The series captures very little of what makes either Helstrom sibling compelling. It tries to be a quiet, understated superhero show starring two characters who are normally anything but. You don’t call yourself “Son of Satan” and stomp around New York City bare-chested in a red cape because you’re trying to keep a low profile. Despite dealing with the supernatural and demons, Helstrom is a weirdly unambitious series with very small stakes. If anything, it plays more like a pitch for another Exorcist TV series that was retrofitted to become a Marvel adaptation instead. The fact that Daimon and Ana have superhuman powers often comes across as an afterthought.
Even at a relatively lean 10 episodes, Season 1 is a slog. The plot is both predictable and laden with all the familiar exorcism tropes. Season 1 is a slow burn that never achieves much in the way of dramatic payoff. Nor does the series manage to establish many compelling characters along the way. Daimon himself is surprisingly dull for a guy with demon blood and a lifetime of daddy issues to work through. Again, a far cry from the flamboyant spellcaster of the comics. Ana is somewhat more compelling – given her arrogant demeanor and unusual ways of relieving stress – but she always comes across as a lower priority for the series than her brother. The supporting cast, meanwhile, are uniformly generic and two-dimensional. Season 1 does a poor job of encouraging us to actually care about these characters and their struggles, and so there’s little weight to some of the more dramatic developments late in the season. That’s all too apparent in the closing moments of the finale.For the most part, the problem is more with the quality of the writing and direction than the actors themselves. After all, the main cast includes veterans of such modern classics as The Wire, Succession and Homeland. There just isn’t a great deal to work with here in terms of dialogue or dramatic moments. Lemmon is given a little more room than the others to stretch out and have fun, but again, the series never hones in on Ana as much as it should.
Though ostensibly set within the MCU, Helstrom certainly doesn’t feel like it belongs alongside those movies and shows. The show is relentlessly humorless and self-serious when a little bit of that classic MCU banter would do the show a world of good. Nor is it successful in exploring the opposite end of the tonal spectrum and recapturing the magic of shows like Daredevil and Jessica Jones. For all the demonic possessions afoot, it doesn’t even function as a decent horror series. It has little sense of visual style, to boot. Though primarily set in San Francisco and Oregon, the series was filmed in Vancouver. Accordingly, it has the look of a forgotten CW series more than an MCU spinoff.
Other than those occasional fun moments with Ana and her assistant Chris (Alain Uy), the music is the only area where Helstrom ever really distinguishes itself. The traditional orchestral score is solid enough, but the use of classic doo-wop tunes and other inspired needle drops from the likes of Peter Gabriel and Nick Drake further elevates the series’ sound. It’s a shame that same quirky sense of personality isn’t apparent anywhere else.
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