Hoo boy.

What is it?

Marvel's Inhumans, premiering tonight at 8 ET on ABC.

What's it about?

... Uh.

Hello? Something wrong?

No. Oh, you mean wrong with this show? Then yes. Hoo boy. Lots of stuff. Yep.

[Sigh.] What. Is It. About?

In Marvel comics, Inhumans are a race of beings distinct from humans because their genetic makeup gives them special mutati-, um. Special abilities. For this reason, they're hated and feared by humanity.

So, mutants, then.


You almost said it yourself! Mutants. Like the X-Men.

No! Mutants are distinct from humans because their genetic makeup gives them special abilities that make them hated and feared by humanity.

OK, that's exactly what you just said abou-

The thing about mutants, see, is that their special abilities manifest, most often, in adolescence.


But with Inhumans, their special abilities only manifest when they're exposed to a special substance called the Terrigen Mists!

"The Terrigen Mists."

... Which happens, generally speaking, in their adolescence.


Generally but not exclusively! I hasten to point out!

Great. So this show is about a bunch of Not-Mutants. With special abilities.

... Who live on the moon, yes. In a city called Attilan, invisible to humans. They have a king named Black Bolt, played here by a pair o'cheekbones named, improbably enough, Anson Mount. Black Bolt's voice is hugely destructive, so he never speaks. His queen is Medusa, played by Serinda Swan. She's got long red hair with tresses that can punch and choke and, I don't know, play the bass line to Primus' "Jerry was a Race Car Driver," probably.

There's also Black Bolt's brother Maximus, played by Game of Thrones' Iwan Rheon, adding another villain to his IMDB page, although this time a strangely joyless one. He didn't get special powers when he was exposed to the Terrigen Mists as a kid, which happens sometimes. When it does, the little nonspecial Inhuman in question usually gets sent to the moon mines. But Maximus' status as a member of Attilan's royal family kept him free to plot and brood and generally skulk around like a low-key Loki.

So, it's not good, you're saying.

Also, there's a giant bulldog named Lockjaw that teleports folk. That's pretty cool, actually.


And there's a bunch of other Inhumans like Triton and Karnak and other names that when you read them in a comic book you're like, "sure, OK," but when you hear them spoken out loud by a day-player in a pleather tunic with Plan 9 from Outer Space shoulder thingies, it can't help but come off deeply, deeply hokey.

OK. What about the-

I mean at one point a character says, "If anyone can do this, it's Gorgon!" You know? That's an actual line that works fine — sort of fine — on the page. But when spoken by a person? In a So-Fro Fabrics space tunic? It's less than fine.

You don't like the dialogue?

"To the mines you go!" That's another one. And people keep talking in hushed tones about "The Genetic Council" and also, there's this bit on Earth where a guy's driving a cab and he sees a giant teleporting bulldog materialize ahead of him in the middle of the street, and he says, "What the?"

What's wrong with that? That's normal, isn't it?

No, "WHAT TH-!" is normal. Rushed, urgent, cut off at the end. It's a cliche, but it's normal. This dude says, "What the." Unhurried. Unconcerned. Sort of slow and detached, like tumteetoo I'm just driving along, about to crash into a magic space puppy the size of an Escalade and I just remembered I should really pick up some milk.


"WHAT TH-!" vs. "What the." It's very different.

These are nitpicks. But the buzz around the show is really, really bad. That can't just be something small like "What the."

Yes, it can, actually, because of everything "What the." represents.

The Inhumans were created by Jack Kirby and Stan Lee, and what makes them work in the comics is how hard they lean into Kirby's heightened, gleefully overblown style — bold design, cosmic conflicts, characters trading shouted oaths as dialogue. Everything about them is big.

To make something from a Marvel concept this blithely, wonderfully and resolutely weird demands time and budget and — maybe most of all — commitment, and none of those three things showed up to set. There's no scale, here: Everything's hedged, hemmed-in, cramped. The script feels like a first, place-holdery pass. The sets and costumes (and in the case of Medusa, the wigs) seem rushed, flat, devoid of texture.

That's not about the design, but the execution — what should be one character's quarters in Attilan's huge cosmic space palace, for example, looks more like a Boca timeshare. You keep looking for the wicker dolphin.

And the acting? Hoo boy.

The main characters are fine. Swan improves immeasurably once she's allowed to get her knuckles dirty; as the forbidden-to-speak Black Bolt, Mount scowls and scowls and scowls, but once on Earth he gets to throw in the occasional affronted eyebrow-pop. It may not sound like much, but compared to the show's alarmingly wooden bit players, dude is liquid mercury.

(As the show's many ancillary characters deliver their lines, you'll wonder just what exactly they're doing, and why. And which producer they're related to.)

The slapdash approach evident in every aspect of production ends up mattering hugely, leaching color and life out of even the moments that work, and poisoning the ones that don't. There's a flashback involving the discovery of young Black Bolt's powers, for example, that's shocking in theory, but hilarious in execution. It's meant to strike a tragic note, but the result is emotionally closer to "Yakety Sax."

You're only talking about the pilot, though. That doesn't seem fair. Things could improve, right?

Yes, they've only screened tonight's two-hour pilot for press. But only eight episodes have been produced, so if you do watch tonight, you'll have gotten one-fourth of the experience, which seems a reasonable place from which to make educated guesses about what's in store.

It took Marvel's Agents of S.H.E.I.L.D a couple of seasons to find its level — but that show is about human conflicts and intrigue against the backdrop of the Marvel Universe. Netflix's Marvel shows share a similar vibe of street-level superheroics. They work, to the extent they do, because television is an intimate medium; Game of Thrones aside, it thrives in the two-shot, in two people talking.

It may be that television, with its rushed production schedules and curtailed budgets, just isn't the right medium for these characters.

You seriously think someone would pay to go see a movie about the Inhumans, characters with no name recognition outside the nerdiest inner circle? Really?

Uh ... Guardians of the Galaxy? Ant-Man? Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2?

Never gonna happen.

Not now, no.

Anything else we need to cover, here?

Well, the show's never gonna mention it, but in the comics, "Black Bolt" isn't really that character's name.

Of course it isn't. That'd be silly. What is it, like, Chad or Dave or something?

It's "Blackagar Boltagon."


Isn't that awesome?

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.