Cloak and Dagger: ‘A Different Approach’ To Superhero TV
Cloak and Dagger creator Joe Pokaski promises motivational depth and a touch of destiny in the origin story for these paired superheroes.
Marvel’s Cloak and Dagger is coming to Freeform this June, but don’t be fooled by the fact that the network formerly known as ABC Family is airing this paired superhero show. Although the series doesn’t reach Netflix levels of adult content, the series was created by Joe Pokaski, the Daredevil executive producer who famously wrote the episode in which Fisk uses a car door in a brutal and fatal fashion. As Cloak and Dagger depicts the origin story of Tyrone Johnson (Aubrey Joseph) as “Cloak” and Tandy Bowen (Olivia Holt) as “Dagger” gaining their powers, the tale will be told in a manner unlike any other comic-based show on cable, network television, or streaming service.
“I don’t really think in terms of target audience,” explains Pokaski. “I’ll be angry if there aren’t 50-year-old men watching this show. I’m hoping a lot of people that go to the Marvel brand go to Cloak and Dagger… We don’t try to be too gratuitous, but we want to sell the world as a place that needs superheroes, particularly New Orleans. And both Marvel and Freeform have been completely on board with how real and how gritty we want to do it… there wasn’t a single thing in Cloak and Dagger where I tried to push the envelope where anyone brushed me off the plate.”
The series has the extra challenge of reinventing the original comic which contains somewhat dated views of the lives of teenagers with regard to race and gender. “The most important thing is you definitely have to have a different approach,” Pokaski says. “For starters, you try to find actors who don’t look like what you’ve seen before, and I think that’s why I was drawn to Tandy and Tyrone. They were young; one was a young white woman; one was a young black man, and they were thrown in together. They needed each other, and there’s something interesting in terms of the fact that they’ve got a parity and a yin and a yang that I don’t think you see in a lot of superheroes. There’s usually a power dynamic; there’s usually a sidekick. And these two need each other and are equals to each other.”
The stories of Tyrone and Tandy will be told in tandem with a reversal of stereotypes as Tyrone goes from the streets as a kid to private school in his teens and as Tandy goes from taking ballet lessons to living in an abandoned church, but their back stories are filled with tragedy and far from dull. “The idea is just to tell the most exciting part, and I think one of the things we found very early is that the intercut allowed us to do that,” Pokaski elaborates. “So while you were sort of doing a slow bake in a personal story, when you’re intercutting, for example, between Tandy robbing a house and Tyrone at a basketball game, you can add some excitement and use a shorthand that allows you to move it along but really stay intimate and small as well.”
Don’t worry, though; Cloak and Dagger will have plenty of the excitement that accompanies discovering new powers and how they interrelate in each episode. “I don’t want to spoil too much, but part of the fun of setting up a season one over ten episodes was to make sure they organically found out what their purpose was individually,” says Pokaski, carefully. “Without giving away too much, for Tandy it’s one girl against an entire corporation; for Tyrone it’s one young man against the police force. And we kind of find a way to turn that into something bigger that, slowly and hopefully in a very sneaky way, coaxes the viewer into understanding that they’re actually being set up for something really big towards the end.”
Cloak and Dagger will ultimately tease out the circumstances of their powers, playing on the idea of a greater destiny and a reason for why they specifically were chosen. “Part of the fun when we decided to shoot in New Orleans was the sense of magic and the sense of destiny, and there’s the slight smell of stale beer,” describes Pokaski. “There’s just something special about that place. So as we started talking about why these two would get these powers at the same time, it was kind of interesting to link them together.”
Pokaski almost makes it sound like the first season of Cloak and Dagger will take a measured approach to introducing viewers to the characters and really giving them a deeper motivation rather than simply dropping the power to create light daggers on Tandy or giving Tyrone mysterious teleportation abilities. “It’s so hard because every scene they’re in is gold!” says Pokaski, referring to the restraint required to create such meticulous pacing. “But you don’t want to give everybody the whole Tandy and Tyrone show until you have earned it and understand them individually.”
As for crossovers with other Marvel properties, Pokaski’s fondness for another teen-centered superhero show, Hulu’s Runaways, and its showrunners, Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage, is well documented. “Josh and Stephanie are geniuses. They seem to be able to do such entertaining television so effortlessly that I always say to [head of Marvel Television Jeph Loeb], ‘When are we doing our Runaways crossover? When are we going to do it?’ I think we have a slightly different tone, but I love that show and I think those kids are all fantastic. Even when the camera’s off they all seem very delightful, and they’ve been very nice to Aubrey and Olivia.”
The premiere of Cloak and Dagger was screened to SXSW 2018 attendees and met favorable critical reception, and with the series premiere now less than a month away, Marvel fan anticipation is high. To see how the series develops, tune into Freeform on your local cable service starting June 7, 2018. The two-hour opener airs at 8pm ET.
Be sure to subscribe to Sci Fi Fidelity for the full audio of this interview, coming in the June podcast.