If James Marsters is now a slightly chubby-faced middle-aged dude who says “I love you, Son” in a Nutra-Sweet voice all the time, does that make me too old for leather pants? It does, right? Damn. Marsters, you had one job, my man. One. To be deathlessly post-punk gorgeous and flapping around Sunnydale with an afghan shielding your Billy Idol blond head from the SoCal sun. I mean…
As you may have gathered, I just watched Season Two of Marvel’s Runaways. Season One received a fair number of positive reviews (including not one but two from Paste), which baffled me. I want to be fair. So let me start by saying that every four or five episodes, there’s some kind of cool transition, thoughtful montage, or funny line, or a chord in the score that kind of reminds me of mid-career Peter Gabriel.
That’s pretty much it.
Now, I have a burning question. How do half a dozen teenagers, holed up in an “abandoned mansion” in Griffith Park (like that’s a thing) manage to have fully stocked wardrobes, not to mention enough makeup to tart up an entire Siouxie and the Banshees concert? For what it’s worth, I’m not usually one of those people who starts doing geometry to calculate how “realistic” it was that Danaerys Targaryen got all the way north of the wall in just a couple of hours (if you are that person, needless to say, you have my total respect). I accept that a TV series based on a comic about teens with superpowers is going to turn on suspension of disbelief, metaphors, and a certain insouciant attitude toward classical physics. No prob. So when I am reduced to complaining about how that dusty manse is conveniently supplied with full complements of purple hair dye, black lip liner, satin chokers, and flower-child flares in the right size, even though these kids can’t get their meathooks on, you know, meat? Trust me, that suggests it has become legitimately intrusive.
For those of you just joining us, Marvel’s Runaways is about a diverse group of teens (and, also, a group of diverse teens; the distinction matters, because it is a frequent stand-in for character development and plot) who discover their evil parents literally are evil, and consequently, become… well, yeah, Runaways. Also, they have mutant, alien, or mutating-alien powers, ranging from superstrength to levitation to having paid attention in high school computer science class. Also there is a genetically engineered empathic velociraptor. (I know: “empathic” is totally synonymous with “dinosaur” to me, too.) The intrepidly ethics-forward cabal has managed to replace their high-privilege Brentwood lives with a mansion that has been partially swallowed by the Hollywood HIlls and is totally free of annoying adults or alarm clocks. So, finally—after an entire season of setup—they now have the space to become a team.
That doesn’t mean they do. C’mon. I mean, Joss Whedon didn’t write this shit, people. Which is why the atmosphere is so thick with squandered opportunity they’ve declared a Spare the Air day.
The tropes of the MCU are pretty dang identifiable at this point: “mutant/special-powered as allegory for civil rights underdog,” “your core wound is your greatest power,” “everyone has to face their demons and surprisingly often those are gonna be literal demons,” “the weird shall inherit the earth—woot!” There is nothing wrong with these concepts, or even with re-using them kind of relentlessly. It’s all about how you do it. The best of the MCU TV efforts (for my money, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., the first season of Jessica Jones, and the second season of Luke Cage) work because they hit on a combination of charismatic performers, crafty writing, and, importantly, connective tissue tethering them to other MCU elements (S.H.I.E.L.D. was especially good at this, cleverly tying in timely and usually funny references to big-screen Marvel characters and sometimes having those characters parachute in for a scene or an episode). Runaways is so far a standalone, which would be fine if the characters did in fact stand alone. They don’t. They’re nowhere near clever enough.
The pacing is torturous. The script is drinking-game-grade predictable. The acting is painful, and two thirds of the cast seem to be dealing with deviated septums or enlarged adenoids; seriously, I have never heard so many distractingly congested voices on one set. Props appear out of thin air. The characters are representative and inclusive, yes, but the lack of cogent storytelling does them no justice. It’s not the first time I’ve said it, and I am very used to being told I don’t get it when I do say it, but someone has to: Just because Marvel Comics spilled some ink on it at some point in the last 75 years does not mean it should become a TV series, and neither does it mean there is no burden of responsibility to create a good script, gripping story arcs, or actual, 3D characters. Man, I haven’t been this annoyed since I drew the short straw on Inhumans.
God, my head.
Amy Glynn is a poet, essayist and fiction writer who really likes that you can multi-task by reviewing television and glasses of Cabernet simultaneously. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.