I watched it! The whole thing! It was very stressful. Boys, driving tests, making college decisions, BLECH! And if that wasn’t enough, disappointing your parents the WORST THING EVER. But yes, a great show, an easy watch, and lots of fun easter eggs for Hindi film fans.
I spent last summer binging the first 10 volumes of the Ms Marvel book series, so I am going to be that irritating person who says “well, in the comics they….” I’ll just get it out of the way now.
The biggest difference is the powers, both the actual powers and their origin. In the comics, there is this toxic sludge that lands on Kamala and then she can suddenly grow herself to enormous size, or just a part of herself (like a huge punching fist). Later she realizes the sludge was just helping to activate latent powers because she is part alien “Inhuman” race. In the show, the powers are activated by a bangle from her grandmother and later she learns she is part of a “Djinn” race from another dimension. And her powers are beams of hardened light, not growing and shrinking.
This all makes sense from a comic book versus movie perspective. The images of her at huge size in the comics are way fun and way artistic. But it would be hard to do that on a TV show budget without it just looking wacky. While the hardened lights are fun and simple and easy to follow onscreen. At the very end she does learn how to “embiggen” using the hardened light, but it’s still not quite the same. And the “Inhuman” race isn’t as fully established outside of the comics, so it’s simpler to invent this Djinn dimension thing. And the bangle makes a tidy clue to a mystery of her heritage since that is what they want to investigate.
Now, bigger choices in book versus show! The book series really is wonderful for how it balances humanism and growing up and the immigrant experience and the Muslim experience with superhero stuff. We get to see Kamala’s brother meet and court his wife, see Kamala and Bruno babysit once they have a child, all of this Life stuff is mixed in organically instead of kept separate from our Lone SuperHero. There’s also a lot of messy teenage growing up that happens in the books, and usually the answer comes from a teacher or similar elder. And it has storylines about wrongful state control, corrupt gentrifying politicians, lots of small level stories for a midsize city like Jersey City. The show decided to focus very very hard on the “origin story” aspects. We get to go back in history and learn about Pakistan and partition, and blah blah blah, and not nearly as much Jersey City as I would have liked. Or “hard moral choices as part of growing up”.
I watched the show in two phases, but I think the first two episodes would have stood apart from the rest anyway. We are getting to know Kamala, her family, her community, there are a lot of little small things that make you care about all of them, and then suddenly we shift into high gear and we have to learn about her backstory and then go to Kerachi for two episodes and I sort of lose track of the warm gentle feeling of the beginning. I guess you have to have Big Conflict at some point, but I wish it was more balanced, more lightness in the Big episodes, and more depth in the early ones.
Also, I don’t think they really got their main central point across. Scratch that, they didn’t know what it was. I’ve seen almost all the Marvel TV series, and the good ones have a simple one sentence theme. WandaVision, it’s about grief. The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, it’s about power corrupting. This show is about some sort of loose finding your own identity something or other.
The biggest problem character for me is Kamran. I was pumped to see him at first, because his book equivalent is a GREAT character moment for Kamala when she learns not to trust her surface feelings but to listen to her gut. He encourages her to break rules that she doesn’t like breaking and then it switches to telling her “I know what is best for you, just listen to me and ignore your own feelings”. She comes out of it broken because she let herself down by trusting him, and waited too long to follow her sense that something wasn’t right. Plus, there’s this “you are a good girl, you will listen to me” vibe that she just blows right through because her parents taught her to respect her own morals and always follow them, not just obey some boy.
This Kamran though, he’s some super hot dude who really is into her and also is tormented? I didn’t want her to turn on him, it was sort of an interesting twist to find the essential decency within him, but a storyline I wanted to be about Kamala finding her own way turns into Kamala and Kamran finding their own ways, blech!
Other things that bothered me, what is with the “Djinn’s are essentially bad but can choose to be good” thing? Nakia even calls it out earlier with the “Good Muslims protect us from Bad Muslims” binary. Only now we have it with Djinns. Could very well be just an accident of plotting, lots of shows place a similarly powered villain against the hero, but I don’t like it. Especially when in the book her weird immigrant community of powers was entirely harmless, the one slight blip being Book Kamran who was quickly defeated.
Beyond the book-versus-show issues, in general it felt like a bit too much worldbuilding for just 6 episodes. If this is just 6 episodes, that was a flaw, no need to bring in the whole red scarf group and tease the Zoe-Nakia storyline (SPOILERS Zoe gets increasingly less vapid and popular girl and increasingly part of their outsider crowd, and finally tells Nakia that she has been in love with her for ages and knows she doesn’t feel the same way but just had to say something END SPOILERS), plus the message of the overly powerful police state, and all that junk. And is Kamran really gonna be just “good” now? He’s not gonna come back worse than ever?
But if they are considering spinning this out to multiple seasons, excellent! So much high school drama to explore, so many great Evil Villain plots (seriously, gentrifying supervillains, it’s the BEST), and so much family drama as well as they continue to all love each other in a tiny little Jersey City house.
Now, the stuff we all care about. Music first! It was 100% Hindi film songs, until they got to the Karachi section and then there were some old songs I vaguely recognized from later remixes which I am pretty sure are Pakistani in origin. Perfectly accurate, a Pakistani-American family would be playing and singing those songs. There was also the lovely little bonding over Shahrukh between Kamran and Kamala, which is also perfect for today’s teens for whom Shahrukh is a nostalgic childhood figure (I’m so OLD!). And then, of course, tiny tiny Farhan shows up.
Seriously, THIS is what he is doing instead of Don 3? The whole time he was onscreen I kept thinking “you aren’t going to tell her the full story, are you?” And then he died before he could finish because OF COURSE HE DID! It’s FARHAN! He never finishes his stories! Ugh. I mean, good job in the role and all that, but really? Don’t you have a super successful production house to run and lots of other more important things to do?
And then Fawad. Ah, Fawad. I googled and the Aisha and Najma actresses are also big names in Pakistan in TV and film, that whole crowd was excellent. But Fawad just sold it entirely as this sweet wise brave man who wins Aisha over with his sweetness. He is everything that is best about being human, no wonder she just wants a happy human life with him. I was a little upset about the whole “last train to Karachi” triteness of how it ended, not everything has to be about Partition all the time like it is the one thing Americans know about the country, but overall it was lovely.
It is a teen girl show, but it feels a bit pandering to have THREE cute smart brave interesting dudes in love with Kamala, I could do without all that romance tossed in instead of more friendship. Oh, and they filmed in Atlanta instead of Jersey City, mostly. But now I am getting into nitpicking
Overall, I highly HIGHLY recommend it. It’s just a gorgeous show in how it is shot, every performance is tremendous, it will resonate with the DCIB community who think about desi Diaspora issues all the time, and it is overall moral and just in a way I appreciate it.
Oh, bonus offer, let me know in the comments if you need more book spoilers on how the love stories play out.