In the mid-’90s, there was a surprising rise of TV shows in the network syndication space, spurred by the success of Hercules: The Legendary Journeys and Xena: Warrior Princess (the latter of which, at least, is a genuinely fun show).
These shows — basically none of which you will remember, so I won’t make a big list of them — were cheap. They had to be produced quickly and at little expense because the companies creating them were primarily making money from selling them to local TV stations, which would stick them on the air in the middle of a Saturday afternoon and hope people would be too tired to change the channel. You’d watch some low-budget fantasy or sci-fi adventure and wonder how it ended up on the air.
The production values on these shows were often quite low, even when compared to something like Xena. The sets and costumes and effects were glaringly fake, and the film stock was often flat, with poor lighting only serving to make everything feel as if it had been filmed on the set of The Price Is Right between takes.
The acting was just as flat, from performers who clearly knew this wasn’t their first choice of roles and also clearly knew the show probably wouldn’t be around very long. Occasionally, a performer would spark, but the Lucy Lawlesses of the world — actors who could find a way to have fun no matter how cheesy the material — were few and far between, and whoever was directing these programs didn’t particularly care to force them to engage. Scenes would often feature bland, affectless work from performers who seemed as if they’d rather be anywhere else.
And the writing! The writing was almost always riddled with clichés and characters saying exactly what they were thinking or feeling. There was only telling; very little showing. Scripts would repeat the same basic points, over and over, as if viewers were unable to understand the point without having their hand not just held, but squeezed so tightly that all circulation to their fingers was cut off.
These shows were bad, but at least nobody really spent too much money on them. Making a TV show that fits the description above and then trying to tie it to a massive cinematic superhero franchise that dominates our popular culture — while also spending lots and lots of cash to create, say, a giant computer-animated bulldog who interacts with the characters (but whom you shuttle offscreen as quickly as possible in order to save some money), well, that would be a really stupid thing to do, wouldn’t it?
Marvel’s Inhumans debuts tonight on ABC at 8 pm Eastern. Never say I didn’t warn you. (The half-star rating is for the giant bulldog, Lockjaw. Love that dog.)