When it was announced that Marvel’s “Cloak & Dagger” was headed to Freeform, I wasn’t impressed. The fact that they opted for the smaller platform rather than adding the superhero duo to their Netflix lineup or even pairing them with fellow teen superheroes “The Runaways” on Hulu directly felt like a signal. The signal? That it just wasn’t going to be that good.
Boy, did I read those signals wrong?
Over the last couple of days I sat down and caught up on the show my wife and son had been yammering on about, and I get it. It’s a damn good show. Despite the rampant opportunities to preach about race, the show tends to avoid it with only one eye-rolling exchange between the characters where the black Tyrone Johnson claims the entire country wants him dead (hint: it doesn’t). However, I got past that since the character is (a) a teenager and (b) the media is telling black teens that the country wants them dead. The character can be forgiven for believing what he’s told.
However, the thing I noticed most is how television seems to give the creative teams behind the show more chances to make superhero origin stories more believable.
Take Spider-Man. In both film versions of Spidey’s origins, we’ve had a young Peter Parker get his powers, learn his powers, and master his powers in a few minutes. He hits his stride pretty quickly as there’s only so much time to explore his powers before he has to get on with battling the big bad. He makes it look easy, and it seems like the kind of thing that shouldn’t be.
But, we deal with it. After all, we don’t really want to see Spidey stumbling along trying to figure out the wall-crawling thing. We want to see him take on whoever the villain is.
Yet as “Cloak & Dagger” shows, television is able to keep the drama high while characters are still struggling to learn they even have powers, much less control them. Five episodes into the show and the characters are only just now figuring out how to use their powers. They’re still screwing up plenty, learning limits they didn’t know existed, all while trying to right the wrongs that set their futures in motion.
It’s too early to guess when they’ll have a grasp on their powers, but that’s fine. Eventually, they will. The audience knows this. They expect it. But in the meantime, we get to enjoy watching these characters figure it out in a way that actually makes sense to an audience that has experience with learning new skills from scratch themselves. It makes the characters more human. This despite the extraordinary powers they exhibit.
Now, to be fair, some characters don’t need a lot of backstory on the screen. Some, like Captain America and Thor, don’t need extensive screen time to outline their impressive nature. Others, like Spider-Man, are so well known that there’s little point in sharing them again. We already know how it’s going to shake out and no one wants to see yet another Uncle Ben killed in the streets.
But there are a lot of characters who don’t have histories as well known as these guys, and it looks like the best way to tell those stories may well be on the small screen.