TV Review: Jett
Carla Gugino Dazzles in the Fun and Twisty Jett
While HBO and Netflix are currently hogging the premium cable and streaming spotlights, Cinemax (itself an HBO spin-off) has been operating in the background, churning out respectable entertainment right under everyone’s noses. In addition to its thrilling Bruce Lee passion project, Warrior, Cinemax has crafted yet another winner with its twisty neo-noir crime drama, Jett. Minor spoilers ahead...
As an actress, Carla Gugino has always flown under the radar - she’s never been a household name, but perhaps she should be. A steady presence on both the small and big screens for over three decades, Gugino has had a storied career portraying complex female characters. I first took notice of her in the short-lived 2003 television series, Karen Sisco, playing the eponymous role based on the written works of Elmore Leonard (Jennifer Lopez had previously played the character in the 1998’s feature film Out of Sight). Despite being well-received, Karen Sisco lasted only seven episodes before being canceled, but Gugino took to both the character and the pulp fiction world with a steely verve. Since then, the actress has been making her way through genre canon, partnering most notably with directors such as Robert Rodriguez and Zack Snyder. The last couple of years have also seen some of her best work alongside horror maestro Mike Flanagan, starring in two of Netflix’s greatest recent hits with the director in Gerald’s Game and The Haunting of Hill House. And now, with Cinemax’s Jett, Carla Gugino seems to have found a cozy home back in pulp noir, headlining a crime thriller worthy of her talents.
“Jett is crime drama at its most fun, offering a labyrinthine narrative and a whole bevy of seedy characters to fill out its ranks.”
Jett is crime drama at its most fun, offering a labyrinthine narrative and a whole bevy of seedy characters to fill out its ranks. Gugino stars as Daisy “Jett” Kowalski, a former master thief and single mom fresh out of prison, drawn into “one last job.” The setup may be one we’ve all seen a million times before, but Jett pulls it off squarely on Gugino’s shoulders - walking a thin line between stoic bad-assery and on-demand charisma, it’s easy to buy whatever she’s selling. Jett is very good at what she does, and her situation is typically exacerbated by her looks: the criminal element is enamored by both her company as well as her efficacy as a thief. Created by writer and producer Sebastian Gutierrez (Snakes on a Plane, Elektra Luxx), Jett is a complicated beast that juggles a variety of moving parts. Tarantino-esque in the way it plays with time and shifting allegiances, the show is also bolstered by a strong supporting cast. Giancarlo Esposito slips back into the crime lord role that worked so well for him on Breaking Bad, playing local underboss Charlie Baudalaire as a much more chill Gus Fring. Tasked by Baudalaire to steal a ring from the Havana home of rival Milan Bestic (Greg Bryk), Jett sets off a series of unfortunate events that tangles her even further in the criminal underworld. Throw in the cops, Charlie’s loose-cannon son (Gentry White), and Daisy’s mysterious companion that everyone mistakes for her housekeeper (Elena Ayana), and you have one hell of a shady web to unravel.
There is no doubt that Jett has a talented and colorful cast to round out its narrative, but the show still fires the most cylinders with Gugino on screen. It’s no surprise that things tend to slacken a bit whenever Jett isn’t center stage, a flaw amplified by the supporting cast’s verbosity as opposed to our anti-heroine’s calm and collected cool. Creator Sebastian Gutierrez is clearly a talented writer and showrunner, but at times his dialogue veers on the wrong side of trying-too-hard - namely with tête-à-têtes that are clearly signs of affection for pulpy noir, but just come across as a little silly. In one of the episodes, a dying man who winds up on Jett’s bad side gets into it with her one last time. “What does your pussy taste like?” He asks. “Summer,” Jett quietly replies. The show doesn’t always land its noir homages, but luckily, Jett also has cinematographer Cale Finot (Elektra Luxx, Hotel Noir) in its corner. Finot may not have a particularly deep resumé, but his photography is unparalleled and a perfect fit for the genre; there is a confidence in his camerawork that impeccably supplements Gugino’s performance, and paired together with its neon-tinged color grading and playful split-screens, Jett is a visual feast.
In the end, Jett is the perfect summer show: a simple pleasure that is complex in scope, but easy to digest. Carla Gugino fits into the noir world seamlessly, buoying a solid series with an instantly memorable performance. Cinemax is a network that has come a long way - a premium cable channel that used to be the butt of endless “Skinemax” jokes, it has since graduated to putting out immensely likable shows of the high-octane variety, and Jett is one unlikely to break the streak. And while the show is sure to scratch that crime caper itch for many, I, for one, am just glad that Carla Gugino is back on the small screen.