Young adults grapple with clueless parents, corrupt authority figures, oh, and emerging superpowers in “Marvel’s Cloak & Dagger.”
But despite all indications that this Freeform production is made for the YA crowd, this beautifully shot and executed series is more artful and sophisticated than its genre of origin suggests. You will not find the silly dinosaur sidekicks of “Marvel’s Runaways,” or the action-over-story approach of other caped-crusader series such as “The Arrow.”
When we first meet the leads of “Marvel’s Cloak & Dagger,” which premieres Thursday, they are still Tyrone (Aubrey Joseph) and Tandy (Olivia Holt), two troubled teens from very different backgrounds, living separate lives and unsuccessfully battling demons from their past.
Their powers and purpose remain a mystery for at least the first three episodes but appear to be rooted in their metaphysical and childhood connection to each other. Clues arrive via out-of-body experiences and overlapping memories, creating an abstract puzzle that requires the attention and patience of viewers.
It’s a risky way to kick off a new series in a genre that typically demands action and heroics right out of the box. The gamble pays off in hourlong episodes that blend personal story, the cinematic backdrop of New Orleans and supernatural intrigue into an antihero tale that stands out among its many competitors across cable, network and streaming platforms.
The pilot, directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood (“Love & Basketball”) and written by showrunner Joe Pokaski (“Heroes,” “Underground”), toggles between the childhood tragedies that connect the two.
Grade-schooler Tandy is in the back of her father’s luxury car as he argues with his colleagues over the phone. He’s the head of research and development at an oil company, and there are big problems with one of their rigs. Just as they drive onto a high bridge in the pouring rain, a rig off in the distance (is it the one he’s arguing about?) explodes, causing a traffic accident that sends their car over the railing and into the water below.
Tyrone, meanwhile, is out on the streets as his older brother and his friends plan to steal back a car stereo originally jacked from them. His brother refuses, so the young Tyrone takes it on himself to do the deed. His brother discovers him just as the police do, and the two boys take refuge at a loading dock. Just as Tyrone’s brother surrenders with his hands in the air, the rig explodes in the background, and a startled policeman fires, sending his lifeless body into the water below. Tyrone jumps into the bay thinking his slain brother might still be alive (he’s not).
Instead, he finds Tandy in her father’s submerged car just as the crumbling rig sends out a shock wave of some crazy-powerful toxin, imbuing them with future powers. He pulls her out, they wash up on a beach unconscious, and she runs away before he’s even able to find out her name.
Flash-forward years later, and their fortunes have flipped. Tyrone is a model student at his private school while Tandy’s a latchkey kid who sometimes lives with her alcoholic mom, sometimes in a shabby rental, sometimes in an abandoned old church.
She’s a scam artist who targets rich kids for a living and when she hones in on Tyrone and his wallet at an outdoor party, the ensuing chase results in an electrifying incident that haunts both of them — and triggers their inner Cloak and Dagger. And now, they are connected.
Both young actors do an impressive job of infusing their characters with empathy and love for each other, even as they’re puzzling over why they’ve been thrown together in some parallel universe that involves black shrouds and glowing daggers.
He’s bent on revenge for his brother’s murder, which a corrupt police captain has covered up, and she’s running away from her past. Both are on self-destructive paths until they help each other. Only then will it be clear how they’ll use their humanity-saving powers.
“Marvel’s Cloak & Dagger” is the latest addition to a diversifying superhero field. There are now so many story lines for female protagonists and heroes of color that the characters are no longer expected to represent an entire race or gender. With the usual narratives of the black inner-city thug and the sheltered rich blond switched, Tandy and Tyrone become individuals, with unique issues and challenges, and that’s what drives this series.
Also, this is one Marvel series where the region in distress is not New York. They traverse New Orleans in street cars, walk through Congo Square, fight in spooky/gorgeous graveyards, live and play among the city’s ramshackle ruins and historical grandeur.
It’s one of many refreshing twists that makes the abstract “Cloak & Dagger” a refreshingly unpredictable and smart take on the usual caped-crusader fare.
‘Marvel’s Cloak & Dagger’
When: 8 and 9 p.m. Thursday
Rating: TV-14-DLSV (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 14 with advisories for suggestive dialogue, coarse language, sexual content and violence)