(CNN)Marvel's Midas touch with blockbuster movies has proved more elusive in the realm of television, as ABC's "Inhumans" gets off to a clunky start while Fox's "The Gifted" -- a different sort of family drama, culled from the "X-Men" universe -- has more to recommend it but still looks decidedly mortal.
Marvel's Midas touch missing in 'Inhumans,' 'The Gifted'
Pretty faithfully adapting the comics, "Inhumans" tries to bring an operatic quality and look to the material, but the character dynamics simply feel heavy-handed, and the visuals hardly justify a big-screen TV, much less anteing up for an Imax premiere with which Marvel experimented earlier this month.
For the uninitiated, the plot revolves around a race with extraordinary powers, hiding from the human world on a moon base known as Attilan. Living under what amounts to a caste system, the Inhumans are led by their king, Black Bolt (Anson Mount), who dare not speak a word, lest his voice unleash devastation. (Mount does what he can to communicate, but more often than not simply looks slightly constipated.)
Married to Medusa (Serinda Swan), whose hair practically has a life of its own, Black Bolt's leadership is challenged by his brother, Maximus ("Game of Thrones'" Iwan Rheon), who plots to overthrow him. The coup attempt forces Black Bolt and his extended brood into retreat, relying on a giant dog named Lockjaw, who can teleport his masters and mistresses wherever they wish to go -- the kind of flourish likely to elicit groans and giggles from the uninitiated, which is a risk throughout.
Marvel has long since figured out how to make comic-book-y content palatable to a mass audience, but that doesn't prevent "Inhumans" from playing as stiff and silly in too many places, highlighting the lingering challenge of transforming four-color panels into three-dimensional dramas. Nor does it help that the writing is consistently weak, feeling more than anything like a warmed-over reincarnation of "Dynasty," only with superpowers and more unorthodox outfits.
"The Gifted," meanwhile, also features a family on the run, although the similarities pretty much end there.
Stephen Moyer ("True Blood") and Amy Acker ("Person of Interest") play parents who discover their two teenagers have mutant powers, putting the entire clan in the crosshairs of a government that would seek to confine them.
In the pilot, they also encounter what amounts to an underground group of mutants that have banded together to evade detection, with the feds in hot pursuit.
The family dynamics are pretty banal despite a solid cast, and the plot at least initially brings to mind "No Ordinary Family," a short-lived ABC drama about another suburban couple and their kids who acquire super powers, spiced with a touch of "Heroes" for good measure.
The real trick will be how well the show can sustain its cat-and-mouse game, while avoiding the pitfalls that go with overplaying the use of mutants as a surrogate for persecuted minorities, as well as a metaphor for teens feeling like outcasts. Puberty can be confusing enough even if you can't toss cars around, as the kids do with their vaguely delineated powers.
For all that, "The Gifted" likely warrants a second look, while "Inhumans" -- which kicks off with a two-hour premiere -- should have a hard time escaping its initial creative trajectory. ABC has scheduled this eight-episode series on Friday nights, where ratings expectations should be more modest.
Still, "Inhumans" needn't worry about reaching for the stars, when just maintaining a place on Earth looks like its immediate challenge.
"Marvel's Inhumans" premieres Sept. 29 at 8 p.m. on ABC. "The Gifted" premieres Oct. 2 at 9 p.m. on Fox.