Welcome to our coverage of Cloak & Dagger! Freeform’s second televisual entry into the Marvel Cinematic Universe combines soap opera, Shameless and superheroics, a combination that…mostly works. This week I’m going to take a first stab at the show’s double-bill premiere, which introduces us to troubled teen metahumans Ty and Tandy, and a middle-aged screenwriter’s view on emojis.
1. A woker Cloak & Dagger
First things first: thank the maker they deviated from the source material! Where Freeform’s Runaways series is a fairly faithful adaptation of the comics, Cloak & Dagger showrunner Joe Pokaski wisely changes a lot about the characters and their origin story. Most significantly, he flips the script on the problematic characterisation of Ty as a poor black kid from the ghetto teaming up with rich white girl Tandy after he tries to rob her.
Instead the show jettisons those bad optics and swaps the pair’s backgrounds. Here it’s Tandy who’s a homeless teenage runaway who barely scrapes a living from robbing idiot rich boys, while Tyrone lives a relatively privileged life. It’s a subtle-yet-important twist that not only avoids uncomfortable stereotypes, but also provides more inventive avenues for drama further down the line.
2. Hey, that oil truck seems familiar…
Another wise move was throwing out the original source of the pair’s powers — the side-effect of experimental drugs pushed on them — to take the opportunity to tie them into the wider MCU. Tyrone finds himself able to teleport with the aid of any sort of cloak, and Tandy the ability to create bright glowing knives, both as the result of being caught in the blast of an exploding truck.
And what name is emblazoned on the side of that truck? Yup, it’s Roxxon, that all-purpose shady-corporation that’s already appeared in everything from the Iron Man films to Marvel’s Netflix shows, and appears to be a major player here. It’s the sort of subtle Easter Egg that really works in terms of world-building, and again hints at an interesting David and Goliath, two-kids-against-the-system theme building through the season.
3. It’s like The OC, but with superheroes (The SuperherOC…?)
With this being a show made for ABC’s young adult-aimed network, the tone is a little different from the grim-and-gritty Netflix Marvel shows. There’s a definite teen drama vibe to these first two episodes, although comparing it to The OC might be giving it a little too much credit, despite some thematic similarities. Maybe calling it a superheroic One Tree Hill is more accurate.
What that means is: a cloying soundtrack of cheesy ballads during dramatic scenes, characters stating out loud exactly how they feel at a given moment and some truly embarrassing moments where a middle-aged male screenwriter attempts to write convincing dialogue for a teenage girl. Strong though Olivia Holt’s performance as Tandy is, even she cannot sell lines about enjoying “house parties” with “dope playlists.” Let’s not even talk about the emojis.
4. A credible cast
But let’s for sure talk about that cast! Holt has the most to do in terms of emotional range, from seducing that popped-collar ding-dong in the first episode, to her breakdown after she accidentally almost-murders him in the second, to her fury at her mom. Aubrey Joseph as Tyrone, meanwhile, is stoic without ever becoming dull. Even before he starts lashing out at his tormentors, his performance conveys all the tension being stored in that furrowed brow.
The supporting players do fine work, too, including Jaime Zevallos as Ty’s sympathetic confidant Father Delgado and Rescue Me regular Andrea Roth as Tandy’s mother. The latter especially could’ve easily lapsed into cliche, but there’s enough humanity and misplaced hope in her damaged matriarch (wouldn’t you be kinda messed up if your husband drowned and his employers shafted you?) to make her interesting.
5. Room for improvement
Then there’s Emma Lahana as Brigid O’Reilly, the cop investigating Tandy’s stabbing of the douchebag attempted rapist. She appears multiple times in “Suicide Sprints” in short vignettes featuring no dialogue. Presumably, the silence is meant to be enigmatic and mysterious. I just found it goofy as heck, laughing more and more each time the motif recurred. It had the awkward unrreality of one of those videos where someone edits the laugh track out of The Big Bang Theory.Continued below
In fact, for every strong line of dialogue there’s some absolute howlers. Chief among them is Tyrone’s father suggesting Larry Bird as a role model for his teenage son. Admittedly, this might be a gag — an African-American man telling his son to look up to a white basketball player — playing into some of the respectability politics of Ty’s parents, but…maybe not. Hopefully these niggles, along with the common Marvel TV issues of a somewhat uneven pace and low-rent visual effects, get ironed out as the season continues.
What did you think of Cloak & Dagger’s two-part premiere? Fan of the changes? Confused that Tyrone can apparently use a tarp to teleport? Sound off in the comments!