On November 17, all episodes of Netfix’s latest show from its partnership with Marvel – The Punisher – will release on the streaming platform. It follows after six seasons of Netflix-Marvel shows, starting with the first season of Daredevil in 2015, and then Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, Iron Fist, and The Defenders, along with the second season of Daredevil.
Punisher himself, Frank Castle, was first seen in Daredevil Season 2, where he walks the line between antagonist and anti-hero. Jon Bernthal’s electric performance as Punisher/ Castle meant that the character was a breakout hit, and so British writer Steve Lightfoot faced no small task when Netflix asked him to be the showrunner for The Punisher. At a Netflix-organised event in Singapore this week, Gadgets 360 had a chance to speak with Lightfoot about the experience of making the show and how the idea came about.
“This was after Daredevil and Jessica Jones had come out,” said Lightfoot, “and they’d just given me a preview of Daredevil season 2, that I could watch online, and I’d seen Jon [Bernthal] do his thing.”
“It was interesting because in many ways, they had already done the origin story, so we could build on that, we only had part of the story, and what we now have,” he added, “is more the full origin. Working with Marvel is a kind of a mixed blessing – it confines you, but it also focuses you, as a writer.”
However, he also mentioned one benefit of working on a Netflix show – writing without factoring in ad-breaks is far more enjoyable. “Otherwise you’re working up to a cliffhanger regularly, so that people come back after the ad-break,” he said. “It’s so much better when you don’t have to write with ad-breaks in mind.”
For Netflix, the partnership with Marvel has helped bring in a broader fan base. The shows are a darker, grittier take on the Marvel Universe compared to what we get from the movies, and many people have preferred this new tone. The Punisher (whose release was delayed to avoid people making connections to the terrible mass shooting event in Las Vegas) takes this further than ever. We’ll have a review of the show soon, but even from the trailers you can see that this has the potential to be the most brutal show yet from the Marvel-Netflix stable.
To bring this vision to life, Lightfoot draws inspiration from a wide range of sources. “I thought a lot about westerns, and 70s urban thrillers – so the use of wide angle lenses for example,” he said.
“It’s also useful to see what the other shows have done, so that we can be differentiated, so all the other shows are set in the heart of New York – okay Luke Cage is in Harlem – but we’ve gotten off the isle of Manhattan. We’re in Brooklyn, and the outer boroughs, and that changes the tone a lot.”
The main inspiration though falls on the universal theme of a man seeking to find his place in society, as Castle is a war veteran who has seen and done terrible things for his country, only to lose his entire family in a senseless massacre that the government then tried to hush up.
Lightfoot said that the reason that he was drawn to the Marvel shows on Netflix even before starting on The Punisher is because alongside the superhero action, they’re also telling human stories. “I think that if we can make an episode where people are just talking and it still resonates with the viewers, then I’ve done my job right,” he said.
Though popular, one criticism that the last few Marvel shows – Iron Fist, Luke Cage, and also The Defenders – have faced is that the pacing has been uneven. In the case of Luke Cage, critics felt that the show went off the rails in the second half, with the death of a prominent character. Iron Fist meanwhile had a very unsteady start that it never fully recovered from, though it does have its defenders.
Is part of the problem that the seasons have to fill out 13 episodes? Lightfoot doesn’t think that’s an issue. “The number of episodes shouldn’t matter if I’ve done my job right,” he said. “If there are fewer episodes, we’d just get there sooner, but if the pacing is right, 13 episodes is a good thing.”
Netflix VP Original Series, Allie Goss interjected here that the length of each season is a part of its deal with Marvel, but added that the numbers Netflix is seeing make it confident that the viewers are happy with the shows. “We get a lot of different feedback, and some critics were pointing out those things, but others loved the shows,” she said, adding, “and we do of course take the criticism and use it to make something better, but it’s definitely been well received by viewers.”
Disclosure: Netflix paid for the correspondent’s flights and hotel for the event in Singapore.