Hulu goes sci-fi lite with 'Runaways,' 'Future Man'

'Marvel's Runaways'

(CNN)After its Emmy breakthrough with "The Handmaid's Tale," Hulu's profile is on the rise. But its two latest series, the Seth Rogen-produced sci-fi comedy "Future Man" and teen serial "Marvel's Runaways," are both middling, narrowly appealing genre fare, more notable for their auspices than the execution.

Playful and silly, "Future Man" recycles the oldest of premises: A 20-something slacker, Josh Futturman ("The Hunger Games'" Josh Hutcherson), discovers that the unbeatable video game he's mastered is actually a test placed in our time by denizens from the future, identifying him as the one person with the skills to save the world.
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As the stunned Josh notes wryly when confronted with this scenario, it's virtually the same plot as "The Last Starfighter," a movie that came and went rather quickly in 1984, but has gained a cult following since then.
    The main point of departure, thanks to the juvenile influence of Rogen (who directed the premiere with collaborator Evan Goldberg), involves upping the ante on blue humor. That includes the fact that Josh -- by day a janitor in a research lab -- has spent his time lusting after (a euphemism, that) videogame-heroine-come-to-life Tiger (Eliza Coupe), who, like her partner Wolf (Derek Wilson), tends to take almost everything literally and responds to most situations by wanting to kill something.
    The show has its amusing moments, and features a solid cast, with Keith David as the lab chief, and Ed Begley Jr. and the late Glenne Headly -- who died in June -- as Josh's parents.
    Ultimately, though, the storyline -- sending Josh and his deadly new pals back in time to save the future -- is so steeped in sci-fi homages and clichés that there's precious little here about which to get truly excited. And there's really no good euphemism for that.
    In similar fashion, "Marvel's Runaways" feels like a mash-up of CW-type dramas, as if "Gossip Girl" had a baby with the "X-Men" franchise.
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    The generic, diverse group of six teens at the show's center, once close, has scattered for reasons that initially remain vague. Their parents, meanwhile -- played by, among others, Annie Wersching, James Marsters and Kevin Weisman -- are secretly up to something, hiding behind the imprimatur of a charitable event, which smacks of a strange cult, eventually leaving the show's modern-day Scooby-Doo gang wondering who or what they can trust.
    All that might be enough, but as they say in late-night commercials, wait, there's more: The kids also show flashes of strange abilities, although four episodes in, it's still not entirely clear who can do what.
    Adapted from the comics by producers Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage -- creators of the aforementioned "Gossip Girl," and currently responsible for CW's "Dynasty" revival -- "Runaways" certainly has the teen angst thing down cold. But the idea of mixing that with extraordinary powers is as old as Spider-Man, the primary difference being that almost nothing here is compelling enough to really stick.
    Marvel deserves some credit for experimenting with different TV genres and platforms, and Hulu is surely happy to have a franchise that taps into the studio's built-in fan base.
    Still, even with these gifted teens at its core, "Runaways" feels as if it's been marinating in the shallow end of the Marvel gene pool.
    "Future Man" and "Marvel's Runaways" premiere Nov. 14 and Nov. 21, respectively, on Hulu.