Nicholas Ottone | Thursday, November 30, 2017
Expansive, empty mansions sprawl across the Southern California landscape, housing moody teenagers squabbling with their parents. An unspoken tragic backstory clouds the sight of our six main characters. We see them shuffle through meaningless high school days, far from each other and the happiness they once shared. Can they mend bonds broken, or will they remain distant versions of their former selves? Oh, also, their parents are evil, the teens might possess superpowers and, for some inexplicable reason, everyone, good and evil, uses Lyft.
Hulu’s new series “Runaways” follows six teenagers as they discover their parent’s evil society and their own superpowers. Two years after his friend Amy’s unexpected suicide, Alex Wilder (Rhenzy Feliz) strives to reunite the group, which includes cult-obsessed Karolina (Virginia Gardner), feminist Gert (Ariela Barer), lacrosse all-star Chase (Gregg Sulkin), goth Nico (Lyrica Okano) and orphan Molly (Allegra Acosta). Once they discover their parent’s charity meetings are a front for a malevolent cabal, the six seek to uncover the truth, while simultaneously discovering their own superpowers. Meanwhile, their parents endeavor to complete a sacrifice, maintain the secrecy of their activities and strengthen their marriages.
If this description seems overstuffed, that’s because it is. “Runaways” hits the ground sprinting, introducing the six teenagers and five sets of parents in the first episode alone while rarely slowing to catch its breath. Series creators Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage, alumni of “The O.C.” and “Gossip Girl,” paint with the broadest of brushes and invest their characters with vague and foreboding dialogue, which ultimately leaves viewers more confused than intrigued. Through the first four episodes, the series spools through very little plot yet feels utterly exhausting due to the never-ending stream of stolen glances, affairs and melodramatic declarations of emotion. Despite this relative lack of plot, its countless subplots are so unwieldy that the characters frequently resemble narrative pawns. “Runaways” simply does not possess characters with consistent emotions or motivations.
However, the creators’ familiarity with teen soap opera structures and banter lends standalone scenes a wonderfully nervous, adolescent energy, jolting the series from its more portentous rhythms in unexpected spots. The casting of all eleven main cast members is near perfect and disciplined acting from all of them keeps the series grounded. Allegra Acosta as Molly and Ariela Barer as Gert, however, are early standouts, forging a sweet sisterly bond and stealing scenes with their radically emotive vulnerability. The parents also inject a wildcard quality to the series, interrupting its teenage storylines with uneven plots of marital struggles and morally conflicted scheming. Schwartz and Stephanie find a fascinating wrinkle in inherently strained parent-child relationships, and this tension ultimately drives much of the series’ well-earned suspense. Unpredictable sparks fly in scenes primarily concerned with one-on-one relationships, and singular scenes of heroic feats pulse with wonder and wit. Already, a few plot threads have matured into character-driven interpersonal conflicts, shrinking the overblown life-and-death stakes to more manageable and relatable stories.
“Runaways” has the potential to make the jump from good to great, but only if it realizes how ponderous its scheming and mystery is and instead focuses on the wonderfully joyful moments of superpowers and the hidden alchemy of relationships. However, the series cannot realize this potential if it does not move forward. “Runaways” remains weirdly stuck between moving far too quickly with its character building and progressing far too slowly with the rest of its plot. The title implies some form of escape, presumably for the teenagers, but the series only raises this possibility once or twice. Maybe this promised future event will energize the series. Given some time, “Runaways” could blossom into an engrossing teen soap opera with exhilarating action interludes. But, much like its teenage heroes clumsily learning new skills, it’s not quite there yet.
Shamrocks: 3 out of 5