Violently Stylish – Reviewing Cinemax’s New Crime Drama, JETT

Cinemax’s latest offering is JETT, a stylized dramatic crime series. Written and directed by Sebastian Gutierrez, JETT stars Carla Gugino as the titular thief, Daisy “Jett” Kowalski. Attempting (and ultimately failing) to put her life of crime behind her, she can’t help but get roped in by the allure of many criminal enterprises. Having watched the first five episodes, I can safely say that this is an exemplar of Cinemax’s lineup: stylized, sexy, with just enough violence to make you ask some hard questions.

We’ll get to that later. For now, JETT is a series constantly asking for your attention. The nonlinear narrative bounces between a wide cast of characters who all ultimately orbit Jett in some way. Vulgar dialog, its attractive set pieces, and even more attractive cast (composed of equal opportunity fanservice and fan-disservice for everyone) provide additional flavoring. All of these elements contribute to the noir-esque venture into the life of an antihero without the need for qualification.

Carla Gugino is the centerpiece of this show. Her presence on camera is always notable. There are times where she commands the entire scene with flair and finesse, managing to seduce the latest mark (and by proxy, the audience) with a sultry voice. Conversely, there are times where she is just trying to figure out how to exist as a single mother in a very unconventional family lifestyle. Gugino’s focused charisma carries the series, making her immediately believable that she is the criminal mastermind that everyone says she is.

Jett cements her credibility and wit through interactions with characters like Charlie Baudelaire (Giancarlo Esposito of Breaking Bad fame), the crime lord who seduces back to the life, and Evans (Gil Bellows), her handler after a series of strange encounters. Her time spent with Maria (Elena Anaya), an ill woman who helps Jett with her daughter Alice, and Phoenix (Gaite Jansen), a fellow inmate at Jett’s prison, show cracks in her cold façade. Jett’s empathy is limited to a small collection of people. Everyone else gets her no-holds-barred, no-nonsense persona.

While the audience spends most of the time aligned with Jett, Gutierrez makes sure to rotate through pairings of characters. It is in these small vignettes that the world of JETT gets textured. The characters who provide the ‘muscle’ banter about their sex lives. The cops investigate the Baudelaire family. A housewife who keeps getting affected by the events of the story in weird, unexpected ways. The grand scheme of the story is epic, although sometimes a little too lofty.

JETT is at its best when it gets to be a darkly playful story. When Carla Gugino gets to flourish is flaunting her mastermind skills in the heist of the week. The larger machinations at play in the overall arc is a bit hard to fully appreciate, especially in opening episodes. By episode four and five, a much more established rhythm and more information is clarified as the narrative threads laid out before come together in interesting ways. Sometimes there’s just a lot going in the past that’s effecting the future. Such is the danger of the genre.

JETT is a violent story. I feel like I have to stress this, as its particular brand of violence sometimes cut a little deep. The run and guns aren’t really the problem, but there are a number of trigger/content warnings I feel the need to inform you of. There’s sexual assault (attempted as well as outright). There is (to my interpretation) one joke that uses an ableist slur, and another that is slightly transphobic. These things happen infrequently, but they still happen. Parts of this do come from the history of the genre. The show seems aware of this — after all, Jett is probably the premiere example of a femme fatale in recent memory. These issues, however, are something that should be noted because it means that JETT is not going to be for everyone.

For those who can stomach it, JETT does do a lot of interesting things from a storytelling perspective. Plot and writing aside, the production of the series is incredible. The music and sound mixing is masterful, the camerawork is superb, and the color palette of the series is saturated and striking. Gutierrez’s direction demonstrates a precise vision that manages to lure the viewer.

I like JETT. I think Carla Gugino’s strengths as an actress are in full display here, and I think there is a solid foundation that makes it an interesting addition to Cinemax’s programming. I have the slightest misgivings about Gutierrez’s dialogue choices, but I also am in awe of his direction. JETT has filled a very interesting niche. It is a violently stylish (and stylishly violent) series centering an alluring female anti-hero in a rift of the film noir of yesteryear, but I don’t think it’s going to be for everyone even though I definitely can’t wait for the full first season.

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