On paper, Marvel's Inhumans should have been one of the boldest series of the year. Funded by an innovative partnership with IMAX, the first two episodes premiered at IMAX cinemas worldwide, followed by a full series launch on ABC at the end of September.
Unfortunately, the sad truth is that the show has failed to impress. The latest ratings are in, and Episode 4 ("Make Way for... Medusa") once again saw a drop. The series debuted to 3.8 million viewers, but is pretty much haemorrhaging viewers. Episode 4 was watched by only 2.3 million people. Worse still, the key 18-49 demographic has dropped from 0.9 to 0.6. These are all ominous signs, suggesting that Marvel's Inhumans is failing to gain traction with its target audience.
'Inhumans' Was Always Going To Be A Hard Sell
Fundamentally, the problem is that Inhumans was always going to be a hard sell. All superheroes have a 'core concept,' a central idea that resonates with the fanbase. So the X-Men stand for the battle against prejudice, Spider-Man deals with power and responsibility, and Batman tells the tale of a troubled Dark Knight who battles against the darkness. The core concept of the Inhuman Royal Family is much more problematic, rooted in the discredited pseudo-science of eugenics. That's why the most popular Inhumans — such as Kamala Khan's Ms. Marvel, or Quake in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. — have been ordinary humans who are transformed by the Terrigen Mist. They avoid the disturbing concept of eugenics.
Added to this, the Royal Family are a different kind of hero to anything we're used to. By their very nature, a King and Queen stand apart from the world, making hard calls while viewing others as necessary tools for 'the greater good.' That sense of distance can make it very difficult to empathize with the characters, and unfortunately, Inhumans has most definitely struggled with that issue. The last episode showed Medusa forming a brief alliance, and walking away as soon as she knew Black Bolt's location — even stealing a laptop as she did so. Meanwhile, Crystal's character has yet to develop beyond being more than a little spoiled.
The whole issue has been compounded by poor production. Even before the first episode aired, Heidi MacDonald noted on ComicsBeat:
"The footage I’ve seen has been stilted, middle view action with catchy tunes grafted on in hopes of raising spirits. The words most people have applied to it is “Cheap looking.” Far from the disaster that some anti Feige forces predicted when he got sole control, his pricey filmmaking seems to be working still, and the frugal budgets that Perlmutter favors are being paraded for all to see and the results aren’t pretty."
Four episodes in, nobody would disagree with her assessment.
What's Next For The Inhumans?
This has been a rough year for Marvel Television thanks to a number of prominent missteps. Showrunner Scott Buck was heavily criticized for Iron Fist Season 1, and The Defenders failed to meet fan expectations. Tellingly, when Jeph Loeb presented the first episode of Runaways to audiences at New York Comic Con, he delightedly announced, "I think you can all agree, we got that one right!"
Sadly, Inhumans seems to be the most prominent misstep of them all. Scott Buck has openly discussed plans for a second and third season, but it seems increasingly unlikely that IMAX and ABC will sign up for it. The show's consistently poor performance will have frustrated IMAX, who hoped to use Inhumans to launch a whole new business strategy. As CEO Richard Gelfond noted:
"We get to break out of our distribution niche and participate in revenue from theatrical and TV releases."
ABC, meanwhile, has always been willing to pull the plug on Marvel properties, even canceling fan-favorite Agent Carter. We recently learned that Disney had to intervene directly to encourage the studio to sign off on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 5. Given that context, it's seriously unlikely that we'll see a second season of Marvel's Inhumans.
This series was always going to be a gamble. Sadly, as ratings continue to drop, it's becoming clear that it hasn't paid off. The troubling question now for fans of the wider #MCU is how this first series will come to a close. If Inhumans ends with the Royal Family returning to Attilan, then the Inhuman City can simply be forgotten. If, on the other hand, Attilan winds up coming to Earth? Then Marvel Television would have a major problem, an important new plot thread that would need to be tied in to future shows for continuity's sake.
Have you been watching Marvel's Inhumans? If so, what do you think of it so far?