The largest problem facing the latest Hulu Marvel series is uncertainty. Thus, the series premiere of Helstrom debuted on the streaming service without much fanfare. Outside of trailers released at conventions, the marketing for this show is scant. If it finds an audience, it will happen organically. Yet, fans may not want to invest in a show that, pardon the pun, appears dead on arrival. As the last of the old Marvel Television series in production at the time it merged with Marvel Studios (followed by producer Jeph Loeb’s departure), it feels like something of a contractual obligation. Which is a shame, because the series premiere of Helstrom is very intriguing and nothing like the MCU series that will end up on Disney+.
With Disney’s purchase of 21st Century Fox, it became the proud owner of two streaming services. Given that they are striking a very family-friendly tone on Disney+, Hulu is the place where they can feature more adult fare. While neither overly gory nor sexual, the tone of Helstrom seems to fit better at Hulu.
Thus, the 10 episodes of Helstrom are likely all we’ll ever get, sort of how it was for fans of Swamp Thing. (At least, the first time around.) The series premiere acts more like the first tenth of a movie than a traditional pilot. It introduces the characters, settings, and spooky things about the world. Yet, the stories at the start are a little too disconnected, though they do converge by the end of the episode. So, while not the strongest pilot, these straight-to-series shows look at the entire season, essentially, as a pilot. Whether that serves or hurts the show overall is up for the audience to decide.
The Helstrom Series Premiere Features Standout Performances From Its Cast
Image via screengrab
The character dynamics are all over the place. The series premiere introduces us to the Helstrom family, specifically Damon and Ana. Played by Tom Austen and Sydney Lemmon respectively, the two are a brooding pair of siblings with interesting powers. They somewhat wear their damage on their sleeves, though the people they’ve surrounded themselves with are very different. Damon is in league with both a psychologist professor (he’s also a professor himself) and (reluctantly) with a nun from the Vatican. Ana, however, has a snappy assistant and works with the mysterious Caretaker.
Very much set up to be a family drama, the series premiere focuses on the family Helstrom while they are all apart. In fact, the two siblings never even speak to each other in that first episode. I took a peek at the next episode and the chemistry between Austen and Lemmon is very good. Up until that point, however, the two characters really only reacted to the others around them. (Or, in Ana’s case, doesn’t react.) June Carryl plays Dr. Louise Hastings, a mentor and surrogate mother figure for Damon. Even though she’s the “stoic,” her performance is nuanced and real. She conveys a lot of emotion via subtext and is easily the best of the “mysterious” characters.
However, Elizabeth Marvel as both Victoria Helstrom and some kind of evil-ass demon is a straight killer. She is an unsung hero of many fantastic series, from House of Cards to Homeland to Person of Interest. As interesting as the series’ leads are, I’d be content just watching an entire season of bottle episodes featuring her malevolent character. Marvel and Carryl are the spine of this series.
Is Helstrom a Lost Cause?
The question above is really two questions, and we’ll do our best to answer both. First, the level of marketing and the direction Marvel Studios wants to go with its properties makes it likely this series is a one-off. Hulu wants to stay in the Marvel business, so I’d wager it’s largely up to Marvel if the show continues. As the recent re-release of Swamp Thing on the CW shows, you can never count a series out. There are rumblings from insiders and ‘guessers’ that CW invests in a second season of the show. So, if Helstrom is a hit, Marvel and Hulu would be foolish not to keep it going. Especially since the Helstrom family is not a group that would fit well in the modern MCU at this point. So, we’d put the odds on this series being renewed at about three-to-one.
However, the real question is if the series is worth a second season. From the pilot, the answer remains unclear. It’s a show that’s willing to take its time, much like Cloak and Dagger. If the storytellers focus on telling a complete and satisfying story, audiences will latch on. Even if most critics don’t seem to like it, the audiences’ opinion is all that really matters. Currently, while the critics’ score is very low, the audience on Rotten Tomatoes rates the series at 92 percent. (Yet, we know that these scores can be gamed fairly easily.)
Check back for a series finale and first season review, but at least give the Helstrom series premiere a shot if you like the world of the spooky and supernatural.
The first season of Helstrom is currently streaming on Hulu.
What did you think of the Helstrom series premiere? Leave your own review in the comments below and whether or not you think they should do another season.
Featured image via Hulu
Joshua M. Patton is a father, veteran, and writer living in Pittsburgh, PA. The first books he read on his own were comics, and he's loved the medium ever since. He is the greatest star-pilot in the galaxy, a cunning warrior, and a good friend. His book "What I Learned: Stories, Essays, and More" is available in print from Amazon and from all electronic booksellers.