by T. Mack
I have to start with this: I don’t trust the whole “Freeform” name change. To be fair, I’ve been through a lot of name changes with this channel already. From “The Family Channel” to “Fox Family” in the 90’s to “ABC Family” in the 00’s. I stuck by it. But now this “Freeform” business has me thrown. It feels random and ridiculous. I get that they want to appeal to younger audiences and I understand they want that audience to know that they have fresh, edgier content. So I get why they dropped the “family.” I don’t like it, but I get it. However, this new name doesn’t mean anything. It doesn’t even make any sense! It’s just stupid and kind of arbitrary! Surely, there was a better choice than this. To be honest, I was basically determined to completely put down the network and all its programming over the whole thing. I mean, they flat-out told me I wasn’t their demographic, anyway. So why bother? Then they announced they were doing a Marvel show. (Because they’re owned by Disney, so of course they are!) Now, you all know how much I love, love, and LOVE me some Marvel. So naturally, I had to see what kind of disaster they made out of this new endeavor. (My expectation was basically a repeat of the Inhumans debacle on a teeny-bopper scale.) So I tuned in to watch the train wreck, snicker to myself, and go on about my business continuing to ignore the stupidly re-named network. But then a strange thing happened…
They totally didn’t screw it up… at all! Actually, they kind of did the opposite. They basically fixed the biggest problems I have with Cloak & Dagger and made their whole situation more realistic, more down-to-Earth, healthier, and just better. Who’da thunk?
A Quick Comic History
So here’s the basics of these two heroes. In the comics, Cloak and Dagger are a crime-fighting duo in New York City first introduced in Spiderman comics back in 1982. Cloak is Tyrone, a black male who grew up in poor conditions. He saw a friend shot by police and ran away from home to live on the streets of New York City. Dagger is Tandy, a white female who grew up rich but ignored by her mother. She took off on her own to become a dancer in New York City. There, the two meet and by chance, are together when they are captured by an evil scientist, given a heroine-like drug for his experiments, and receive super powers. Tandy has the power of light, which she can turn into daggers and use as weapons. Tyrone has an overwhelming darkness, which he can use to travel and teleport through another dimension, but which also leaves him with an insatiable hunger. The only cure for this hunger? Tandy’s light, of course. So the two are in love with his darkness feeding off of her light and her light keeping him from being consumed by the darkness. And they run around New York City together saving runaway teens.
The nuances here are less than subtle. But in case you missed them, let me lay them out. The poor black guy has “dark” (equals bad) powers which he uses for good but which will consume him and make him bad if he doesn’t keep feeding off the bright, saving light of his rich, white girlfriend who has “light” (equals good) powers. If that weren’t bad enough, the level of co-dependence that the entire run of this series of comics fosters is utterly unbearable! Even if you take away all the (completely unsubtle) social commentary of their origin, their sickening co-dependence is enough to make anyone cringe. Now, I appreciate that in the 80s there was this fairly prominent mixed race couple in comics. That’s great. However, there are so many problems with this particular scenario in the way it was presented that I have a hard time getting past them.
And that’s what my mind was working with when I found out that Freeform (Ugh) was going to use these two as a basis for a series.
I have to give it to Freeform though. They came through on this one. They took material that had good bones but some serious social problems and fixed it up quite nicely. Here’s some of the changes they made and how those changes created more interesting and nuanced characters and a better story.
1. Setting & Origin: They took the setting out of New York and put it in New Orleans. And instead of being injected by a person, the two teens were infected by a substance that leaked from the ground during an accident when they were very young. This laid a fantastic groundwork that gave more natural and realistic roots to Tandy and Tyrone’s powers. In New Orleans, there is magic. Just ask anyone who’s from there. So it makes sense that if magic got out and two small children were nearby, it might make its way into them. Already, the entire scenario seems to make more sense than the comic origin. Because I, personally, can believe in New Orleans magic before I believe in heroine that gives you super powers.
2. Background: Next, the show’s writers gave each of the characters more nuanced backgrounds. Tandy had the comfort of wealth in early life but experienced the loss of that comfort when she lost one of her parents. She’s struggled ever since. Tyrone, on the other hand, spent early childhood in a lower-income area, but has since been forced to conform at a wealthy private school during adolescence. This approach not only took the edge off the scenario that the comics groundwork laid, but added interesting new layers and struggles to both characters.
3. Relationship: The network changed the nature of Tandy and Tyrone’s relationship from one of romance to one of uneasy and fragile friendship and companionship. This is not only more interesting, but less messy and clichéd. It gives them a different way to relate to one another and keeps the door open for them to have romantic entanglements and messes with other people who may come and go without compromising the central core of the series. As a matter of fact, when the series begins, Tandy has a boyfriend who is much too sweet for her and Tyrone has the most adorable young lady pursuing him. And the show is better for those elements.
4. Hunger & Feeding: Not only are Tandy and Tyrone not a couple, but the story element which requires him to feed his darkness with her light is gone entirely. I’m so relieved! This means that the two are not fostering a strange, co-dependent, and frankly, creepy relationship where one is basically a vampire feeding off the other. It’s the element I like least in the source material and I’m glad it’s been left there.
Aside from the improvements I feel the writers and showrunner made to the material, the show is just pretty good all around. It’s well acted with Aubrey Joseph and Olivia Holt doing an excellent job as Tyrone and Tandy. They are relatable, sympathetic, and expressive without overacting in that horrible way many young actors do when they’re meant to emote. It’s also visually pleasing to watch, which is saying something. There is lot going on in this show and much of it has to be communicated visually. It would be easy to create a version of this series that was too busy, too fast, too hard to look at for too long. However, this show has been put together in a way that makes you want to continue watching. It is intriguing. They have built a mystery around where Tyrone and Tandy received their powers and we viewers want to know the answers as much as the characters do.
Honestly, I was not rooting for this show before it began. I assumed it would be garbage and I hoped it would be short-lived. Now, I’m hoping to see Season 2 in 2019. Because despite having a stupid network name, Freeform has made a quality Marvel TV show that’s appropriate for tweens, teens, and adults, all while making what I feel are much-needed improvements to the source material. I’ll admit it… I’m impressed.
RATING: 4 SHIELDS
Have you watched Season 1 of “Cloak & Dagger” on Freeform? What did you think of the series? Let me know in the comments below.