When Runaways debuted on Hulu late last year, I really enjoyed it even as I was conscious of the many changes that creators Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage were making to the beloved Marvel comic.
I’ve had some concerns here and there, though, and now that the full season is available, it’s time to talk about them — with full spoilers for the finale and all of season one — coming up just as soon as you’re the Harpo to my Groucho…
Between the kids and their parents, Runaways has 16 regular characters, plus Jonah as the big bad, plus a few other notable recurring player like Darius. That is a lot of people to service, and while it doesn’t rise nearly to the level of a Game of Thrones or The Wire cast, those shows are so sprawling in their narratives that they’re basically multiple shows operating under one title. (Ditto Orange Is the New Black, despite it occurring in such a confined space.) Everyone here is very closely tied together, and even with the parallel narratives of the kid and the adults, it’s all basically one story with a bunch of mini-stories nestled inside it: various love triangles (or, with the kids, a love pentagon, with only Molly left out due to the age thing), the abusive Stein marriage, the mystery of who killed Molly’s parents, what happened to Nico’s sister, etc., etc.
Now, I’ve got no problem with narrative sprawl, and I can appreciate Schwartz and Savage both trying to get to know everyone while also guarding against plot burn-out by trying out all these ideas at once. Beefing up the roles of the parents (who go away relatively quickly in the comic, and are never showcased to the degree they are here) gives the show more story to tell at this stage, and also lets them take advantage of a bunch of actors who are more seasoned, versatile, and — in some cases like James Marsters and Kevin Weisman — perhaps more beloved by the fans than the mostly unknown group of actors playing Alex and company. So I understand the impulse to not only give the parents lots to do, but in most cases to soften most of them from pure villain to something in a more anti-hero vein — they do terrible things, but often for good reasons, and/or because Jonah has tricked them about the consequences of what they’re doing — so that they could theoretically hang around longer than their comic book counterparts.
But the TV show just feels so much sharper and more vivid whenever we get away from the Pride and deal with their offspring, whether it’s Karolina learning the extent of her powers (and the VFX work on hers and Jonah’s in the finale was tremendous), Gert trying to navigate the various crushes and sexualities of the group, or Chase moving away from his jock buddies and back towards these five old friends. It’s not even really residual affection for the source material, since the comics also didn’t spend a lot of time on the kids’ lives outside of investigating their parents, but that Schwartz and Savage still have a greater affinity and flair for chronicling the adventures of younger characters.
The OC did as well as any teen drama could at making the parents complicated and appealing, but even there, the stories of Sandy and Kirsten and Julie worked in direct correlation to how much they involved Seth and the other kids; grownups-only material almost always felt like filler to give Peter Gallagher something to do, because why wouldn’t you want to give him — or Marsters, or Weisman, or Annie Wersching — something to do? Yet the feeling is the same here, only amplified, because it’s much more of a 50/50 narrative split: whenever we cut back to one of the kids, I get excited and realize how much I missed seeing them interact, and whenever we cut back to the adults, I realize we’re going to be parked in this corner of the show for a while. The parent stuff is better than anything The OC once did with the Newport Group, but I’d still much rather see the kids learning more about their powers, which the season had to skimp due to the sheer tonnage of plot.
That the kids have now actually run away from home — and been made fugitives thanks to someone (presumably Jonah) framing them for Destiny’s murder and accusing them of kidnapping Molly — should, at the very least, make their half of the show a bit more concentrated, since it’ll be mainly them dealing with each other, rather than splitting up to playact in front of their respective parents. The group’s not in total unison — Alex has a gun from Darius, one of them is apparently reporting back to the Pride, Gert’s pet dinosaur is trailing the kids even after they tried to leave her behind — but the overall focus should hopefully be tighter.
I do worry, though, that the emphasis on the parents, and the attempt to deflect the blame for a lot of their worst behavior onto Jonah, is too much watering down of the core idea. Instead of Every kid thinks their parents are evil; these kids just happen to be right, it threatens to become Every kid thinks their parents are evil; these kids’ parents happen to be morally complex, but also played by actors we all like! This version feels like we could be a half-season away from Dale and Stacey Yorkes quitting the Pride to hang with the kids and help them fight the power, which could be fun in the short term (Weisman and Brigid Brannagh are both really good here!) but would seem beside the point.
It’s a good show, and a fun show, but I worry that Runaways is trying to do too many things — and is perhaps too self-conscious of the way that both the comic and The OC burned through plot back in the mid-’00s — to fully unlock its potential.
What does everybody else think?