A COUPLE MORE NEW FALL TV REVIEWS

MARVEL’S INHUMANS (ABC and CTV, 9:00PM Fridays)

The Inhumans are a race of superhumans that live on the moon, shielded from view within their secret city of Attilan. Yes, you read that correctly! I know! Sounds silly to me, too.

The show’s writers left out a whole lot of the Inhumans’ backstory, here, so the casual viewer may struggle to figure out exactly what is going on. A knowledge of the comic book source material would definitely help one understand and enjoy this new MCU television series.

Like the comics, the plot centers on the Inhuman Royal Family. Black Bolt is the King, whose hypersonic voice is so powerful that he could level a city with a mere whisper. Therefore, he never speaks. His Queen is Medusa, who can manipulate objects with her long, flowing red hair, which acts as a prehensile appendage, and in a fight, can pack quite a punch. Crystal is Medusa’s younger sister, who can control Earth, Wind, and Fire (the elements, not the band), and Lockjaw is her giant CGI bulldog, who can ferry folk from here to there instantaneously by means of teleportation.

Other Royals include Black Bolt’s cousin Triton, who is capable of living underwater, Gorgon, another of Black Bolt’s cousins and leader of Attilan’s Royal Guard, who can stomp his hooved feet and generate earthquake-like waves of force, and Karnak, still another cousin and the King’s most trusted advisor, who sees the fault in all things, and so is able to avoid making errors.

The villain of the story is Maximus, Black Bolt’s brother, who lucked out when they were handing out the super powers! Every Inhuman, in a coming-of-age ceremony, is exposed to Terrigen Mist, a natural mutagen that brings out the individual’s latent superhuman abilities. Maximus came away from his so-called Terrigenesis ceremony with nada, leaving him, essentially, an ordinary human. He and others like him face prejudice from those with powers and were he not the King’s brother, he would certainly have found himself relegated to toiling in the mines as a member of Attilan’s lowest caste. Aspiring to the crown himself, Maximus asserts that the humans on Earth will one day discover Attilan and seek to destroy the Inhuman race. He strongly advocates for Inhuman society relocating to Earth to claim its birthright (Inhumans originated on this planet eons ago), against the wishes of his brother and the other Royals, who maintain that such a migration would result in a war with humans. Maximus incites Attilan’s underclasses with promises of freedom, lebensruam on Earth (Attilan’s growing population is increasingly taxing the limited resources of the city), and a better life. He orchestrates a coup and ousts his brother from power. The Royal Family flees to Hawaii, where they must regroup and adapt to a surreptitious life on Earth.

I found the action plodding, the dialogue flat, and some of the story threads introduced quickly went nowhere, like that of the quirky scientist/lunar rover-driver at Callisto Aerospace in California. As luck would have it, she drives her vehicle smack into the invisible protective shield surrounding Attilan, catching a glimpse of Gorgon’s hoof on the rover’s remote camera feed as he steps in to remove the nosy little intruder. Presumably we’ll see her again in a future episode, and maybe she’ll play a pivotal role in the discovery of the Inhumans’ secret lunar city. Or something. At this point, however, her involvement seemed entirely unnecessary.

I feel the writers were trying to pack way too much into the first couple hours of this show, and the narrative suffered for it.

Meanwhile, Gorgon wasted most of his screen time hanging out on a Hawaiian beach with a group of surfers! WTF? And Crystal, the only Royal captured by Maximus during his coup, never really got her moment to shine. Her dog was a more valuable asset!

Medusa , soon to experience a bad hair day!

The most ridiculous moment, however, came when Medusa experienced a bad hair day. Cornered by Maximus and the traitorous Royal Guards, she defiantly refuses to join the revolt. So he pulls out an electric hair clipper and shaves off her super-powered locks! Really? An electric hair clipper! Edward Scissorhands wasn’t available? Come on, writers!

Despite a generally poor reception from fans, however, I’ll go out on a limb and say that Inhumans isn’t all bad. There is potential in this thing, but based on the early episodes, to realize that potential, the writers will need to up their game.

Consider:

Maximus is not a typical, black-and-white comic-book villain. He exhibits shades of gray. Yes, he may be a despicable creep—at one point, in a terribly inappropriate move, he hits on his brother’s wife!—but he has a depth that could be better exploited. Maximus had understandable reasons for betraying Black Bolt, self-serving reasons, perhaps, but arguably genuine. Attilan’s pitiless class system, which the Royals have enabled, after all, is hard to excuse, and Maximus has promised to free the city’s underclasses from the bigoted debasing and virtual enslavement they’ve endured for a long time. Can’t fault him for that! In other scenarios, he might be seen as heroic. The deposed King and his court suddenly don’t seem such a virtuous bunch, and it’s a little harder to sympathize with them, now, isn’t it? And yet, we’re asked to ignore all this and see the deposed Royals as the straight-up cardboard heroes of the piece, with Maximus standing in opposition as the patent one-dimensional villain.

If deftly stickhandled, though, the chance is there to make of these Inhumans engaging, wonderfully flawed characters, and to craft thoughtful, compelling drama. So step up, writers, and pen for us a series that will be something better than these opening hours imply.—Sue Denham 

THE GIFTED (Fox and CTV, 9:00PM Mondays) 

Marvel’s other new series is The Gifted, a perfectly serviceable drama whose teenaged leads will no doubt appeal to a youthful audience. Set in an alternate timeline in which the powerful X-Men and the Brotherhood have disappeared, it’s about a family, the children of which are mutants, who find themselves on the run from government authorities tasked with pursuing mutants and incarcerating them in correctional facilities.

Young mutants Andy and Lauren Strucker

When young Andy Strucker attends a high school dance and is set upon by bullies, his raw telekinetic abilities suddenly manifest and he inadvertently causes the school gym to begin imploding. Rescued by his older sister, Lauren, who employs her own controlled mutant powers to shield herself from falling debris, they escape and make their way home, where they tell their mother what happened and in so doing, reveal to her that they are both mutants. The twist in the tale is that their father is a district attorney whose job it is to prosecute mutants!

Desperate, now, to protect his children, Reed Strucker turns to the Mutant Underground for help. This is a group that helps mutants evade capture by the authorities and subsequently smuggles them safely out of the country. In his capacity as a D.A., Reed regards them as criminals. But in exchange for help in getting his family out of Dodge, he strikes a bargain with the Underground’s Marcos Diaz, a mutant known as Eclipse, offering information on the recently arrested and imprisoned Lorna Dane, or Polaris, Diaz’s girlfriend and, according to show-creator Matt Nix, Magneto’s daughter. Each wary of trusting the other, but urgently in need of what the other is offering, the two men arrange a meeting, which is shortly interrupted by the sudden arrival of the sinister Sentinel Services division, who deploy their mutant-hunting robots, setting a frantic chase in motion that ends with everyone but Reed only just evading capture.

The themes at play as this series launches tender a none too veiled critique of Trump’s America. It’s all put together quite well, and promises to explore not the fortunes of extraordinarily super-powered heroes like the X-Men, but the lot of average, everyday mutants, the little guys of the mutant constituency (and their human allies) struggling to survive, without the protection of a Charles Xavier or a Wolverine, in a political climate in which they are persecuted.

The cast is likable, the writing tight, and the action well-choreographed. The only thing that concerns me a little is that it all seems a bit familiar. I’ve seen variations of this idea in vignettes within some of the X-Men movies, and in the television series Heroes, so The Gifted might possibly, perhaps have some difficulty standing out on its own. Too early to tell yet, however, whether it’ll prove derivative or a captivating fresh take.—Carl Phillips