Review: Marvel's CLOAK & DAGGER 'a Gritty MARVEL Show More Authentic Than Any Previous Offerings' (9/10)

Cloak & Dagger
Credit: Freeform/Marvel Television
Credit: Freeform/Marvel Television

Marvel's Cloak & Dagger, Episodes 1 and 2
Directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood
Executive Produced by Joe Pokaski, Jeph Loeb and Jim Chory
Written by Joe Pokaski
Starring Olivia Holt, Aubrey Joseph, Andrea Roth, Gloria Rueben, Miles Mussenden, Carl Lundstedt, Emma Lahana, Jaime Zevallos and J. D. Evermore
Review by C.K. Stewart
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Marvel's Cloak & Dagger is at once a perfect and deeply unexpected adaptation for a young adult-oriented network like Freeform - a pair of troubled teen superheroes embroiled in shady goings-on is right at home alongside the likes of both Shadowhunters and The Fosters. Much like its sibling show The Runaways, Cloak & Dagger exists somewhere adjacent but not knee-deep in the greater Marvel Cinematic Universe, with fleeting touches like the villainous Roxxon Corporation, and feels like many young adult shows like something that isn’t positive exactly what age range it’s aiming for. But this two-hour premiere event is a solid debut, not shying away from its titular characters’ powers and tackling difficult issues with a defter touch than many of Marvel’s other big- and small-screen offerings.

Credit: Freeform/Marvel Television

Set in New Orleans, Freeform’s Cloak & Dagger follows Tandy and Tyrone - two teens who seem to save each other the night tragedy strikes both their families. Years later, the pair of them - still haunted by the aftermath of what happened - stumble into each other by chance and discover that night has tied them together in more ways than one. The two-part series premiere episodes, "First Light" and "Suicide Sprints," follow the aftermath of their discoveries and the choices they make in the wake of them: choices that could finally allow them closure, or drive them deeper into mysteries that are farther reaching and more insidious than either could have imagined.

Credit: Freeform/Marvel Television

Tyrone, played by Aubrey Joseph, is an immediate series standout. Aubrey brings a tired exasperation to Tyrone, a teenager dealing not just with the standard teen troubles but with the weight of a family tragedy and his parents expectations - and deep fears - for him as a young African-American man. Joseph’s performance is grounded and deeply relatable; he carries the weight of his parents’ expectations on heavy shoulders but his delivery is never overwrought. He has all the usual annoyance of a teen chafing against his parents’ seemingly overwhelming expectations and the gravitas of a child who has been forced to learn too early that there are dangerous forces at play that his family can’t protect him from, and that, when given the power to do so, he knows he may stop at nothing to fight.

Credit: Freeform/Marvel Television

As Tandy, Olivia Holt delivers a solid performance, but it’s with Tandy and Holt’s delivery where Joe Pokaski’s writing and the New Orleans setting start to feel at odds. Holt shoulders the burden of a handful of troubled teen backstory tropes with aplomb, but she’s also given a number of lines, both specific to New Orleans or just tinged with slang, that feel weirdly out of place in the flat Midwestern accent most of the actors use. Holt and Joseph do have a certain chemistry, though - a wariness around each other tinged with a sense of destiny that bodes well for their developing relationship in future episodes.

Similarly, Holt deals with the difficult subject matter Tandy’s storyline saddles her with in these debut issues with impressive depth. As Tyrone struggles against systemic racism and corruption, Tandy faces more than one instance of uncomfortable sexual menace that Holt imbues with a palpable sense of creeping fear and finally frightened determination. In the moment, their parallel storylines are deeply distressing, but director Gina Prince-Bythewood brings a deft touch that makes the scenes feel like a bunch to the gut without falling into the vibe of an after school special. That said, they are distressing in a more overt way than Freeform shows tend to be, so be advised.

Credit: Freeform/Marvel Television

Cloak & Dagger’s debut episodes aren’t perfect, but the show is well cast from Holt and Joseph to supporting characters like Gloria Rueben as Tyrone’s mother Adina and Emma Lahana as a very intense, suspiciously quiet detective. Though the premiere leans a little more on telling rather than showing its New Orleans setting, Pokaski and Prince-Bythewood have a clear vision for what kind of story they want to tell and, together with two impressive young leads in Joseph and Holt, manage to deliver a gritty, grounded Marvel show that feels more authentic than any of its previous offerings. If you’ve fallen off the Netflix universe, or just joined Marvel’s small-screen offerings with Runaways and are itching for more between seasons, then Cloak & Dagger is a great place to dive back in.

Cloak & Dagger debuts on Freeform June 7.

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