By Mike Scott
NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune
Most people would probably agree New Orleans could use a superhero or two right about now. Unfortunately, to this point in America's current superhero obsession, the big-name costumed saviors have tended to show a preference for rescuing people on the east and west coasts -- despite the fact that they'd fit in perfectly in New Orleans, given the city's tights-wearing habits.
Regardless, prepare for all that to change -- although we're not talking about the superhero you're probably thinking of.
While Channing Tatum's long-gestating "X-Men" spinoff "Gambit" is expected finally to go before cameras late this summer, with an eye toward a 2019 release, Tatum's character won't be the first Marvel superhero from New Orleans to make it to the screen. "Gambit" won't even be the first New Orleans-set "X-Men" spinoff, in fact.
On Thursday (June 7), the Crescent City will get two superheroes to call its own with the premiere on the Disney-owned Freeform channel (formerly ABC Family) of back-to-back episodes of the new series "Cloak & Dagger," based on the 1980s Marvel Comics property of the same name.
A dark, 10-episode coming-of-age drama series, it chronicles the stories of teen runaways Ty Jonson and Tandy Bowen (played by Aubrey Joseph and Olivia Holt) as they grapple with newfound supernatural powers, the apparent result of a shared childhood trauma years earlier.
Right off the bat, fans familiar with the Marvel Comics series on which the TV show is based will notice it doesn't exactly adhere strictly to the source material. For starters, the original comics (like so many others) are set on the mean streets of New York City. For the TV series, the setting is changed to the mean streets of New Orleans, where the series' first season was shot in 2017.
Similarly, there's a bit of a role reversal going on with the main characters. In the comics, Ty is a street kid and Tandy is a rich kid. In the TV show, it's the other way around.
But comics fans aren't the only ones who will notice something different here. Similarly -- and perhaps more notably -- fans of Disney will quickly realize that Freeform is by no means the same channel it was when it used to be called ABC Family.
Under that old name, it was a great place to catch old Pixar flicks and "Harry Potter" marathons. With "Cloak & Dagger," which plays like a teen soap opera -- but with superpowers thrown in as a fairly on-the-nose metaphor for teenage outsiderdom -- they seem to be reaching for a whole different audience.
And who is that audience? Well, as with the comics series, it's definitely targeting young viewers. That being said, it's certainly not aiming for the old ABC Family demographic, that much is for sure. "Cloak & Dagger" is too dark and daring for that.
The mild swearing is one thing (including at least one of George Carlin's "seven dirty words" that weren't allowed on TV once upon a time). But then there's the sight of one of the teenage lead characters crushing and snorting pills pilfered from someone else's medicine cabinet. And another scene of an attempted rape, followed by a near-homicide.
Suffice it to say, this isn't your father's Disney series. And it's not your father's ABC Family, either.
That's not necessarily a bad thing, as long as viewers (and their parents) know what they're in for. Daring is good, and through the first four episodes of "Cloak & Dagger" -- which is all that Disney made available for review -- it seems to honor the dark, gritty tone of the comics, in which Ty and Tandy team up to fight drug dealers, help other teen runaways and the like.
Unfortunately, while there's promise, there are also some early stumbles the show will have to overcome if it's to be a success. For starters, the overall storytelling tends to be a touch muddled. Even four episodes in, the exact nature and extent of Ty and Tandy's powers is still unclear.
That's probably intentional to an extent, but by the fourth episode, you'd hope the story would be starting to crystalize more than in this case.
The TV version of "Cloak & Dagger" is also overly reliant on extended sequences of expository dialog that make it feel for stretches more like an after-school special than an escapist superhero romp. (And don't even get me started on its penchant for trippy hallucination sequences that unfailingly go on far too long and which bring the narrative to a screeching halt.)
On the face of it, the comics' original racial component doesn't feel quite as groundbreaking now as it once might have in decades past. (Ty is black, Tandy is white and they fall in love.) But it's worth noting that it took until this year for us to get a major feature film built around a black superhero, in "Black Panther." Hollywood's first major superhero film about a female character, "Wonder Woman," beat it by only a year.
So, in its own way, "Cloak & Dagger" -- which gives us both a black superhero and a female superhero as its leads -- is still at the cultural vanguard, even all these years later.
As for its New Orleans setting, the two episodes airing Thursday feature little more than then the standard postcard-ready stuff -- glimpses of streetcars, an above-ground cemetery, the Crescent City Connection and the like -- as Ty and Tandy grapple with their newfound powers.
By Episode 3, the series' New Orleans-ness increases significantly with a scene involving a voodoo ritual as well as Ty's involvement in the Mardi Gras Indian tradition. While some might roll their eyes at those voodoo scenes, the Mardi Gras Indian elements are handled with suitable reverence that help make a case for the decision to re-set the series in New Orleans (other than the obvious tax breaks).
Not that it needs a good reason. New Orleans is a welcoming sort of place -- especially for crime-fighters. That goes double if they like costuming as much as we do.
Besides, until "Gambit" gets here, we can use all the help we can get.
Mike Scott covers TV and movies for NOLA.com and The Times-Picayune. Reach him at 504.784.0461.