Despite the massive success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) films, the television series within that same shared universe have a less consistent record.
The Netflix series set the bar high with the first season of Daredevil, and it carried well, at least until the tragedy that was Iron Fist. The broadcast series have been even more inconsistent, with one show requiring momentum, another praised yet canceled, and a third so bad those characters will probably never be mentioned in the MCU again.
So, when the latest addition to the MCU family was announced, Cloak & Dagger, we can understand the trepidation of audiences.
The source material itself was difficult enough, given how relatively unknown Cloak and Dagger are; originating in the 1980’s, the duo only had limited runs and were often relegated to “guest stars” in other comic series.
The host network wasn’t exactly promising compared to other series, either; Netflix is known for its gritty realism, and ABC has a lot of production power. With Freeform’s focus on adolescent and young adult drama, not to mention its origins as an Evangelical Christian network (and later The Family Channel), we weren’t sure what to surmise.
So, with low expectations and high apprehension, I decided to give the series a chance. I’m glad to say, not only did Cloak & Dagger exceed those standards, but it has me intrigued and eager for more.
For those that know anything about the source material, this show deviates in fascinating ways.
The original heroes were runaways who encountered each other in New York City; like most tropes, Tyrone “Ty” Johnson was a poor black boy while Tandy Bowen was a rich white girl. The two ran afoul of organized criminals, were experimented upon, and became a crime-fighting duo.
Freeform’s series flips everything on its head, even if it starts out familiar with Ty and Tandy in their “street” and “wealthy” positions initially. Beginning while the two are children, you’re given more backstory, as well as a look at the accident that affects their lives (rather than criminal experiments).
After this prologue, however, the writers fool us with the direction of the protagonists. Initially appearing to be the wealthy socialite, Tandy turns out to be a scam artist and street criminal living homeless; despite his origin story, Tyrone’s family is middle-class, and he’s a skilled athlete and adept student at a Catholic school.
This change to the source was probably the moment I became intrigued. Although the writers maintained the duality of the two characters, I loved these alterations, and they made the characters more than two-dimensional stereotypes.
A relative newcomer to television, Joseph is more familiar with the stage; he’s one of several stars to portray young Simba in Broadway’s The Lion King. He’s had smaller parts in television and film, but this is his breakout role.
A “Disney kid,” Holt was a lead in several Disney television series, including Kickin’ It and I Didn’t Do It. Cloak & Dagger is the latest series from the “Almighty Mouse” in which she’s taken a central role.
Olivia Holt is clever, as you really believe the chaos of her lifestyle and experiences, from innocent rich girl to street criminal. From her smug behavior on the streets to the turmoil as she faces addiction (in both herself and her mother), Holt sells the role.
Aubrey Joseph stands apart as well, portraying the down, confused teenager just going through the motions as he’s faced with inner and outer struggles. He reflects what all of us would have felt, choosing between the life he’s told to follow and the answers he needs that draw him away from that path.
I also need to emphasize, the story and drama attract the audience, making us want more.
Cloak & Dagger brings back a regular MCU “villain” in the form of the Roxxon Corporation. This faceless company, however, is so far a backdrop to the main story: Tandy’s attempt to escape her life of crime and Tyrone’s search for his brother’s killer.
Both storylines relate to Roxxon and how the two received powers, yet they also represent a dichotomy. Tandy’s latest problem arises from her accidentally using her powers, whereas Tyrone’s mission starts on its own and is helped by his abilities.
There’s also the drama of the two characters, teenagers facing their internal (and external) demons.
Although they try to make it through life, seeing things in a “black and white” way, their powers compound every issue. Tandy sees the hope in people she tries to dismiss or distrust, whereas Tyrone observes the fear that drives his family to limit his freedom.
Cloak & Dagger doesn’t present drama for drama’s sake, like so many CW series, but pushes audiences into the complicated word of the human experience.
Will Cloak & Dagger hold up overall? That’s hard to say in a world where binge-watching is the norm, and we must wait weekly for this latest series.
So far, however, the first two episodes set a good precedent for the series. Between the excellent leads, the deep drama, and the intriguing story, I’m eagerly anticipating the coming episodes.
I think Freeform (and Disney) made some smart choices in how they adapted the source material. They could have gone the cliché route, especially given the characters, but decided for an intelligent, more modern reimagining.
If this is the direction of MCU TV series of the future, however, then there’s hope even in the face of fear.