Alibi V.27 No.24 • June 14-20, 2018

Idiot Box

The Kids are Alright

“Marvel’s Cloak & Dagger” on Freeform

One of the surprising superpowers Marvel has demonstrated is the ability to translate its more obscure comic book properties into television and movies (Guardians of the Galaxy, Ant-Man, “Jessica Jones”). Adding to that impressive list of underdogs-done-good is Freeform’s teen-oriented superhero drama “Marvel’s Cloak & Dagger.”

“Marvel’s Cloak & Dagger” wastes little time dispensing with our traditional superhero origin story. Action is shifted from Chicago in the original comic book to colorful (and cheap to shoot in) New Orleans. Before the opening credits unspool, an auto burglary, a police shooting, a cell-phone-and-driving incident, a car crash and an explosion on an experimental oil platform all come miraculously together to give little Tyrone and young Tandy complementary superpowers. (He can control darkness; she can shoot daggers made of light.) Years later, Tyrone’s a shell-shocked upper middle-class high schooler with poor impulse control and Tandy’s a near-homeless wild-child drugging and robbing dumb rich boys at clubs. The two confused kids cross paths for the second time in their lives at a party, and their respective worlds are upended.

In flipping around the more stereotypical elements of the original comic, “Marvel’s Cloak & Dagger” emerges as something a little grittier and a little more believable. In the original story, for example, Tyrone—being black—was an inner city street kid, and Tandy—being white—was a wealthy suburban girl. Plus, the entire story was predicated on superpowered crack cocaine. Hey, it was the ’80s. Transposing the economic situations of our two protagonists doesn’t result in any wildly different narrative, but it speaks to a certain sensitivity on the part of the show’s producers. That sensitivity translates into much more backstory and drama for our main characters. The result is as more hard-hitting teen drama than action-oriented superhero series.

Stars Olivia Holt (From Disney XD’s “Kickin’ It”) and Aubrey Joseph (from HBO’s “The Night Of”) seem up to the task, projecting a certain vulnerability amid their newfound strength. The pilot introduces its main “villain” in the form of evil energy corporation Roxxon (a Marvel standby that has appeared in several of the Iron Man movies as well as “Peggy Carter” and “Daredevil”). But it’s relegated mostly to background menace. There aren’t a lot of expensive, Avengers-style CGI fight scenes here—just Tandy and Tyrone trying to figure out their powers, their relationship and the truth behind their intertwined tragedies.

Clearly—given Freeform’s “teenagers and young adults” demographic—this show is aimed at younger audiences. The plot takes a number of shortcuts, the dialogue is simple and the characters still retain a few clichés. No surprise, then that it lacks the grim, visceral impact of Netflix’s “Daredevil” or “The Punisher.” Still, Freeform (owned, as it is, by Disney-ABC) doesn’t shy away from serious topics like teen sex, divorce, death, drugs, rape, etc.—all of which come into play in this series. Though it may not hold lasting appeal to the adults in the audience, “Marvel’s Cloak & Dagger” is a strong entry point for teenage comic book fans who have outgrown animated adaptations and are ready for something more PG-13.

“Marvel’s Cloak & Dagger” airs Thursdays at 6pm on Freeform.