Review: Hulu’s Runaways Is the Compulsively Watchable Teen Drama of the Marvel TV Universe

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I’ve seen the first four episodes of Marvel and Hulu’s Runaways series. As the episodes air and you all have a chance to watch, I’ll definitely be posting a more in-depth discussion about some of the bigger changes they made from the comics, and how I think those’ll affect the storyline going forward. But for now, I wanted to post a relatively spoiler-free review of the first four episodes. This piece gets a touch spoiler-y, in that it mentions a few of the changes they made to the characters’ backgrounds, but I won’t go into any of the plot points.

Marvel and Hulu’s Runaways follows six wealthy Los Angeles kids who discover that their accomplished parents are using a charity foundation called PRIDE to hide a terrible, murderous secret. The cast of kids is quite diverse, and while each initially appears to fit a teen-movie stereotype, the show slowly reveals their nuances and layers.

  • Alex Wilder (Rhenzy Feliz) is the brainy nerd of the group who brings them all back together, providing both strategy and niche pop culture references
  • Nico Minoru (Lyrica Okano) is her Goth sorceress self from the comics, but with a new motivation this time around: her sister Amy has recently died
  • Gert Yorkes (Ariela Barer) is the purple-haired SJW of the team, starting school clubs to bring down the patriarchy and helping Chase with his Spanish homework
  • Karolina Dean (Virginia Gardner) starts out as the “perfect little church girl” for her mother’s Church of Gibborim, a Scientology analogue based around light and meditation
  • Molly Hayes has been changed to Molly Hernandez (Allegra Acosta); she’s still the youngest and most innocent member of the group. Both of her parents died ten years ago, so Gert’s parents adopted her.
  • Chase Stein (Gregg Sulkin) is the jock engineer with a chilly, abusive father (played by Buffy‘s James Marsters)

You can definitely feel the influence of the show’s producers here. Runaways is produced by Stephanie Savage and Josh Schwartz, the minds behind The OC and Gossip Girl, and their penchant for melodrama, intrigue, and beautiful people in beautiful houses is all over the series. The parents in particular are perfectly coiffed and stylishly dressed, and the cinematography delights in airy shots of the families’ gorgeous, brightly lit mini-mansions. (In short, this is not a show which looks too closely at class.)

The plotting is also frothier and more drawn out than the source material, extending and expanding the mystery of what exactly these parents are up. While the comic jumps pretty quickly into the “running away” portion of Runaways, the show takes a lot longer, giving the writers plenty of time to establish relationships between the teens and their parents – and leaving even viewers who’ve read the comics (such as myself) with plenty of questions from episode to episode.

(Fear not, Old Lace fans: we do get to see plenty of her, but it takes a few episodes, so just hold tight. Kaila chatted with the cast about their Old Lace love at NYCC if you need more dinosaur.)

The parents have especially been expanded upon. There are affairs and career struggles, intrigues with hidden funds, and a mysterious new school project. (Indeed, all of them get surprisingly rounded out except for poor Tina Minoru, who has so far been irritatingly confined to the “chilly Asian lady who nobody loves” stereotype. I really want the show to give her an ally in future episodes, because it’s a noticeable omission—and one that plays into harmful garbage.)

All of this focus on the parents is a curious choice, given that they’re the villains of the piece, so I’m interested to see what the show will reveal as PRIDE’s final motivation. By episode four, we’re still not sure what their end game is, but the show is working to build our attachment to and sympathy for them.

With one notable exception, which I won’t spoil but will certainly discuss in the future, the teenagers’ interactions are grounded, earnest, and engaging. The young actors all do an excellent job with the material, and they really embody their characters. Runaways was always, on one level, about the angst and pain of growing up, and the way that having each other can make that process easier. The show still captures that heart when it’s dealing with its six main characters, and there’s a lot of genuine tenderness and sadness to their scenes. Gert is adorably and sometimes ineptly caring to her adopted younger sister, Molly; Alex gets Nico to open up; the others inspire and goad Karolina to rebel a bit.

All in all, Marvel and Hulu’s Runaways is an addictive watch, but it’s very much an adaptation. I personally love a touch of trash TV, so the combination of the parents’ Gossip Girl-esque storylines, the teens’ more grounded struggles, and the superhero mysteries was just delightful for me: dinner, dessert, and a bag of Cheetos all in one. But if you really hate The OC and Gossip Girl, those elements of the production will likely annoy you—particularly since they’re applied to the parents.

This far into its first season, Runaways has impressed me with its wonderful cocktail of earnestness, melodrama, and mystery, and I can’t wait to see the rest of it. My final opinion on the series will definitely depend on what comes next – but so far, it’s freshening up the feel of TV superheroics much like the original series did for the feel of early 2000s comics.

Marvel’s Runaways premieres on Hulu on November 21.

(Featured image via Hulu and Marvel)

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