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Television

Review: ‘Marvel’s Runaways’ on Hulu needs to up the action to move it beyond just another teen drama

Growing up in Hollywood was an advantage for Rhenzi Seliz
“Marvel’s Runaways” premieres on Hulu Nov. 21. From left: Gert Ariela Barer, Lyrica Okano, Rhenzy Feliz, Gregg Sulkin, Virginia Gardner and Allegra Acosta.
(Paul Sarkis / Hulu )
Television Critic

The nerd. The jock. The goth. … “Marvel’s Runaways” is as much “The Breakfast Club” as it is “X-Men,” but with more teen angst, less superhero action and a compliant dinosaur in the basement.

Hulu’s foray into the world of Marvel looks nothing like the dark world of Netflix’s “Jessica Jones” or “Luke Cage.”

But unless you’re already a fan of the “Marvel’s Runaways” comic books, don’t expect to understand what’s going on here, or why you should keep watching Hulu’s singular take on an over-explored franchise.

The series, which arrives Tuesday with three of its 10 episodes, is as confusing as it is slow. The back story of its heroes — six teens from wealthy West L.A. — is revealed in dribs and drabs, as is the basis of the mystery they’re determined to solve together. A slow build can be a good thing, but since their powers are barely unveiled by Episode 4 (the last episode made available for review), it feels more like a meandering stroll through yet another unremarkable teen drama.

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Asking viewers to wait for the story to unfurl is a risky move with a superhero/mutant/alien/whatever series considering the hammer-wielding, cape-wearing, golden-lasso-tossing competition out there vying for the their attention. In the past month alone Hollywood released “Thor: Ragnarok” and “Justice League” in theaters, while that other big streaming service unleashed “The Punisher.”

“Marvel’s Runaways,” which is based on the comic books by Brian K. Vaughan and Adrian Alphona, comes from “The O.C.” and “Gossip Girl” creators Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage. Melodrama was the lifeblood of those Fox and CW hits, but here, exaggerated teen misery bogs down an already reticent pace, and is no match for something, anything, more action-packed and supernatural.

Instead, the story of estranged friends who reunite to discover their parents are involved in an evil cult that partakes in human sacrifice is an oddly subdued affair. It’s set in and around Brentwood, Pacific Palisades and other places where you’re not allowed to park without a permit. The group secretly tries to get to the bottom of their parents’ nefarious plot, connecting the dots between the cult’s practices and several runaway teens who’ve gone missing.

The show has fun with the idea that every teen believes their parents are evil. Here, they truly are, stopping at nothing to get whatever it is they’re trying to get. And despite its plodding pace, “Marvel’s Runaways” benefits from a diverse cast.

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Alex (Rhenzy Feliz) is a brainy computer whiz whose parents pulled themselves up from “the ghetto.” Nico (Lyrica Okano) is presumably a witch or an alien (still unclear) whose parents appear to be covering up critical details about her sister’s death. Karolina (Virginia Gardner) is the well-behaved daughter of a religious leader (Annie Wersching), head of the Church of Gibborim — an organization that looks a lot like Scientology. Chase (Gregg Sulkin) is a lacrosse player whose dad (James Marsters) is the genius behind a new line of Tesla-ish cars, but he’s been working on much more in the lab than just automobiles. Gert (Ariela Barer) is a feminist activist and another possible witch whose adopted little sister, Molly (Allegra Acosta), harbors some sort of superstrength.

For all its flaws, “Marvel’s Runaways” does bring the modern high school to life. Posters that would have read “Just Say No” in the 1980s now say “Sitting Is the New Cancer.” And it’s a cacophony of smartphone chirps, buzzes and rings that fill the quad rather than the shouts and screams of hormonal students.

Now if only there was a clear superhero narrative here to make “Marvel’s Runaways” more than just another high school drama echoing the dozens that came before it.

‘Marvel’s Runaways’

Where: Hulu

When: Any time, starting Tuesday

Rating: TV-14 (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 14)

lorraine.ali@latimes.com

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@lorraineali


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