The Show: Marvel’s Runaways
The Network: Hulu
The Genre: Sci fi/Drama/Superhero
The Challenge: Give a show four episodes with which to draw you in, impress you, challenge you, make you feel something deeply. Four episodes for the chance to find out if you care what happens to the characters you’re watching enough to become invested in the story. If after all that, it does none of those things for you? Then no biggie. You gave it a good shot and you can move on. But if you love it, you’ll be glad you stuck around.
The Premise: Are there two things you can’t imagine mixing together? Like Gossip Girl and a Marvel adaptation? Well–Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage have teamed up to adapt a fun romp through the comic-books.
Focusing on our diverse band of runaways, we zoom in on the lives of Alex (Rhenzy Feliz), Molly (Allegra Acosta), Karolina (Virginia Gardner), Chase (Gregg Sulkin), Gertrude (Ariela Barer) and Nico (Lyrica Okano). These are friends who are tied by their parents’ friendship. And when they discover their parents are part of a villainous group called the Pride, it’s the catalyst for the runaways to turn on them. You’d imagine witnessing your parents decked out in robes performing something akin to a human sacrifice will spur that kind of action, right? Moreover, the teenaged group start to realise they have superpowers, teased cleverly in Hulu’s deliciously satisfying opening sequence. Team Runaways versus Team Pride? It’s on. Runaways also stars Ryan Sands, Angel Parker, James Marsters, Brigid Brannagh, Kevin Weisman, Kip Pardue, Brittany Ishibashi and Annie Wersching.
Marvel’s Runaways’ strong cast of teens combined with the acid-tongued dialogue is great entertainment to compensate for some of the more obvious problems of the narrative.
It’s a beautiful little concept, really. Many teens likely already think their parents are some kind of super-villain. And honestly? The Breakfast Club clichés work.
Individually, these teens would earn a smack on the back of the head for being so irritating. Despite that, as they work together, the charm of watching them forge a family among themselves is heartwarming. It’s the kind of humanity and simple ingenuity that sometimes makes the most superhero of superhero shows so memorable.
There are trademark Schwartz/Savage-isms. One of them is certainly the comfortable setting of the lavishness of the wealthy. The other is the strong capability of writing dialogue that’s delivered so acidly by the talented young cast it’d make a lemon squirm.
Alex: [surrounded by snow] So when you said ‘snow’, you were being literal?
Nico: Did you think my house was having a cocaine malfunction?! Yes!
Superpowers aside, because that storyline trickles more than evolves, the teens exude charisma. They’re watchable even as the script convolutes and tangles itself a little too much. The glacial pace of the show focuses less on surviving their parents and more on surviving high school. In a way, it’s a gentle introduction to this band of teens we know we have to unconditionally root for when the battle ramps up.
As much as we want to invest, sometimes it does feel like Runaways would be better suited as feature-film series. But again, it’s a catch-22. No development results in flat plots, characters and lack of empathy for them. Rushed development results in…well, very much the same. The USP of the Runaways is the clearly deep plot and often confusing dialogue-drops, but it’s also its weakness. That will be an interesting equilibrium to watch balance out as the season goes on.
The diversity of the cast and the perspective of the Pride is refreshing–because frankly, most of the scene-stealers and gripping stories lie with the adults.
Diversity doesn’t just sit with the kids. Despite the boxed stereotypes of each character, it’s refreshing to see that it’s not just some spoilt white teens. Pacing issues crossed with the stupendously convoluted plot don’t offer much development. However, another aspect of the show is the parents.
Runaways would not be in existence if it weren’t for Pride. What has been impressively done in a relatively limited time is place them on a wider spectrum of good or bad. We know this is a supervillain group destined to be the teens’ nemeses. Whereas Marsters’ Victor is superbly cruel, Brannagh and Weisman provide a greyer area to what makes up Pride. And Ishibashi’s calculated, understated cruelty is jaw-droppingly shiver-inducing.
In episode three, Parker and Costa steal the whole show in their tense lie-off when Catherine finds Molly’s hair-clip near the study. It’s the relationships not just between the kids and their parents, but the kids and each other’s parents that provide huge, crossover entertainment.
Lastly, we can’t forget that this is coming from the makers of The O.C. and Gossip Girl. Of course there’s scandalous affairs and hidden secrets and unhappy marriages. What did you expect?
But loading these issues onto our would-be super-villains is essential. Thus far, they’ve proven ten times more entertaining than the kids. Such a huge ensemble is a risk. But if played clever, we’ll be lucky to get a super-villainous organisation that we’re programmed to root against. Yet we still remember as loving parents, too. If that isn’t a tragic juxtaposition to top it off, then we don’t know what is.
Runaways provides a decent middle-ground between the darkness of The Gifted and the snooze-factor of Inhumans. Luring in Schwartz and Savage, the tonal impact on the script is imminent.
