The Many Lives of Painkiller Jane

Painkiller Jane - Tougher than Sweating BulletsWhen I asked a pair of avid readers of graphic novels, anime and comic books how much they knew about Painkiller Jane, both had to pause for a moment before recalling the character’s appearance in a Punisher issue they’d read a while back, but that’s where their familiarity ended.

To some, she’s a minor footnote character who’s crossed over into a handful of series, whereas others might regard the rebellious, roguish, self-healing vigilante babe as an underused, neglected anti-heroine deserving a bigger spotlight after going through two re-imaginings on the Sci-Fi Channel, each differing significantly from the other, as well as Jimmy Palmiotti and Joe Quesada’s original conception.

First came the 2005 TV movie with Emmanuelle Vaugier, which served as a pilot for an unrealized TV series. When the full-season show was finally realized, it began to air in April of 2007, with Kristanna Loken as Painkiller Jane. 22 episodes later, the series wasn’t renewed for a second season, and the reaction to the show was more than mixed.

A few websites have reviewed the new Anchor Bay/Starz Home Entertainment boxed set and cited some common and achingly obvious flaws that upset fans as well as those willing to stick with the series for its full season, but I think the set actually offers more than another failed series.

There are boxed sets of full seasons of cancelled shows that are outstanding, if not unique examples of television writing, directing, and construction; and there’s also mundane, predictable, uber-formulaic crap released by labels that truly boggles the mind as why seasons of singularly generic shows like Hardcastle and McCormick, Riptide, or Street Justice must exist on DVD when far better shows languish in storage.

(‘Crap’ is used most subjectively here, and without any apologies. One person’s cult favourite is another’s rabbit rubbish, and there’s no doubt some of my own favourites can emit a noxious odor if left outside in the sun. I will stand by my position in branding Street Justice as outright crap because mixers at the audio post-production house involved with the production once described how whole lines of dialogue were often re-looped to cover up mouthfuls of incoherent plot twists in what was and shall forever be another bad local show branded with an international face, made purely for the export market.)

Painkiller Jane isn’t art nor the apex of small screen creativity; it’s not very good, and some might argue its massive flaws make it a painful (whoops) endeavor in no uncertain terms.

Here’s a slightly different take (and one we’ll apply to planned examinations of the wretched Bionic Woman and supremely banal Private Practice series): without getting too snooty, we’ve written up respective comparison reviews between the 2005 pilot and the 2007 TV series, with nods to the basic elements in the comic book, to address changes each team of writers thought would work to make the character more mainstream, more accessible, and less controversial to the average TV viewer.

Fans would rightly argue that the only way to be faithful to a character is to be faithful (duh), and expand on the themes and those intriguing gray areas that work for the character. But if the heroine is too violent, too selfish, too sexual, and maintains an existence that seems to wallow in the social detritus of sadistic crooks, how can one take a sordid, underwritten character, and construct a successful series using the most potent qualities within the framework of a recognizable format?

Painkiller Jane could work as a powerful one-off theatrical film, but fans know what happens when bad directors and hack writers take a concept and murder it with their own arrogance, deciding what works better than what a characters’ creators envisioned.

So check out our long and windy review of the 2007 series (Anchor Bay/Starz) and the 2005 pilot/TV movie (currently unavailable on DVD). It’s easy to cite flaws in a port-mortem, but sometimes it takes the death of another show to remind producers that a series needs a consistent vision with its own bible of character dos, don’ts, and story arcs.

Who knows – Maybe someone’s actually listening.

Coming next: two occult thrillers – The Possession of Joel Delaney from Legend, and Borderland (2008) from Maple/Lionsgate.

And imminent: the cinema of Olivier Smolders, Belgium’s poetic David Lynch.


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