Spreading their empire across all the television networks, the latest addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe finds itself on an unexpected streaming service, Hulu. It's an unexpected destination for "Marvel's Runaways," based on a lesser-known 2000s comic book series, considering the success Marvel has had building its roster of shows on Netflix.
But "Runaways" is a very different type of show than "Daredevil," "Jessica Jones" and the rest of "The Defenders." Where those are set in a very dark and dreary iteration of New York City, "Runaways" is bright and sunny Los Angeles on the surface. It's beneath that veneer of sunshine and beach-toned bodies that the darkness lurks.
What makes this show special is that it works on so many levels, more akin to "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" than any other superhero show on television. That's because so much attention is been paid to the teen protagonists as average typical teenagers even before things start to get weird. In the four episodes made available to critics, there are teen parties where bad decisions go on to become worse decisions, bullying in the halls at school, and lots of parental defiance.
The cast assembled to portray the teenagers could easily become this next generation's "Scooby Gang." They even have emerging super powers to help them in their fight against evil. But that part right there is where "Runaways" becomes something truly unique.
All teenagers think their parents are evil, but for these six teens, they have reasons to really think that after they uncover some very cult-like behavior and what may or may not be ritual sacrifice. From there, the race is on to uncover what's really been going on their whole lives and who they can trust.
The backstory for the kids is important, too, and helps to explain why they're so disparate socially. Teens don't generally cross social boundaries, so establishing that these six became friends as small children because their parents were part of this PRIDE organization helps to explain that away. The bulk of the first episode is about establishing their new social identities and having them learn how to set those aside to come together as they used to.
There is also a death that helped cement the natural drifting apart that occurs between friends as adolescence changes their focuses. But that death becomes tied into the central arc of the series as well ... or at least, it maybe does. So far, everything matters which is making this one of those cult-potential shows that could see devoted followers keeping detailed notes as the mysteries unfurl.
"Runaways" is doing a great job of keeping those mysteries close to its vest, sowing seeds of distrust and fear everywhere. If you can't trust your own family, who can you turn to? And what if your families are among the most powerful and influential families in the city. Tough spot to be in, huh?
The kids are admittedly well-established teen tropes at this point. There's the quiet nerd (Rhenzy Felix's Alex), the goth chick (Lyrica Okana's Nico), the virginal religious girl (Virginia Gardner's Karolina), the smart-ass misfit (Ariela Barer's Gert), the jock (Gregg Sukin's Chase), and the quiet girl (Allegra Acosta's Molly).
But like "The Breakfast Club," it allows a gateway character into the group for any type of fan. Cliche? Yes. But it still manages to work, and that's primarily because it's not just about the kids.
This cast is absolutely huge, and yet things are balanced in such a way that it still works smoothly. For all the work put in by series creators Josh Schwartz ("Gossip Girl," "Chuck") and Stephanie Savage ("Gossip Girl," "The O.C.") on the teens, a lot of that character work had been done for them in the original comic series by Brian K. Vaughan and Adrian Alphona.
Where Schwartz and Savage upped the ante was with the parents. The comic book kept our attention focused almost exclusively on the kids, as they investigated their parents and PRIDE to figure out what had been going on under their noses their whole lives.
Schwartz and Savage opened up a whole new world of intrigue and suspense by fleshing out five sets of parents -- Molly's parents died tragically and she became Gert's adopted sister -- on top of all six kids. That's sixteen principal cast members right out of the gate, and yet it's written in such a way that we never felt lost or overwhelmed.
As great as the kids are together, some of the parents are absolutely stealing the show, principally the chilly performance of Brittany Ishibashi as Nico's mother Tina, James Marsters as Chase's father Victor, and Annie Werschling in a beautifully terrifying performance as Karolina's mother Leslie. Her story brings with it a sinister new religion based on the writings of her father that's seen the same kind of criticism as the Church of Scientology, which adds yet another layer of mystery to everything.
Each couple and each parent in that couple is fully realized and different in their personalities and motivations, complete with years of history and strife between them. These ten people have been united by a ritual that may go back fifteen years, but that doesn't necessarily mean they would otherwise be friends, and that tension fuels a lot of their interactions. If you thought teenagers had a hard time setting aside their differences to get along, these "Runaways" have nothing on their parents.
The whole project has come together flawlessly to create a sprawling thing of beauty that could only be told on television, and a true high watermark for Marvel in both ambition and execution. While "The Walking Dead" is busy splitting up its massive cast each episode so we only follow a few of them each week, "Runaways" defies us to turn away from all sixteen characters with sixteen different motivations in each and every episode as they begin to turn on one another in their search for answers, the truth, and maybe even escape.
"Marvel's Runaways" has a big story to tell and a lot of questions to answer, but we're in absolutely no hurry to get there. Every hour we've seen so far has been riveting from beginning to end. The cast all the way down to 14-year-old Acosta is chewing up scenery in all the best ways. This is what entertaining television is supposed to be. The only drawback to dropping on Hulu instead of Netflix is you're only going to get one episode a week, instead of the full 10.
The series premiere of "Marvel's Runaways" hits Hulu on Tuesday.