Gregg Sulkin, Virginia Gardner (Photo: Greg Lewis)

I’m starting to worry that the runaways of Marvel’s Runaways are never going to run away. “Fifteen” keeps the teens firmly entrenched in their home lives—except Alex, I guess, who is whisked away in a black SUV before the credits roll—which would be perfectly fine if the show kept them as its main focus. But Runaways doesn’t really have a main focus, does it? And that’s the problem: Compared to Alex stealing his father’s gun and Karolina turning into a human Lite-Brite, it’s really, really hard to care about the Yorkes planning a move (over several scenes) to Yucatán, or anyone “going Ultra,” or even the introduction of a tatted-up redbeard named Kincaid. Did you forget about Kincaid? It’s cool. I also forgot about Kincaid.

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It’s just too much, is what I’m saying. After four episodes, the most relatable aspect of Runaways in terms of my high school experience is that it needs to take an Adderall and focus up a little. Because it’s not like there isn’t anything intriguing happening on the Pride side of things. Lord knows I want to know why Leslie Dean is stripping down and getting into bed with Boris Karloff as The Mummy who I’m pretty sure is also her father. But the undeniable charm of Brian K. Vaughan and Adrian Alphona’s comic series came from the runaways themselves, a gang of misfits forced too soon by supernatural circumstance to grow up and fend for themselves. It’s a simple story, one that Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage don’t seem interested in telling yet.

Because we need time set aside for Gert’s parents to make beet juice or whatever, the scenes we do get with the teens feel unfortunately rushed. Again, it’s admirable that this show wants to tackle a high school sexual assault storyline, and Virginia Gardner pulling off Karolina’s growing doubt—”I would know...would I?”—is heartbreaking in its vulnerability. But because there is such little time per episode for any one storyline to develop, this show is forced to occasionally handle its heftier themes with all the subtlety of a knee to the ribs. I actually laughed when Nameless Popular Girl #2 materialized from off-screen to spout cliche awfulness toward Karolina—“You wouldn’t remember because you’re a lightweight drunk and a lacrosse ruining slut”—and then disapparated seemingly into the bushes like a mix between mutant and Mean Girls. Who was that? Why is she so mad about lacrosse?

Unsurprisingly, when Runaways slows down and spends time in its quieter moments it’s a stellar coming-of-age superhero show. This young cast deftly conveys the type of confused wonder usually reserved for Spielberg movies. One of the most electric scenes of the entire show—pun just so intended—sees Karolina showing Chase her bracelet-less glowing for the first time. It’s a genuinely emotional blend of high school uncertainty and superhero awe. With your eyes closed you could almost mistake this exchange for two teens sharing a first kiss, or even something more (“I’m afraid.” “I think it’s okay.”). Eyes open and it’s something entirely different, but by the time Chase’s hand meets Karolina’s the effect is pretty much the same.

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Since so little has actually happened since the first episode in terms of forward momentum, it’s these little moments of bonding that keeps Runaways well worth watching. Alex taking Nico’s hand in the police station. Molly writing an e-mail late at night looking for info on her real parents. Even Gert’s unabashed joy at discovering the monster in her basement listens to her commands, which Ariela Barer—still this show’s MVP—sells with a delightful breathlessness.

No matter the example, the common throughline of Runaways’ best moments is always—shocker—the runaways themselves. This isn’t because I have a slavish devotion to the source material or that I need any show, much less this one to be all action, all the time. It’s just that this show about high school kids is acting a little like a high school kid itself right now; it’s never going to truly find itself unless it leaves its parents behind for a little while.


Stray Observations

  • With all that said, I will admit that Chase Stein and Robert Minoru failing spectacularly at kidnapping a homeless man is some quality slapstick. “Slice his Achilles tendon! Disable him!”
  • Amy Minoru dying of a self-induced overdose is a heavy, intriguing wrinkle in that story, for sure. But I don’t think it’s the setup Nico suspects; having two members straight-up murder their own child would push the Pride into some irredeemable territory.
  • Who among us doesn’t still carry around the USB drive we got at our friend’s sixth birthday party?
  • I actually love the tension that comes with Chase techno-bonding with his father right after discovering his parents might be murderers. I’m just upset the show cut away before Victor Stein told his son “Fistigons” is a terrible name.
  • Every person in that Los Angeles coffee shop raising their hand for owning a Silver Prius is as funny as it is realistic.

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