The two latest network television series based upon Marvel properties have premiered this fall. Inhumans follows the exile of the Royal Family of Attilan from their kingdom city on the moon. The Gifted centers on the Strucker family, who joins the mutant underground when the mutant abilities of the Strucker children begin to manifest. In both series, the groups draw upon their unique powers and love for one another in order to keep their families together during times of extreme duress.
While both are family dramas, that’s about as far as the similarities extend.
With so many options available, which of these two series is a better investment of your TV watching time? Based upon the premier episode of each, we take a look at the differences between the two to give you our take and let you know which we plan to watch and cover here at GeekDad this season.
Beware… beyond this place there be spoilers!
This is the first and largest point of divergence between the two series. The cast of Inhumans are largely adults dealing with adult issues. The Gifted, by contrast, features a range of characters struggling with a variety of issues, from the high school aged Strucker children to the 20-something mutants of the underground to the Strucker parents and adults of Sentinel Services. Given the broader range of characters, The Gifted feels like it has the potential for a wider audience appeal.
Immediately, The Gifted centers viewers with relatable characters in familiar situations. Reed is the hard-working father and district attorney who tries to balance his family’s needs with being the world’s most empathetic prosecutor of mutants. Cait is the working mother and primary caregiver for the couples two teenaged children. Lauren is the blonde-haired “perfect” child who is hiding the secret of her mutant abilities from everyone. Andy is the “weird kid” outsider being picked on by the jocks at school. While the Struckers begin as a cliched network television series family, the onset of Andy’s abilities causes the Strucker kids to be both the scared children and the ones with the abilities to protect their on-the-run family while the adults enter full-on “save the family” mode.
The supporting cast of The Gifted features an array of individuals working in the mutant underground to help their fellow mutants escape the authorities who have instituted harsh anti-mutant regulations in the wake of the X-Men versus Brotherhood conflicts. Yes, the show namedrops both factions, but takes place at a time where neither group exists anymore. The mutant cast provides a variety of personalities, while remaining true to their single-minded focus of surviving and helping others like them. The characters are shown using their abilities in “real world” ways, so that the various abilities feel lived in and comfortable, not like special effects show pieces.
Rounding out the cast of The Gifted are our defacto antagonists, Sentinel Services, a government organization that acts as an anti-mutant FBI or Homeland Security force. The task force assigned to bring in the Strucker kids is headed by Agent Turner, who also serves as a foil and reflection of Reed. Where Reed is the D.A. who is shown to genuinely appear to want to help captured mutant Polaris, Turner is resigned to his duty to bring in mutants by any means necessary, though he appears to have a depth of backstory that causes him to wrestle with whether the tactics required by his job are right and just.
By comparison, Inhumans features a cast of characters that–by the end of the first episode–I couldn’t really care less about. Black Bolt is the king of Attilan and patriarch of the Royal Family. Black Bolt doesn’t speak because his voice is his
mutant (whoops… Disney-owned ABC doesn’t have the rights to the term “mutant”) inhuman power, which was responsible for the death of Bolt’s parents. That works fine in the comics; Black Bolt on the page has proven an interesting character in the past. Translated to television is tricky. To pull off the character, you need someone with an astounding range of facial emotion to convey what Bolt is thinking and feeling but unable to say. Unfortunately, Anson Mount, who portrays Black Bolt on the series, has one expression. Mild indifference.
In order to convey what Black Bolt is thinking (and signing… lots of signing, but not signing in an official language like American Sign Language) to the audience, we have the queen of the Royal Family, Medusa. Medusa has prehensile hair. Pretty cool, right? Unfortunately, that’s the only interesting thing about her character through the first episode. Again, it feels like the actors were instructed to be cold and emotionless. But, at least she has that cool hair, right?
Yeah, Medusa has her head shaved by episode’s end.
I understand that doing so strips Medusa of her defining power. I know that this parallels a storyline from the comics. I get all of that. The problem is that the head shaving also stripped away the only interesting thing about Serinda Swan’s portrayal of the character. Plus, let’s not pretend even for a moment that this decision was purely a storytelling decision. Medusa’s hair has been a point of discussion, contention, and distraction from the first trailers and footage shown. Could they really be expected to pour so much of the budget into trying to get one character’s digital hair to look right when there are so many other effects that have to be nailed as well? I’m not suggesting that the hair was cut (pun intended) because the effects team couldn’t get it right. I’m saying that if the producers knew that they were following this path with the character in part because they didn’t have the resources to digitally animate her hair all season long, then they should have put more effort into giving the character something–anything–else to make her interesting to the audience.
While we’re on the topic of the effects, the premier uses them less as “this is how these people live” and more of a “let’s show off this character’s power… now”. Every effects-laden moment has the feeling of the producers saying, “See? Powers!” to the audience. The only character who bucks the trend and makes it feel like he is living his abilities is Karnak, and those scenes in question are the ones that have no effects at all but rely on his Asperger’s-like dialogue to give us a feel for his abilities (though the one time we see his powers in action is far and away the coolest display of inhuman abilities in the first hour of the series).
