It is finally upon us. After an utterly terrible marketing campaign and a botched IMAX release, Inhumans has started its run on ABC.
And it is exactly the disaster I wanted it to be.
The Inhuman kingdom of Attilan (pronounced “at-il-ann” despite the spelling,) located on the Moon and run by the silent King Black Bolt (Anson Mount), Queen Medusa (Serinda Swan), and the rest of the Royal Family, has been a peaceful haven for those with the Inhuman genes for centuries. However, Attilan runs on a caste system that elevates people with more obvious powers to the higher caste while those with less obvious powers (or no powers at all) are sent to work in the mines. Maximus (Iwan Rheon), the powerless brother of Black Bolt, becomes fed up with the system and stages a military coup, keeping Medusa’s sister, Crystal (Isabelle Cornish) and her teleporting dog, Lockjaw (CGI) captive on Attilan while the rest of the ensemble are able to escape to Earth. Scattered across Hawaii, the Inhuman Royal Family must find reunite in order to return home and defeat Maximus.
The main problem with Inhumans is, without a doubt, a lack of characters to pull for. The Royal Family is implicit in carrying the aforementioned elitist caste system and start out as unsympathetic as a result, but about halfway through the first part of the two-episode premiere, Maximus sexually harasses Medusa, rendering him unsympathetic as well. It’s clear that the angle showrunner/writer Scott Buck (Iron Fist, Dexter seasons 6-8) was going for was to have both sides be flawed, but the actual writing itself renders pretty much any thematic idea that may have been present when the show was conceived incredibly muddled.
The overall cheapness of the enterprise does not help in this regard. It’s not secret that Inhumans was rushed into production, and it definitely shows. The first two episodes take many budget shortcuts early on, limiting any use of CG by shaving off Medusa’s super-powered hair at the end of part one and incapacitating Lockjaw at the beginning of part two. The costume and production design also feel rushed (the infamous still above used as the header photo is sadly indicative of the show’s look as a whole,) with the extra detail afforded by shooting in IMAX just further exposing how cheap it feels.
However, the cheapness does help the show in a category that works for me and probably no one else: CAMP. Once episode two started and the characters started being even dumber than they were previously, I realized that I was starting to vibe on the stupidity. But by the time a face in a rock showed up in order to teleport the head of Maximus’ guards to Earth to kill the Royal Family, I realized that this was what I wanted this show to be from the second that I heard that it was bad.
What helps this is that the actors are entirely earnest. None of the cast act like they are above the material, and it’s played completely straight. It could have been easy to go the full monty and ham it up, and I definitely would have been there for that, but playing it straight often results in better-aging camp.
Granted, the acting isn’t great here, but it gets the job done. Ken Leung is curt and aloof as Karnak, who from what I can tell is basically a Vulcan with Sherlock Holmes’ mind palace. Leung also shares a fun rivalry with Eme Ikwuakor as Gorgon, the hooved-head of the Royal Guard who just wants to smash things. Rheon gives a solid turn as well, though he could stand to be a little more charismatic in order to sell the “hero of the oppressed” status he’s built for himself. And Serinda Swan does good work as Medusa, thankfully managing to overcome some truly terrible costuming in the first episode.
But by far the best performance of the main cast is Anson Mount as Black Bolt. The character asks a lot of Mount, who has to communicate entirely through a sign language (which Mount invented himself for the show) and facial expression, and he kinda kills it. He has an intimidating presence, but he is also fully capable in comedic scenes, and is even able to share convincing romantic moments with Swan without saying a word. It’s probably the best performance I’ve seen from Mount, which makes its presence in a show that’s already been written off as a failure kind of saddening.
Inhumans is nonsense, there’s no denying that. But there is legitimately authentic camp promise here, which makes me very happy as a fan of both superheroes and silliness. While Scott Buck is a bad writer and a bad showrunner, at the very least I’m happy that he’s doing something that works for me, even though it seems to have not been his intention. If what I’ve written about sounds fun to you, I’d recommend giving it a watch.