In a television world where superhero has suddenly become a synonym for Batman: The Darker Days Than the Very Dark Movies, the tone of Schwartz and Savage’s scripts actually work. It’s far more high school that comic book noir. But actually, that proves itself advantageous. With the pacing of the show, if we jumped straight into the kids and their superpowers (most of whom we still don’t know of yet) the focus centres there. Instead, the creators have taken a step back.
The Runaways deal with every high school dilemma you’ve ever dealt with. Bullying. Social media. High school crushes. Cliquey and jock behaviour. But at the core of this, they’re navigating the already jagged path of high school whilst trying not to live a conspiracy. A conspiracy that inevitably keeps coming back to them. It’s hard to flesh the Runaways out when there’s such a vast ensemble. But in our defining years–our high school years!–Schwartz and Savage make sure our Runaways get the humane development they need. We must empathise with them, before they turn into our superhero group. What is lovely though is that Karolina, the life of the party, shines (we’re not sure what power that exhibits yet, though). Gertrude, compassionate and open, can control a dinosaur. And Molly, the fiercely independent, street-smart kid is crushing it. Literally.
It’s hard to flesh the Runaways out when there’s such a vast ensemble. And also, such welcome focus on the parents, too. But in our defining years–our high school years!–Schwartz and Savage make sure our Runaways get the humane development they need. We must empathise with them, before they turn into our superhero group.
Sure, sometimes it’s borderline melodrama. It’s glossy. Los Angeles. We’re almost waiting for The O.C. cast reunion. But for all the mistakes, fallouts (Gertrude sniping at Karolina, “because having shiny hair gives you moral authority!”) and mishaps, this is a slowly-growing family. And we love misfit families.
“Delightful banter,” Alex says in one of the episodes. It’s grin-inducing, given the situation. How accurate.
Marvel’s Runaways teases and intrigues, but it doesn’t translate well to the non-comic book reader.
The plot, so slow, does provide for some decent backstory and high-school melodrama. However, it’s so thinly stretched out that if it were pastry, it would have flopped already. Runaways tries to remedy it by slipping in some enigmatic Easter eggs and foreshadowing, which would work…
If you had any idea of what was going on.
Yes, you can tell the narrative is one that’s been thoughtfully and meticulously combed over. But it puts Runaways in-between a rock and a hard place. On one hand, time is necessary to flesh out sixteen regular characters. Frankly, though, the narrative is far too elusive and that could be the dealbreaker for some.
Obviously, if you are an avid fan of the comics, this issue is less prominent. But the charm of Marvel on television is that it’s drawing in viewers from all backgrounds. Thus far, Runaways is walking along a tightrope. For some, they’ll quit and understandably demand “what on earth is happening?”
There’s just enough sprinkle of ongoing mystery to keep us pondering and theorising until the next episode. However, with the narrative so purposefully convoluted, and not particularly clever either, it’s challenging to invest in this show. But the show’s cast is compelling enough to keep luring us in for another shot.
And the plot even thickens (yup). So no, we’re not completely sold. The plot drags so slowly that it grows likely the viewer will just try The Defenders or The Gifted. Because there’s a difference being in the dark and it being worth it than being in the dark and still remaining totally confused. Did we miss the full explanation of this Church of Gibborim? Patience is needed to wait for some prognosticatory dialogue to reveal its purpose. But we’re not out just yet.
FINAL VERDICT: Runaways is glossy, acerbic and fresh-faced–but there’s still a distance to throw for this javelin of a show before we’re fully convinced of its superheroism.
Marvel’s Runaways has a contradictory pair of issues. And if you solve one, you ruin the other. Up the pace, and you’ll ruin careful craft. Keep the glacial pace, and you will narrow your audience down to comic-book fans who know what to expect. That’s a huge generalisation to make. But actually, it’s tremendous kudos to Schwartz and Savage for taking a punt. The easy way out would’ve been to fire a rocket of action first, and deal with disaster later. Here, they offer us what may be their comfort zone: some high school melodrama.
The visual components are impressive, too. When Karolina discovers her powers (we’re not sure how to describe this other than fancy rainbow Edward Cullen arms) it’s a glorious shot. Nina Lopez-Corrado’s direction of episode three was a surefire winner. Sweeping cinematography and Rachel Allen’s visual effects luxuriates like Nutella and strawberries. Even Old Lace the dinosaur seems to fit in.
It’s not perfect. Each of the teens is so boxed and stereotyped that their diversity becomes the saving grace. Optimistically, we’ll hope it develops. For a show called the Runaways, they do an awful lack of it, and we’re kind of…on…Team Pride, thus far…
There are overly campy moments, too, like Brittany Ishibashi’s luminous lollipop or the resurrection of The Mummy lying in a pristine suite. Those are the times the over-the-top humour is likely unintentional. But man, it’s difficult to not snicker.
It’s not a must-see. Definitely not. But if you’re feeling a lazy Sunday coming, then have some mimosas and give it a go. And a key is probably a bucket-load of patience, too. We’re hopeful it’ll up the ante. So let’s take a punt and say we think the rest of the season will impress.