In one of Family Guy’s notorious cutaway gags, a character declares that he “hasn’t been this confused since he watched the film No Way Out.” The scene them flashes back to him exiting a movie theater and declaring, “How does Kevin Costner keep getting work?”
It’s hard not to feel the same bafflement about Inhumans showrunner Scott Buck. The biggest mystery left in the wake of “Behold…The Inhumans!”, the show’s first episode, is not how the titular heroes will cope with a budding coup, or what a seer’s prophecies mean, or even the vaguely-defined superpowers of the protagonists. Instead, it’s how and why studio executives keep handing Buck the keys to the kingdom after how many meh-to-ugh seasons of television have been unleashed on an unsuspecting public under his watch.
Does Buck have compromising pictures of someone important? Are television moguls simply content with the fact that he makes the trains run on time? Or is he just a really nice person?
Regardless, despite driving Dexter into the ground and getting Iron Fist off to what can only (charitably) be called a rocky start, Buck was nevertheless tapped to run Inhumans, Marvel Studios’s answer to the contractual obligations that prevent its creators from using the X-Men. The Inhumans are a collection of powerful beings who live in a hidden city on the moon and develop random superpowers when exposed to “Terrigen Crystals.” The first installment of Inhumans does its best to establish the world its eponymous characters occupy and then just as quickly topples it.
At its core, “Behold” is more dull than awful, more stock than stinking, which is really the only bit of faint praise one can offer Mr. Buck and his creative output. Sure, there’s plenty of strange or underwhelming choices in the opening hour of the series, and tons of clumsy efforts to establish character or setting, but the whole thing is largely boringly competent, albeit barely so.
Still, those questionable choices abound in the series’s opening hour. For one thing, Inhumans uses the ABC house style, which gives everything the veneer of cheapness that its sister show, Agents of Shield, has had to contend with from its inception. It’s hard to know whether that stems from the lighting or the design or the execution, but the visuals here make the show’s haughty, faux-regal titans seem like cosplayers strolling around a modern art museum.
“Behold” does aim for raw scenic beauty at times (presumably to make the most of its IMAX release) with long zooms or slow motion shots of boot heels meeting mud. But it’s all empty calories and not even particularly captivating on a pure aesthetic level. By the same token, the pair of action scenes in the episode share the same lackadaisical cadence and choreography that immediately drain all life from these sequences. If you want to see barely-introduced good guys engage in some going-through-the-motions combat with faceless mooks, “Behold” has you covered.
Then there’s the decision to focus most of the episode on a main character who cannot speak. Black Bolt, the king of the Inhumans and the show’s lead, only communicates in hand signals, gestures, and translations from his wife. In other hands, that might create an interesting and fruitful challenge for an actor, one that would allow him to use all the other tools in his communicative toolbox to express meaning and emotion. In practice, Inhumans’s lead actor, Anson Mount, is a stone-faced cipher who has all the charisma of a cardboard standee the other characters wheel around their mausoleum of a palace.
But maybe Mount is lucky, as he’s mostly spared from having to utter any of the show’s weak dialogue. Buck, who’s also the writer of “Behold,” never met a clunky, obvious statement outlining a character’s personality or the show’s premise that he didn’t like. The episode would, frankly, be better served by just having a Star Wars-style introductory crawl rather than straining to have its characters stiltedly explain things they already know to one another.
Plot-wise, the pilot struggles with the way it’s anchored by a purportedly seismic shift in the status quo — changes in leadership, betrayals among allies and family members, and the usual murder most foul — when the audience has barely witnessed that status quo long enough for the change to mean anything. “Behold” offers some combination of The Lion King and Game of Thrones, with palace intrigue and a jealous, ousted brother rallying the unwashed masses. But despite bending over backwards to tediously explain the situation at hand, the episode never bothers to do anything to make the viewer care.
All of that, coupled with wooden dialogue and tepid performances, means that there’s little promise to the series based on its opening hour. The best hope for Inhumans lies in its premise.
However ham-handedly “Behold” introduces its ideas, there’s some legitimate complexity to Maximus (Game of Thrones’ Iwan Rheon, playing the Inhuman equivalent of a squib) railing against the caste system and rousing the support of the common people, even while declaring that their problems would end if they simply traveled to Earth for a little lebensraum. (One of the ill-explained aspects of this overexplain-y pilot is why Black Bolt opposes this and thinks going to Earth would lead to war.) Despite the execrable lines he’s forced to deliver, Rheon finds some interesting notes to play for the villain.
The series premiere also promises some mildly-compelling fish out of water material, which worked well for both Thor and Wonder Woman. The prospect of a pack of nigh-aliens and their poorly-composited CGI bulldog traipsing around the modern world could prove enjoyable. But that setup would still need to escape the Buck-shaped anchor dragging it down, and if the rest of this episode is any indication, those are some long odds.
Hopefully somebody somewhere watched this episode with a smile on their face, patting themselves on the back for having had the foresight to sign Scott Buck to run yet another T.V. show. I don’t know what’s going through that person’s mind, or what they think quality television is, or if they’ve ever seen Buck’s prior cratering creative failures. But somebody keeps hiring this guy, and I hope they’re happy, because no one else watching this crap is.