The kids are all right but the parents are fantastic in this latest entry to the small-screen superhero set.
At a big house in beautiful Brentwood, the most prominent parents assemble. There’s a CEO, an entrepreneur, a lawyer, someone in real estate. One mom runs her own religion, but there are weirder jobs in Los Angeles. They descend to a subterranean temple to perform a ritual of human sacrifice — but maybe that’s just a trendy new cleanse? The pitch on Marvel’s Runaways (debuting Nov. 21 on Hulu) is “teen drama with superpowers,” but it pays careful attention to the fantastical activities of the adult characters. Their machinations seem supernatural, but in a zip code like this, maybe cosmic malevolence is just how you keep up with the Joneses.
Let’s start with the kids. Two years after a friend’s mysterious death, nerdy Alex (Rhenzy Feliz) seeks to reunite his sundered childhood circle. They grew up together because their parents were friends; now they’re in high school, and they’ve trended disparate and archetypal. To quote The Breakfast Club, there’s a brain, an athlete, a basket case, and a princess. No criminal — in this stratosphere, “criminal” is getting a 1590 on the SATs — but Gert (Ariela Barer) rails again the patriarchy the way Judd Nelson railed against principals. Meanwhile, Gert’s stepsister Molly (Allegra Acosta) is going through the onset of puberty and superstrength, so that’s two awkward things not to talk about with Mom and Dad.
Upon the pals’ reunion, they discover their parents are up to something. It’s tantalizing — and, in the first four episodes, one of those belabored TV mysteries, everyone talking around a great big something. Runaways was a comic by Brian K. Vaughan and Adrian Alphona, but even describing their basic concept feels like a season-long spoiler. So the more fantastical elements of the show can feel hit or miss. But full credit to the effects department: There is a dinosaur, and it looks better than the teleporting dog on Inhumans or any of the Riddick-y creatures from Stranger Things 2.
This adaptation comes from Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage, the duo behind The O.C. and Gossip Girl. Both of those shows stealth-missiled fascinating adult characters into a high school show. That was especially true of The O.C.: Recall the wonders of the Cohen marriage, or the striving Mildred Pierce-ish melodramas of Julie Cooper! You get the same experience from Runaways. The kids are all right, especially Barer. But — at the risk of showing my age — the adults are fascinating. As a bioengineer husband-and-wife team prone to hipster-parent oversharing and crunchy dietary restrictions, Kevin Weisman and Brigid Brannagh are my new favorite TV couple. Also brilliant: Brittany Ishibashi as Tina, the perfectionist CEO with a magic staff desperately arm-twisting her distant husband into date night, and Ryan Sands as Geoffrey, a street criminal “reformed” into universe-denting evil.
Early in the season, Geoffrey’s old life and his new one collide. With his rich Westside friends, he’s building something across town — and the construction yard gets invaded by some old colleagues from his convict days. “I traded my old crew for some rich white folk,” Geoffrey ruminates to his wife, and the show lets him ruminate, finds moments like that for every member of its families-of-friends ensemble.
The casually diverse makeup of that ensemble (and the shot-on-location pleasures of the show’s scenery) suggests a richly panoramic vision of Los Angeles culture. You can feel that in the great opening title sequence, set to Siddhartha Khosla’s soundtrack. The titles linger over gorgeous homes, tall gates, huge yards. There’s a deep vein of dark comedy here, a satire of point-one-percenters that deepens the more recognizable superpowered-teen melodrama. After all, to get a house like that? You’d have to be a supervillain. B+