(Photo by Ed Silla)
Drugs, sex, police violence, and ballet: The upcoming superhero drama, Marvel’s Cloak and Dagger, goes places few superhero series have gone before — and it’s doing it on the channel once known as ABC Family.
On Sunday, Freeform showed off its new series, Marvel’s Cloak & Dagger, co-produced by Marvel Television and ABC Signature Studios, at a special premiere of the pilot episode inside Austin’s Central Presbyterian Church. The South By Southwest festivalgoers who’d gathered in the pews were also treated to a panel discussion with the series stars, Aubrey Joseph and former Disney favorite Olivia Holt, as well as showrunner Joe Pokaski, Marvel’s Head of Television, Jeph Loeb, and pilot director, Gina Prince-Bythewood.
Joseph plays Tyrone “Ty” Johnson, alias “Cloak,” and Holt is Tandy Bowen, “Dagger,” two teenagers who discover they have powers just as they’re discovering a powerful attraction to each other. In the pilot, we learn that he is a basketball star struggling with the expectations of his parents and a tragic loss, while she is a sometime runaway well on the way to a lucrative, but dangerous life of crime. When their paths cross, their powers are revealed, and the two begin to realize they might have met before.
We won’t say too much else about what happens, except to say that it all kicks off with a bang, and there’s a cinematic quality to the pilot, much of which is thanks to Prince-Bythewood, who helmed the Certified Fresh features Love and Basketball (82%) and Beyond the Lights (83%). Rotten Tomatoes fans who voted it their number 2 most anticipated new show of spring and summer won’t be disappointed.
There is also something very fresh about Marvel and ABC’s approach, choosing to lean into the very real problems these kids face, rather than sugarcoat anything. It’s much more Jessica Jones than Peter Parker.
“I think the reason I instantly fell in love with [the project] is because there’s no glamorizing what their lives are,” Holt said. “As humans we connect to that, we want to see that.”
For Loeb, who has worked on Marvel series on Netflix, ABC, and Hulu, the original comic book characters, who first appeared in 1982, appealed because they offered something very different from other Marvel heroes.
First of all, the characters are young; unlike many of the Marvel characters who had careers and set lives before they collided with what Loeb called “the Marvel of their lives” (their abilities), Cloak and Dagger were still working themselves out. And then they were outsiders.
“What really made [Cloak and Dagger] unique was their love story and that they really — much more than other characters in the Marvel Universe — they very much lived on the outskirts,” Loeb said. “They didn’t want to be the Avengers. There was no desire to join. They were still trying to figure out who they were.”
Prince-Bythewood told the audience she set out to make “my sons’ favorite show” and was proud that its leads would be a young woman and a young black man.
Casting those two leads was one of the biggest challenges in developing the series. Holt was a frontrunner from the start, but the team needed to find someone for Cloak who would “crackle” on screen with their Dagger. They were less than a week from shooting when a final audition between Joseph and Holt sealed the deal. The actors were called upon to ad-lib a scene after a long day, and Joseph remembered there was “undeniable chemistry” in the room when they began. Holt said it was an “epic” moment.
“It felt like we were the only two people in the room,” she said. “It didn’t feel like there were 12 people sitting there watching us.”
When the series airs, there will no doubt be speculation about when and if Cloak and Dagger become romantically involved (and, likely, there will also be a lot of fans shipping a similar real-life romance between Joseph and Holt). Showrunner Pokaski wouldn’t be drawn on the “will they or won’t they” question.
“Half the people wants them to end up together and half the people are offended by that idea,” he said. “First and foremost, it’s a story about finding your best friend.”
As for the big question on everyone’s mind — will there be crossovers? — the producers and stars gave the crowd a few clues. It is definitely set firmly in the Marvel Cinematic and TV Universe (Roxxon Energy Corporation is prominent), and crossovers, most likely with characters from Hulu original Marvel’s Runaways, are possible, especially given the ABC/Disney/Marvel ties.
But don’t hold your breath for anything first season. Loeb says season 1 is about getting to know “this cast, this world, these people.”
Marvel’s Cloak & Dagger premieres June 7 on Freeform.