This article previously appeared on Crossfader.
In this Crossfader series, our intricate and complex rating system will tell you definitively whether new television pilots are worth your valuable time. We call it: HIT OR SH**.
I’ll admit right off the bat that I don’t have any blazing hot takes on Marvel, the MCU, or its oppressive death grip on popular culture. The admittedly small amount of Marvel films I’ve found myself attending have all been fine, the last one I found even somewhat innovative or interesting was the low-key, unassuming heist romp of ANT-MAN, I don’t much like DEADPOOL . . . I’m no Joseph or Sergio, and that’s all I really got as far as opinions go. But I certainly have no qualms about expressing how exhausting I find the constant onslaught of waves and cycles, world-building to ever more exclusionary heights, made all the more overblown and silly by the television series regularly popping up as of late. The Netflix originals are tiring enough, we really need network outliers too? I don’t doubt that people, maybe even a majority, see virtually all of the films Marvel pumps out, but I weep for the fanboy religiously following along on the small screen as well. All of this is to say that I was expecting to be thoroughly disappointed by RUNAWAYS, a Hulu original focusing on a C-to-D-level group of teenage superheroes that the layman couldn’t even pretend to have heard of. But y’know, this being my first ever Marvel TV show (yes, really), I must say that there may be something here worth sticking around for.
The aforementioned C-to-D-level group of teenage superheroes that the layman couldn’t even pretend to have heard of are a group of high school misfits that have drifted apart despite the fact they all grew up as close childhood friends. Alex Wilder (Rhenzy Feliz) is a S A D B O Y nerd that dreams of reuniting the ol’ gang, Nico Minoru (Lyrica Okano) is a sullen goth dealing with the death of her sister and the subsequent withdrawal of her mother, Karolina Dean (Viriginia Gardener) is the daughter of a cult-like church lead and dreams of rebellion, Gert Yorkes (Ariela Barer) is a woke punk rawker drumming up activism at the school, Chase Stein (Gregg Sulkin) does his best to keep his supergenius from his flashy new football pals, and Molly Hernandez (Allegra Acosta) is the runt of the litter, Gert’s adopted younger sister. Begrudgingly answering Alex’s requests for a rose-tinted game night like they used to have in the Good Old Days, the teens find themselves at the Wilder mansion. A bout of innocent exploring leads them to uncover a secret sanctum, one where they are shocked to find their parents in the midst of ostensibly sacrificing a young girl as a ritual pertaining to the group they’re members of, the Pride. From there on they must come to terms with their lives and their newfound powers that begin manifesting as they process and explore the apparent evil nature of those who raised them.
Probably more interesting than just getting grounded, I guess
Aspects of the premise are certainly familiar (a big yawn to setting high school and puberty as the stage by which teenagers will discover their latent powers), and it’s not exactly reinventing the wheel to have your layer of sub-conflict be a group of old friends reuniting and overcoming recent differences, but RUNAWAYS does feature an inherently intriguing tension of discovering that your family, the people you’re supposed to be able to fall back and rely on when you’re in need of comfort and safety, are bad, possibly even horrible people. That’s a traumatic consideration for any young adult to realize or consider, especially if it’s likely that the both of you are imbued with powers not of this world. However, RUNAWAYS also does a commendable job of making the parents seem like well-realized characters, perhaps even more so than the younger members of their brood. Tina (Brittany Ishibashi) and Robert Minoru (James Yaegashi) have a handful of quietly brooding scenes where it’s clear that their marriage will never recover from the death of Nico’s sister, Janet (Ever Carradine) lives in fear of the vengeful wrath of her husband, Victor (James Marsters), and Geoffrey Wilder (Ryan Sands) has to constantly negotiate his past as a member of a violent gang with his newfound wealth and place in high society. The scenes of humanity we see between the parents juxtapose nicely with their children’s increasingly ominous inquiries into Pride, and it’s easily RUNAWAYS’ strongest calling card.
But, to be clear, there is still a notable amount of this show that is bad. The acting, somewhat surprisingly, is acceptable across the board; the dialogue writing, however, cannot be said to uphold a similar banner. The opening of the series is perhaps the most laughable example of such, when a young vagabond is picked up by the aforementioned church cult that Leslie Dean (Annie Wersching) runs, but there are regular clunkers throughout, especially coming from the forced attempts at humor handled by Stacey (Brigid Brannagh) and Dale Yorkes (Kevin Weisman), the parents to Gert and Molly. “Lovable” geeks with a penchant for over-sharing, you can tell some aloof 30-something writer with a past in family comedies was very pleased with themselves, all the more so when Dale tries speaking Spanish. Unfortunately, while Geoffrey’s inner turmoil rings true, things also tend towards cringe-worthy when the ghosts of his past show up. In my definitive favorite moment of the show, an old gang rival rolls up with maybe five dudes, only two of which have clearly fake looking guns, to take over a construction site that Geoffrey owns, blasting conscious hip hop about racial conflict all the while. It’s truly An Event that needs to be appreciated.
In addition, while I can’t pretend that I’m versed via means other than a standard Wikipedia search, the universe of RUNAWAYS is really, really weird. The Pride, although we haven’t been introduced to them in this capacity, are gatekeepers and guardians of an ancient alien race who have agreed to spare them when they annihilate humanity as thanks for their service, there’s weird, witchy stuff and spells going on with Nico and Tina, and we’re introduced to a telepathic dinosaur at the end of the “pilot” run of the first three episodes. It’s clearly a property that takes itself less seriously than the heavy bruisers of the MCU, and the lighter tone currently allows for these things to happen somewhat in stride, but I’m not sure whether to be worried or relieved that after three hours spent with the show, it still hasn’t been revealed exactly what’s going on considering all that it’s obligated to cover.
Topped off with a diversity that feels realistic and natural (except perhaps when the show insists the Minoru clan aggressively pronounce Japanese food items), especially considering the fact that the main group of kids only features one white dude, who Most Certainly Sucks, RUNAWAYS might deserve a chance to find its footing. These more obscure Marvel properties are a hard sell to anyone not deep in the fandom, and it’s not like I’m going to return home for the holidays demanding all of my high school friends boot it up and dive in. But it’s much more competent than I envisioned, and if it can manage to keep itself cartoon-like enough to juggle its more outlandish elements and focus on strong character work, it might be a quiet but no-less-deserved success.
Verdict: Sh** Probation
New episodes of RUNAWAYS appear on Hulu on Mondays