What’s the worst thing a television show can be? A show can be offensive, but it’s harder to get away with that these days. If it’s outright bad the regulating mechanism of cancellation usually filters it out. Offensive or bad shows at least serve a purpose in letting networks know what kind of content an audience will or will not tolerate. Boring shows, however, do nothing at all. They leave no mark, they generate no discussion, and they ultimately yield no further understanding for creators or viewers. They’re just there and at some point they go away. Marvel’s Helstrom on Hulu is unfortunately destined to be one of those shows.
Helstrom is a TV interpretation of the half-human, half-demon Marvel comics characters Daimon Hellstrom (a.k.a “Son of Satan”) and his sister Satana. In the show, they are Daimon and Ana Helstrom, estranged siblings whose father was a notorious serial killer and whose mother is possessed by an evil entity. Both siblings have powers including pyro and telekinesis, but Daimon (Tom Austen) uses his to exorcise demons as a side gig from his job as a college professor while Ana (Sydney Lemmon) straight up murders criminals. They are supported by Daimon’s adoptive mother Louise (June Carryl), novitiate nun Gabriella (Ariana Guerra), and Caretaker (Robert Wisdom), another Marvel character whose affiliation lies with demon-hunting cult The Blood.
The base ingredients of spooky family dynamics, demon killing, murderers, and dark Marvel heroism sound like they could add up to something fun or at least scary, but Helstrom struggles to find the interesting parts of its material. Daimon himself is a monotonous character whose personality doesn’t rise beyond the standard jaded antihero trope. Ana’s intentional coldness is similarly one-note, making it difficult to read the siblings’ tense relationship beyond what was written on the script’s pages. Even when Daimon and Ana demonstrate their powers, they look bored and annoyed to have been bothered. Viewers may feel the same way about the entire show.
The rest of Hulu’s Helstrom has the same issue as its two main characters — the plot plods along from discovery to discovery with little tension or climax to keep the audience interesting, its visuals are the same blue-grey seen in dozens of procedural television shows, and despite the threat of evil lurking around every corner, the stakes never feel high enough to generate continued interest. There are some impressive effects, especially when Daimon and Ana use their powers, but the occasional telekinetic battle between hell siblings can’t make up for the fact that Helstrom is way too chill to be chilling.
The most fascinating thing about ‘Helstrom’ is the mystery of why it exists in the first place.
The fact that Helstrom is technically a Marvel television show makes its failings even more confusing. With highly anticipated programs like The Falcon and The Winter Soldier and WandaVision premiering soon-ish on Disney+, diluting the Marvel IP with a Hulu show that can’t justify using a character beyond “here’s a guy” is a deeply weird choice. If Helstrom had a great story that needed telling, sure, but nothing in the first five episodes provided for review made a case for why this show needed to be made at all. It doesn’t stand out among Marvel’s past “adult” TV shows like Daredevil and Jessica Jones, it doesn’t stand out among supernatural genre shows like Lucifer or American Horror Story, and it doesn’t stand out among Hulu’s varied (and often good) slate of original programs.
The most fascinating thing about Helstrom is the mystery of why it exists in the first place. It has the soulless feel of a remake or script commissioned solely to hold on to the rights to a character, but Disney and by default Hulu’s near-total ownership of the Marvel universe renders that false. Even when Marvel TV shows flop, as they did critically with Inhumans and hilariously with Iron Fist, it’s usually much easier to see the reasoning behind their projects. Who asked for Helstrom? Who is this show for? How did they make exorcisms so boring? These questions don’t have answers, or if they do, no one will find them by watching Helstrom. Wait a few months and watch WandaVision instead.
Helstrom is streaming on Hulu Friday.