However, as I've been trying to ration my way through the show (I'm only on episode 8, don't spoil me, bros), I can't help but notice a few things it seems to do so much infuriatingly better than its contemporaries. I would like to share these observations for the benefit of humankind, and the advancement of entertainments about people in stupid outfits punching baddies. Without spoilers, I present Mister Murdock's Guide to Gritty Street-Level Superheroism™.
1. No Batman Voice
I'm shocked this is still a thing. After the thorough mocking The Dark Knight received on this front (despite being otherwise excellent), I was expecting the Bat-voice to become the 00's equivalent of Bat-nipples: a stylistic flourish that tipped hard into absurdity and was promptly mocked and forgotten. But that has not happened. Instead, its as if creators have doubled-down on the idea. Not only did The Dark Knight Rises keep up the throat-clearing dialogue (further complicated by Bane's... whatever was going on with that guy), but recent years have seen it expanded and iterated upon as if it somehow wasn't a super horrible idea in the first place. You've got Arrow's voice-box that makes him sound like a teenaged Anonymous member with his software set to "badass.wav" as well as Flash's thoroughly-unnecessary "speed-talk." It all adds up to superheroes sounding less like people and more like video game voice actors from the SNES era.
2. Use Your Medium!
If someone asked me why they should watch Daredevil, I'd probably answer by showing them the closing scene from episode 2, "Cut Man." I'd imagine many other Daredevil fans might do the same, and for good reason (you're all geniuses just like me, have a cookie).
For those who haven't watched the show yet, "Cut Man" culminates in perhaps the best action scene ever filmed for television: an unbroken single take that plays out over three minutes as Daredevil fights his way through a hallway. Taken on its own merits, its an exceptional piece of filmmaking, acting, and stunt work... but wait! There are even more things I'd like to praise about it!
Comic books are an inherently visual medium, and there's something magical about the way the images play with the text to create the feeling of a good comic. Film, on the other hand, is a different beast. Although film uses images and text, it also uses sound, and most importantly, time, to tell its stories. A comic page does not take a specific amount of time to read, it's up to the reader themselves to decide "how long do I want to look at this?" But movies and TV shows always have the same runtime every time you watch them, and it's up to the filmmakers to use that time effectively. Editing masks the passage of time, allowing you to compress it by cutting back and forth (hence the montage). A single take, however, forces you into real linear time, fundamentally changing how you watch it. In the scene in question this single take slows down the experience, while subtler details of Charlie Cox's performance as Daredevil become apparent, such as his ragged breath, and the pause he takes to analyze the space before he makes his move. In a world where alien monsters once rained from the sky onto the streets of New York, these quieter moments of recognizable humanity are more than welcome; they make the ensuing heroism all the more inspiring.
Over the course of this scene's three minutes, you will experience tension, release, and outright exhaustion, right along with Daredevil. It's a uniquely filmic effect, applied perfectly to the story it's telling. Daredevil is not content to recreate scenes and lines we've seen in the comics ala Robert Rodriguez's Sin City or Zack Snyder's Watchmen. Instead they're interested in creating new iconic aspects to Daredevil's ongoing mythos.
3. Stakes, Stakes, and (I'll say it again) Stakes
Think about the last time you watched a superhero movie or TV show. Let me guess: someone was in peril, yeah? Perhaps an innocent? Or a whole buttload of them? Or at least someone sorta-sympathetic who we've grown to care about? And there was a bad guy behind the scenes too, right? Meticulously arranging deathtraps and giving orders to scores of faceless henchmen? Wow, that sounds like a super scary situation! How worried were you?
Now I'm an adult (so the IRS tells me), and I certainly can't be expected to respond with a child's naïveté every time the Heat Miser threatens to cancel Christmas. But when I was six years old they killed Superman, and I flat out begged my parents to buy me those books because I thought he was gone forever.
Any comic fan will scoff at this, because comics tend to treat the concept of death with all the solemn reverence of amateur night at the Chuckle Hut, but for me at the time, the stakes could not have been any higher. Of course I was mistaken. A few months later Clark Kent was back with a mullet that only made me wish he'd stayed dead.
I call it The Boy Who Cried Super-Wolf. It's a neverending series of feints, a constant threat of something horrible that is never going to happen. Or were it to happen, it would be immediately undone. "Woah he's really got us this time, we're tied up with rope and everything! Oh no, he's planned it this way all along! HIS FINGER'S ON THE DETONATOR AND EVERYONE WE CARE ABOUT IS GONNA DIIIIIIIIEEEEEEEEE!!!11!1"
A lot of this, of course, is familiarity. I've been doing this for a long time and I've seen most of these tricks more than once. If Random Bad Guy X is pointing a gun at Innocent Kidnapping Victim Y without the hero anywhere in sight... well, just give it a few seconds and boom, there's your hero. Saved them right at the last moment! Wow, really amazing how they do that every time.
And while it's certainly not free of these tropes, Daredevil smartly establishes early on that truly bad things happen in Hell's Kitchen; bad things that Daredevil himself can't always fix. Surely we can guess that Daredevil might triumph in the end, because he's the protagonist and that's what protagonists do, but it doesn't mean his victory will come without qualifications, or even outweigh his losses and failures (again, haven't seen the whole thing, I'm just speculating).
This issue all comes down to characterization. If we empathize with a character, we're going to feel emotionally invested in their fate, and if we don't, we won't.
Many shows and films only have the time to develop a couple of characters, and in the case of superhero shows and movies, those characters tend to be the familiar ones that were established in the comics. Since the creators have already put in all this work building these secondary characters, it's an easy choice to put those characters in peril in order to push our emotional buttons... But oh wait, you can't actually kill those characters. Who would trade banter with our hero? And in the current trend of shared-universes, wouldn't this shut them out from future stories and crossover events? Best to stick with the tried and true "improbably last-minute rescue." After all, heroes gotta hero.
However, Daredevil truly succeeds on the strength of its characters. Even more than the knowledge that terrible things can happen, it's the show's sharp writing and top-notch performances that give the proceedings real stakes. In the first episode we meet a character whose only role within the show is a blackmail victim turned henchman. And yet in a single well-filmed introductory scene I became emotionally invested in this character's life. In turn, this investment helped build the episode's resolution into something deeply affecting. After the credits rolled I was unsettled. I was shocked. Not because I 'shipped this character or anything like that. Simply because he was human, and given the space and time to behave as such. He was a person, not a means to make the villains look bad/heroes look good (though of course he was that, too). And this depth of characterization extends all throughout the show, from the Kingpin's soulful vulnerability, to the extreme physical, mental, and spiritual toll being Daredevil takes on Matt Murdock.
Now I'm not saying that every hero has to emulate Daredevil to succeed, and I'm certainly not advocating grit n' blood as the only way to do heroes right. I'm a big fan of CW's The Flash for nearly the exact opposite reasons described here; I love that it's goofy, silver-age, sci-fi fun, and were they to try to make it Daredevil-esque I would be among the first to say "please don't do that." But I think we can still learn much from Daredevil's successes, provided we learn the right lessons. And if we do, maybe we'll keep getting amazing entertainment like this years from now.