About halfway through watching the two-hour premiere of Marvel’s Inhumans, I came up with a way to make it more bearable. If you watch it as a comedy, it almost works. In fact — and this is the first and last time I will ever say this — it’s a show that could actually be improved by a laugh track. For a fleeting moment I was almost convinced by this alternative version of the show as a bleak satire of the superhero genre. Something so surreal and twisted it could be a feature-length “Too Many Cooks.” But even a vivid imagination or desire to make this something different than it is won’t make it so.
It’s hard to know where to start with Inhumans. So much has already been written about the fascinatingly bad Marvel series since it first debuted in IMAX. In an unprecedented move, the series hit theaters exclusively for a month before premiering again on ABC (with an additional ten minutes of content), where it will continue through eight episodes. Iron Fist’s Scott Buck helms the series and wrote the two-hour premiere, and it is an incredible mess.
What’s so interesting about Inhumans is figuring out just how it got to be this bad. It doesn’t work on any level. Originally pitched as part of Marvel’s Phase 3 movie development, the idea was shifted to the television side, but it was a project Marvel never seemed particularly invested in. As was recently reported, director Roel Reine admitted he was hired because Marvel wanted Inhumans’ production to be “fast and cheap”, a surprising choice for a series that wants to convince people to pay $20 to see it in a theater before it airs again for free on television.
Plus, it’s not like Marvel has been hitting it out of the park lately with its TV content. Iron Fist was a bore, The Defenders was a huge letdown, and Marvel has struggled to keep its broadcast series on the air (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. might have improved last season, but ABC not cancelling it likely has little to do with quality and everything to do with their parent company’s wishes for corporate synergy). With Inhumans and its short episode run, Marvel TV had a chance to do something interesting with these weird characters. Instead it murdered the idea in front of us.
The specifics of Inhumans are thus: they are a race who, when exposed to Terrigen Mist, can accelerate their genetics to produce a mutation that gives them a particular power or ability. Some people can suddenly fly, others gain super strength or the ability to control a teleporting dog (?) If you don’t develop any discernible new talent, you are thrown into the mine as part of a caste system that subjugates humans on a hidden moon colony, despite the fact that Inhumans seem to fear humans and refuse — even with all of their powers — to claim a throne on Earth. Instead, they are an isolated and seemingly miserable people.
That moon kingdom, Attilan, is ruled by the silent Black Bolt (Anson Mount), whose voice is so powerful he vaporizes anyone and anything in his way. His wife, Medusa (Serinda Swan) has long hair that she can weaponize — a prop that became iconic for how terrible it looks (it’s also done away with pretty early in the series as Medusa’s powers become neutralized). Black Bolt’s brother, Maximus (Iwan Rheon) is the equivalent of an Attilan squib, which makes him a royal pain. He seeks to overthrow Black Bolt and take power himself, all of which could have made for a compelling family drama. Instead, we get a predictably plotted and dully executed two-hour premiere that strips away anything interesting about this tale of royal betrayal.
So far, the writing is bad, the editing is atrocious, the costuming looks cheap, and most of the acting is wooden. There are in-episode flashbacks to events that took place less than five minutes earlier, as if we would want to re-live any of it (or as if it’s our fault that things are so badly put together that we might not be following the story). And despite everyone else having an American accent, Rheon retains some of his Welsh lilt, which he told us at the TV Critics Press Tour earlier this summer was his attempt to sound a bit “Moon-ish.”
There are two bright spots in Inhumans, though, and one is a teleporting dog, Lockjaw, who is fully CG. And yet he somehow is more interesting and more worthy of our care than any actual person — human or inhuman — on the show. Having said that, Serinda Swan makes a case for Medusa once she is on Earth (in Hawaii, no less). She already seemed like the smartest person in Attilan, and she proves that truth by continuing to be thoughtful and resourceful, and even getting some decent action sequences that set her up as the true heroine. Would that it were. Instead, we spend too much time on characters who powers are not explained well or at all (like Ken Leung’s Karnak and Eme Ikwuakor’s Gorgon), or on the silent Black Bolt who seems completely expendable at this point. #TeamMaxmimus.
I could honestly write about Inhumans for another 3000 words. I’ve been thinking about it since I saw the first hour as part of a preview for the TCA tour, haunted by its brazen lack of quality. There are TV shows that are bad, and then there are TV shows that are so bad they should be watched just for the horror of it. I would never recommend that you watch Inhumans, but if you want to, I would do so in a group. Marvel’s excessively miscalculated series is nearly performance art. It’s theater of the absurd. Or maybe it’s just a sloppy and hastily thrown together TV show to satisfy a corporate obligation, and no amount of Terrigen Mist is going to turn it into something interesting.
Rating: ★ — Not even worth it for the dog.
Inhumans premieres on ABC with a two-hour premiere Friday, September 29th.