Based on the television series and not on any existing knowledge of Inhumans from the comics, there is absolutely nothing to make me invested in the rest of the supporting cast. Crystal is Medusa’s younger sister and Lockjaw’s master, whose only purpose thus far has been to tell Lockjaw where to go and what to do. Karnak seems the most intriguing, and the complete lack of emotion shown by all of the characters on this show seems most like an actual character trait for him. Even Maximus, portrayed by Game of Throne‘s Iwan Rheon, is given an air of detractedness as he betrays the Royal Family and stages his coup. It doesn’t help that the “villain”, as it is, isn’t incorrect in his thinking, either. I’d have more empathy for Maximus if it looked like he cared about Attilan and his cause himself.
Inhumans is Game of Thrones lite, and not just because the two series share an actor between them. This is a show about sitting on the throne and the bad things people who are supposed to care for one another will do to be the one seated upon it. Take out the magic and dragons. Replace them with
mutant (there’s that darn word again) inhuman abilities and a big dog. Also remove deep characters and replace them with one-note, uninteresting caricatures.
On the other hand, the plot of The Gifted feels much more universal. What would you do to keep your family together and safe? How far would you go to protect your children, even/especially when they are considered outlaws? Where does blind adherence to the law end and subjectivity begin? What makes us human and what is the value of that humanity? Where Inhumans feels timely only in that now seems to be a good time to create a GoT clone, The Gifted‘s themes of oppression and resistance feels politically and socially relevant without the audience feeling like we’re being preached at.
Inhumans has two primary settings. The first is in the city of Attilan, a city hidden from humanity on the moon. The city is as cold and sterile as the characters. Structures are concrete-like, ranging from off-white to slightly-gray. There is no sense that anyone actually lives and works anywhere in the city. Yes, we’re told that the lower caste lives in what is essentially the slums of King’s Landing and those without inhuman powers are forced to work in the mines, but even the brief glimpse we have of Maximus addressing the rabble reveals the cleanest slave quarters and lower city ever depicted on film. With a mine nearby, you’d think the buildings and the people would at least show some signs of dirt and dust, some indication that there really is a mine somewhere off to the side of this pristine sound stage and set.
The other primary location is Hawaii, where the Royal Family is exiled. It’s no sterile, concrete moon environment, but if a Royal Family had to be exiled somewhere, Hawaii’s not a bad place to be stuck. Compare the island to the last time the ABC Network was there, and everything looks so much more lush and inviting than when Desmond was stuck in the hatch or the smoke monster was patrolling the jungle. It’s hard to drum up sympathy for these characters when they’re banished to paradise on earth.
In contrast, just as the mutant abilities of the characters on The Gifted feel broken in like a comfortable pair of jeans, the settings–all based on the real world–feel lived in. Abandoned buildings feel derelict. The mutant underground’s base of operations looks and feels like a dorm. From the water spots on the showers in the school locker room to the sticky seats in the back of the rental car the Struckers escape in, everything about the setting of The Gifted feels more substantial and real.
Inhumans connects directly to Marvel’s other television property airing on ABC, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. After the events in the second season of AoS create an increase in the number of inhumans appearing on earth, Black Bolt has sent Triton to earth to find more inhumans and bring them to Attilan for relocation, which is where the premier begins. As Marvel Television president Jeph Loeb has said, everything in the Marvel television and cinematic universe is connected. That said, don’t expect Black Bolt and Medusa to be rubbing shoulders with Agents Johnson (an inhuman herself) or Coulson–and certainly not Captain America nor Daredevil–during the series.
On the other hand, The Gifted is set in a timeline in the X-Men universe where the X-Men and the Brotherhood of Mutants have disappeared. When does this happen? Don’t try to figure it out. Series executive producer Matt Nix has stated that what the film X-Men: Days of Future Past has allowed is for stories to be told in the X-Men universe at different points on different timestreams that may or may not tie directly into the events of the films. Huh? It means that The Gifted shares the DNA (again, pun intended) of the X-Men films without falling directly in film continuity. Think Legion, Deadpool, or Logan.
However, what The Gifted has that Inhumans lacks is pedigree. Inhumans may officially connect to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but The Gifted is the series with the Stan Lee cameo. The Gifted‘s premier episode was directed by executive producer Bryan Singer, who oversees the X-Men film universe for Fox. Eclipse even has the X-Men: The Animated Series theme as his ring tone. So, while The Gifted doesn’t tie directly into the X-Men film continuity, that universe’s fingerprints are all over the television show.
ABC’s approach to Inhumans is very telling. Rumor has it that the ABC executives wanted to label the eight-episode season as “the entire series”, meaning that they hoped to cut their losses after one season, while the higher-ups pooh-poohed the idea in order to leave the door open in case they decided to renew the series. Rumors aside, placing Inhumans at 9pm Eastern on Friday nights could be interpreted as indicative of ABC’s expectations for the series.
On the flip-side, The Gifted is in a good spot in the fall television schedule. Viewers can catch Supergirl at 8pm Eastern on Monday nights on The CW, then switch over to Fox for The Gifted at 9pm Eastern. Doing so creates a two-hour block of comic-inspired viewing for the entire family on Monday nights, followed by another block on Tuesdays with The Flash and Legends of Tomorrow.
All of the above is a long way of saying that if you have limited hours for television viewing, then skip Inhumans and go with The Gifted. The first two episodes of Inhumans can be streamed at abc.go.com, while the premier of The Gifted can be streamed at fox.com.