And I thought Iron Fist was bad.
In retrospect, Iron Fist had competent special effects, actors, costumes, and a story that, while dreadfully dull, made sense. You could tell it was a television show that at least a modicum of effort was put into. Then there’s Inhumans. To call this a TV show would be an insult to the last season of Just Shoot Me. This is, simply put, the worst thing to debut on TV this fall and the worst disaster that merry Marvel has managed to cook up.
In the comics, the Inhumans are a race of superhumans who live in the city of Attilan, located on the Earth’s moon. Ironically, they first appeared in issues of Fantastic Four, which has had its own disastrous adaptations. You’d be hard-pressed to figure any of this out watching the ABC series, because Inhumans is as incomprehensible as it is awful. To understand it, you have to imagine it as a poorly rendered version of Game of Thrones. The Inhumans rule by monarchy, so the royal family of Black Bolt, Medusa, Crystal, Karnak, Gorgon, and Maximus are like the Starks (and their version of a direwolf is Lockjaw, a huge-ass dog who can teleport). There’s a heavy caste system where everyone has the potential to be Inhumans, but not everyone in the city develops superpowers. Maximus (Iwan Rheon, aka Ramsay Bolton) is one of those powerless nobodies who is only part of the royal family because the king, Black Bolt (Anson Mount), is his brother. Also, Maximus has been feeling particularly treasonous as of late.
So he stages a coup and the royal family, save for Lockjaw and Crystal (Isabelle Cornish), escape to Hawaii where they’re all scattered across the island and have to work their way back to one another and reclaim their throne. You know, like Game of Thrones. In theory, this could work, but at every avenue Inhumans is a mediocre piece of entertainment. There are no real stakes in this story because you don’t have any sense of these characters before the coup begins—five minutes into the premiere. You have no real idea what any of the non-royal family thinks about their lot in life either, because this isn’t a well-crafted story so much as a paint-by-numbers sci-fi epic.
Marvel’s Netflix series, while lacking the budget of their mega-movies, manage to look good because the shows are grounded in realism. On the other hand, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. maneuvers around its network TV budget by focusing on the human characters in the midst of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s superheroics. But creator Scott Buck’s Inhumans marks Marvel’s first stab at depicting superpowers on a network TV budget and they look terrible. Lockjaw looks like a cartoon. Medusa’s living hair, which she uses as a weapon, looks hilariously bad in fight scenes. No wonder it gets shaved off with a Duane Reade razor midway through the episode. How could they afford that CGI going forward, as bad as it is? The costumes on the show look horrendous, like they were found on sales racks at Forever 21.
Even minor things in the show don’t particularly make sense. Assuming this series takes place in 2017, aliens have attacked the fucking planet and yet people somehow can’t fathom that there might be aliens living on the moon, or that Black Bolt might possess superpowers. Black Bolt also can’t speak because his superpower is his voice, which killed his parents and can cause massive destruction, so he speaks using sign language. Any other show might have attempted to use a deaf actor or one who knows ASL, but Inhumans just made up their own sign language because why bother, right? As a result, the sign language looks arbitrary from scene to scene and makes no real sense to viewers who might try to decipher the language, like, say, the languages developed on sci-fi series that take themselves more seriously, such as Star Trek.
It’s sad that this series had to debut at the same time as Star Trek: Discovery, a sci-fi show that actually has something to say about society and how we interact with one another as humans. By contrast, Inhumans seems designed only for Marvel to cash in on characters they own the rights to, sell ad dollars, and pimp out toys and merchandise. There’s nothing essential about this show as it has nothing to say.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe has been wildly successful thus far, but its laissez-faire attitude towards its television division is criminal. An interesting and inventive series like Agent Carter gets canceled, the mediocre to slightly enjoyable S.H.I.E.L.D. will seemingly survive on the channel forever (since ABC also doesn’t seem to realize they’re still airing episodes of Once Upon a Time), and Inhumans is just an unmitigated disaster. Marvel’s audience continues to look forward to events like The Infinity Wars and new seasons of their Netflix shows but Inhumans proves that the returns can be diminishing, and at some point, if they continue to take their network series for granted, the fans are going to start tuning out.