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Science & Medicine

Time-Traveling TV Romp 'Loki' Satirizes Comic-Book Conventions

DAVE DAVIES, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. Today, the Disney+ streaming service premieres the latest entry in its series of Marvel Comics TV spinoffs. This one stars Tom Hiddleston as Loki, the Norse god of mischief. He first appeared as that character in a Marvel superhero movie 10 years ago as the less heroic brother of Thor and has appeared in several Marvel films since. Now he's the star of his own six-part TV series. Our TV critic David Bianculli has this review.

DAVID BIANCULLI, BYLINE: The Disney empire, in staking out its territory in the world of streaming TV, has spent lots of money gobbling up some of the most valuable and creative franchises in modern entertainment history - the Pixar animation studio, the "Star Wars" franchise, the Muppets and the Marvel Comics movie and TV divisions, which already have produced two new Disney+ series, "Wandavision" and "The Falcon And The Winter Soldier."

"Wandavision" was a delightfully inventive hybrid of comedy and drama, incorporating decades of TV sitcom history into its central narrative. And "The Falcon And The Winter Soldier" was a miniseries-length action movie made for television with impressive battle sequences and, as with "Wandavision," strong supporting characters and actors from the films given their chance to shine on the small screen.

The latest Disney+ series, "Loki," takes one of the most charismatic actors and characters in the entire Marvel universe, Tom Hiddleston as Loki, and puts him in a show that's lots of fun. That's true whether or not you followed the Marvel movies or care much about superhero stories in particular. Michael Waldron, who created the "Loki" TV series, uses his leading character and the entire television show to playfully satirize the comic book conventions of superheroes and of time travel. The last time we saw Loki, the Norse god of mischief, in a Marvel movie was in 2019's "Avengers: Endgame." He had managed to abscond with a magical cube called the Tesseract, which allows him to move through space and time.

This new "Loki" series continues that journey in which almost immediately he's tracked down and captured by an organization called the Time Variance Authority. Loki is forced to work his way through a series of roped-off lines, like the ones you snake your way through an airport security, until he gets to the front and is forced to watch an animated film featuring a friendly looking avatar called Miss Minutes. It's like a galactic "People's Court" as a Disneyland ride. And its stifling bureaucracy suggests what it might be like if Disney ruled the universe. The voice of Miss Minutes is provided by Tara Strong.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "LOKI")

TARA STRONG: (As Miss Minutes) Welcome to the Time Variance Authority. I'm Miss Minutes, and it's my job to catch you up before you stand trial for your crimes. So let's not waste another minute. Settle in, sharpen your pencils, and check this out. Long ago, there was a vast multiversal war. Countless unique timelines battle each other for supremacy, nearly resulting in the total destruction of, well, everything. But then the all-knowing Time Keepers emerged, bringing peace by reorganizing the multiverse into a single timeline - this sacred timeline. Now the Time Keepers protect and preserve the proper flow of time for everyone and everything. But sometimes people like you veer off the path the Time Keepers created. We call those variants.

BIANCULLI: Loki escapes serious punishment, however, because he's thought to have valuable insight which could help the TVA catch a much more transgressive variant. Loki is assigned to an investigator named Mobius, who's played by Owen Wilson. He and Hiddleston turn this "Loki" series into a thoroughly entertaining buddy movie featuring an odd couple of polar opposites. Loki is a God with ego to match, and Mobius is a blase company man who is so casual about his initial interrogation of Loki that he pops the top on a soda can and starts guzzling as he begins.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "LOKI")

OWEN WILSON: (As Mobius) I specialize in the pursuit of dangerous variants.

TOM HIDDLESTON: (As Loki) Like myself.

WILSON: (As Mobius) No, particularly dangerous variants. You're just a little pussycat. I got a set of questions for you. You answer them honestly, and then maybe I can give you something you want. And you want to get out of here, right? Yeah. So we'll start there. Should you return, what are you going to do?

HIDDLESTON: (As Loki) Finish what I started.

WILSON: (As Mobius) Which is...

HIDDLESTON: (As Loki) Claim my throne.

WILSON: (As Mobius) You want to be king.

HIDDLESTON: (As Loki) I don't want to be. I was born to be.

WILSON: (As Mobius) I know, but king of what exactly?

HIDDLESTON: (As Loki) You wouldn't understand.

WILSON: (As Mobius) Try me.

HIDDLESTON: (As Loki) Midgard.

WILSON: (As Mobius) Aka Earth. All right. Now you're the king of Midgard. Then what, happily ever after?

HIDDLESTON: (As Loki) Asgard, the nine realms...

WILSON: (As Mobius) Space.

HIDDLESTON: (As Loki) Space.

WILSON: (As Mobius) Space is big. That'd be a nice feather in your cap - Loki, the king of space.

HIDDLESTON: (As Loki) Mock me if you dare.

WILSON: (As Mobius) No, I'm not. Honestly, I'm actually a fan. Yeah.

BIANCULLI: Director Kate Herron keeps the performances front and center, and Wilson and Hiddleston play off each other beautifully as they combine to track down a particularly devious time-traveling criminal. I've seen only the first two episodes of this six-episode series, but already this "Loki" TV show has the flavor of It Takes A Thief, the "48 Hrs." Nick Nolte-Eddie Murphy movie and other breezy adventures featuring heroes who bicker as often as they bond. As time-traveling TV romps go, "Loki" on Disney+ is time well spent.

DAVIES: David Bianculli is a professor of television studies at Rowan University in New Jersey. He reviewed the new Disney+ series "Loki." On tomorrow's show, how ransomware became a big business and a national security threat. We talk with Michael Schwartz, one of the New York Times investigative reporters who got access to secret communications showing how the Russian-speaking cyber gang DarkSide attacked the Colonial Pipeline and provided tech support for other hackers. I hope you can join us.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

DAVIES: FRESH AIR's executive producer is Danny Miller. Our technical director and engineer is Audrey Bentham. Our interviews and reviews are produced and edited by Amy Salit, Phyllis Myers, Sam Briger, Lauren Krenzel, Heidi Saman, Therese Madden, Ann Marie Baldonado, Thea Chaloner, Seth Kelley, Kayla Lattimore and Joel Wolfram. Our associate producer of digital media is Molly Seavy-Nesper. Roberta Shorrock directs the show. For Terry Gross, I'm Dave Davies. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.