The Punisher Frank

It Doesn’t Shy Away from Current Events

While The Punisher is dropping onto Netflix this week, it was originally planned for an earlier release. Then tragedy got in the way. Following the horrific Las Vegas shooting, Netflix and Marvel decided to push the show back. Marvel TV executive producer Jeph Loeb confirmed this in an interview with The Inverse:

“This was a decision that we made specifically because it was a week after a horrible, horrible incident. It hasn’t changed the television series, the show is not predominantly about gun violence, and in fact it shows you the problems that occur in that world. But, to introduce that as close to what had happened. We made a very hard choice with Netflix, and our hearts still go out to the people of Las Vegas and the people around the world who still deal with that senseless violence.”

The Las Vegas shooting was, of course, not the last recent shooting. There was yet another one in a Texas church a little over a week ago.

To The Punisher’s credit, it doesn’t shy away from the highly-charged topic of gun violence, but I can’t say it handles the topic in a sensible way. It would be near impossible for this show to present itself as anti-gun, since guns are a big part of what makes the Punisher the Punisher, but the show instead handles things in a muddled fashion. One of the series’ antagonists is a right wing extremist, rallying against the “liberal media.” Karen Page, who is part of that liberal media, is very pro-gun, but also anti-extremist. Then there’s Frank himself, who thinks of the right wing extremist character as scum while also not above being judge jury and executioner himself, all rolled into one ultra-violent package. It’s a bundle of conundrums, and while The Punisher doesn’t handle them all perfectly, it at least makes some sort of effort to address the blood-soaked elephant in the room.

The Punisher length
It’s Way Too Long

Please, Netflix, I beg of you: stop making your original shows so long. The first season of Stranger Things ran for 8 episodes, and that worked perfectly. Mindhunter spanned 10, and that also was a success. The Marvel shows, for some ungodly reason, all tend to run 13 episodes and it never works out for the better. So far, the only series to avoid this problem has been The Defenders, which ran for 8 episodes. While that series left much to be desired, it thankfully didn’t drag its feet forever. I wish I could say the same thing about The Punisher.

There is no conceivable reason to drag The Punisher out to 13 episodes, especially when there’s so little going on here. The end result is a season loaded with filler – there are multiple episodes here that are little more than bottle episodes, where the characters sit in one room and kill time, waiting to get back to the action. It’s painful and it’s unnecessary.

Part of the problem – and this is a problem most Netflix shows have – is that The Punisher isn’t telling an episodic narrative. Rather, it’s one long story stretched across 13 hours. That’s taxing – no one honestly wants to sit through a 13 hour movie, yet that’s what The Punisher is aiming for. Had the series been broken into more episodic moments, the 13-episode length might not seem so crushing. But as it is, the series drags on, spinning its wheels and rehashing material that’s already been well established.

There’s a tight, concise narrative nestled in here somewhere, but it’s lost beneath the filler. Most frustrating of all, the series is doubling as an origin story, even though we’ve already had the Punisher’s origin story in Daredevil season 2. But since Frank hangs up his kevlar at the start of this season, the remaining episodes are devoted to him slowly working his way back up to being the Punisher again. It’s maddening: we’ve already covered this. We don’t need to do it again!

In fact, I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that The Punisher could’ve worked even better with 5 episodes. We didn’t even need 8 to tell this story. A 5-episode run would be concise, and exciting, and get across all the pertinent information. Best of all, it would leave us wanting more. The Punisher as it is here, feels entirely like a one-and-done season. There can’t possibly be more of this story left to tell at this point.

Overall, this seems to confirm what Daredevil season 2 suggested: The Punisher works much better as a supporting character instead of a lead. If Daredevil wants to bring Bernthal’s character back into the fold, we’ll all be a lot better off. For now, though, we have The Punisher, which will likely leave the viewer with one specific question: “Why bother?”

The Punisher arrives on Netflix on November 17, 2017.

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