment from participation in a violent war, the reasons for which were suspect – if not completely absent. The description makes no mention of either of those two motivators that make The Punisher relatable and sympathetic. While there is obviously room in the comic book world to play with characters origins and traits its seems strange to sidestep these two key points.
I could be totally wrong, I’m hoping that is the case. We’ll just have to see how this show develops.
It should be mentioned that the show is being developed by Criminal Minds showrunner Ed Bernero for Fox. Given that I am a pretentious “cable is better than network television” advocate this is where I should say I’d be more excited if this was being developed at FX, but that’s just me.
I’ve never seen Criminal Minds, is Ed Bernero the right guy to lead this show to someplace better than this original description would make it seem?
*that certainly wasn’t the only problem, but in my estimation was the big one that showed they had it wrong right out the gate.
** In the case of Wonder Woman it was “lawyer woman who fights crime” so it could be another in the long list of legal dramas with superhero elements. This time around we’ll have another in the long list of cop shows with superhero elements to (slightly) shake up the formula.