Fourteen years ago, a primetime soap about the morally bankrupt lives of the rich and beautiful inhabitants of Newport Beach, California debuted on Fox. With its hyper self-aware humor, early aughts fashion, indie soundtrack, and teen melodrama, The O.C. quickly became a cultural phenomenon. But just as Seth Cohen and Marissa Cooper were becoming part of our daily vernacular, another group of affluent teens from sunny SoCal were becoming sensations on comic book stands across the country.
It seems kismet that Brian K. Vaughan's seminal Marvel Comics series Runaways would debut just a month prior to The O.C.'s summer launch in 2003. In many ways, they were cut from the same designer cloth; both balanced the turmoil of adolescence with wit and whimsy while also subverting high school archetypes. Only one, however, gave its teenage protagonists superpowers and turned their parents into supervillains. (Atomic County doesn't count.)
So it makes sense that when Marvel Television boss Jeph Loeb first thought of bringing Runaways to life on the small screen, he envisioned it as "The O.C. of the Marvel Universe." Five years later, and with the creators of The O.C. (Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage) attached as showrunners, Marvel's Runaways — premiering on Hulu today, November 21 — is very much the teen soap's spiritual successor.
"My personal feeling the first time I read Runaways many, many years ago when it first came out was like, 'Oh, this comic was written just for me,'" Schwartz, a lifelong comic book reader, told MTV News back in October, adding that The O.C. and Runaways share a similar "tone and humor."
Having seen the first four episodes of Marvel's Runaways that were made available for review — the first three can be streamed now — I can tell you that the shared DNA between the two teen dramas goes even deeper than that. Here's what really makes Marvel's Runaways the O.C. of the Marvel Universe. Welcome to Brentwood, bitch.
The TeensHulu/Marvel Comics
On the surface, Seth Cohen, Marissa Cooper, Ryan Atwood, and Summer Roberts seemed like your typical teen archetypes — the geek, the prom queen, the misfit, and the airhead — but they were anything but. Seth was more Peter Parker than Spider-Man, but his niche interests and self-deprecating humor made him a heartthrob. Ryan was tough but tender. Summer was passionate about tabloid gossip, fashion, and environmental issues. Marissa was the achingly beautiful girl-next-door who hid her demons behind her picture-perfect smile. And when they came together, their chemistry was unparalleled.
Something similar happens in Marvel's Runaways. Though they're not all fully formed individuals yet — one of the pitfalls of juggling 16 leads — as a group of teen misfits, they shine. Their chemistry together is effortless.
The series follows six former best friends who must unite against a common enemy: their parents. The realization of their parents' misdeeds awakens their individual abilities, some supernatural and some not. For example, teen activist Gert (Ariela Barer) doesn't have powers, but she does have a mental link with her genetically engineered dinosaur, Old Lace; her adopted sister Molly (Allegra Acosta) possesses super strength; Alex (Rhenzy Feliz) is a gamer who assumes the role of the group's de-facto leader; Karolina (Virginia Gardner) is the pretty youth ambassador of her family's religious cult who unexpectedly realizes she's rainbow-colored alien; Nico (Lyrica Okano) is a goth who can control dark magic with the Staff of One; and Chase (Gregg Sulkin) is the son of a Steve Jobs-type genius billionaire who also has a knack for engineering.
It's impossible to think of The O.C. without thinking of Sandy Cohen, the Cohen family patriarch and Newport's resident mensch. (His eyebrows were a thing of beauty, too.) But that was the beauty of The O.C.: It made you care about a group of complicated teens and their equally complex parents. The parents in most teen dramas are expendable, but in The O.C. and Marvel's Runaways, they're essential to the storytelling.
In fact, the second episode of Runaways retells the entire pilot from the parents' perspective, which might seem like a risky move to some, but a superhero show is only as strong as its villains. If they want us to care about these kids and their journey, then they have to make us care about their supervillain parents too. Brittany Ishibashi, who plays Nico's mom Tina Minoru, a merciless tech CEO who practices dark magic, is especially compelling in these first few episodes.
The O.C. was a fashion time capsule for the early 2000s, but so were the colorful pages of Vaughan and artist Adrian Alphona's Runaways. The Runaways didn't have superhero monikers or fancy costumes; they were a street-level group. And their fashion reflected that. They wore what any other kid growing up in 2003 would wear. Marissa Cooper and Karolina Dean had a shared affinity for low-rise flare Miss Sixty jeans and pastel Lacoste polo shirts. Marvel's Runaways has a similar, of-the-moment fashion sense. Molly even rocks her signature pink pussy hat throughout the season. (Or as 14-year-old Acosta calls it, her "p-word hat.")
If you loved the Cohen's pool house and the sprawling McMansions featured on The O.C., then you're going to need another inspiration board for the mega-mansions in Marvel's Runaways. Similar to the The O.C., these are privileged, upper-class kids living in multi-million dollar tech fortresses and earthy Brentwood bungalows in sunny Los Angeles. That's not to say they don't have their own problems; they're all dealing with their own personal grief and teenage ennui.
In the comics, however, they runaway to an underground location after watching their parents sacrifice a girl in an occult ceremony. It will be interesting to see how the affluent milieu of the show shifts once Alex, Nico, Karolina, Molly, Gert, and Chase start living life on the run.
Let's just hope no one has any meltdowns at a lifeguard stand anytime soon.
For some, The O.C. begins and ends with its indie soundtrack, which was expertly curated by Schwartz, Savage, and music supervisor Alexandra Patsavas. It introduced a generation of ~ cool ~ kids to the melancholy thoughts of Ben Gibbard. Luckily, Patsavas, who's been the music supervisor for all of Schwartz and Savage's post-O.C. projects, is also lending her talents to Marvel's Runaways. Before production, she and Schwartz made each character their own designated playlist. And just in case you need a sample of the indie-pop magic to come, the official trailer for the series prominently featured synthpop duo Purity Ring's moony "Sea Castle."
Schwartz and Savage are well-versed in witty, self-aware young people. It's part of what makes their teen dramas (The O.C., Gossip Girl) so instantly compelling and endlessly quotable. "You're a Cohen now," Seth told Ryan in "The Debut." "Welcome to a life of insecurity and paralyzing self-doubt." Marvel's Runaways has a similar sense of humor. "Great party, Alex! Thanks for all the pizza and sadness," Chase quips in the pilot episode. Sure, it's not as iconic as "Welcome to the O.C., bitch!" — but it's certainly meme-able.