Marvel Television is in a tricky spot right now after the Netflix run ended in 2019 with Jessica Jones (in a bloated, exhausted way) as The Defenders were put to rest. Are those shows done for good? Who knows. They could eventually pop up on Disney+, though it’ll probably be for the best if we don’t see The Punisher for awhile. Meanwhile, Helstrom was initially intended to expand Marvel Television as the first series in an Adventure Into Fear franchise, but that plan fell by the wayside. Now, there’s an upcoming crop of relatively wholesome Disney+ shows that will tie into the Marvel Cinematic Universe (which is something that the Netflix shows claimed to do but actually never did), and Helstrom‘s floating along on Hulu, almost like a solo entity with much more mature subject matter than you’ll find on Disney+.
Helstrom isn’t a superhero series, so anyone who’s expecting to scratch that itch (which could stand to be satisfied right now for jonesing theatergoers) won’t be able to do so with the adaptation of Marvel Comics’ Son of Satan. However, if the series would have arrived during “normal” TV times, it would have been noted as a fine (and welcome) departure from The Defenders, as well as Marvel’s Runaways (that ran for three seasons on Hulu). Tonewise, Helstrom is a dark thriller with plenty of supernatural touches, but it also pokes fun at supernatural stuff. There are gallows humor and sarcasm in plentiful supply, along with a strong sense of world-weariness. With that last quality, I mean that Daimon Hellstrom (Tom Austen) — who is refashioned on this series as an ethics professor who performs exorcisms on the side — damn well knows that the world has already had enough exorcism-based TV shows and movies. As he prepares to conduct his first exorcism on the series, in fact, he declares that holy water and rituals are not only overrated, “but now thanks to movies, TV, the Internet, they’re just tropes.”
In other words, Helstrom is a self-aware beast, one that it’s all fiery and brimstone-y, but it knows that much more needs to be brought to the table than mere spectacle. To that end, the show parcels out a mysterious mythology while layering on a family drama. Daimon may be your semi-friendly neighborhood exorcist, but there’s a lot more going on, including his tense relationship with his estranged sister, Ana (Sydney Lemmon, granddaughter of Jack Lemmon). They must work together because, in this show, Dad’s not Satan, he’s merely a serial killer and demon. He’s visibly out of the picture, at least in the first five episodes screened for critics, but he might be pulling strings. And Mom, who appears to be suffering from a demon infestation, has been institutionalized for quite some time. She’s portrayed by Elizabeth Marvel (yep, that’s her real name), who gives Linda Blair a run for her money on the possession front.
Together, the siblings form a suitably entertaining dynamic while they’re not wielding their powers separately, but what’s most telling is that Ana (named Santana in the comics, which sounds much cooler) could carry the show on her own. Helstrom definitely wouldn’t work without her, given that she’s got more meatier material to work with, and her sarcasm arrives with more of a flourish than her brother’s allowed to deliver. She’s also got a more interesting backstory than Daimon, and Lemmon does everything with style, whether she’s simply standing behind a desk or tossing someone off a roof. She’s armed with a towering presence and carries a vigilante edge, or she does at first, before Daimon calls her in for help with the family ruckus. I wouldn’t mind seeing more of Ana (or having a drink with her), although (given the shifting state of Marvel TV) it feels like this show is a one-off for the frightful October atmosphere.
Familiarity with comics (or with the Marvel Cinematic Universe) isn’t necessary to enjoy Helstrom, but it’s worth noting that the languid pace of the Netflix Marvel Television shows is still very much alive with this show. So, be prepared for that. It’s also not a spoiler to reveal that there’s a character (Dr. Louise Hastings, portrayed by June Carryl) who will be familiar to Ghost Rider fans, so the nerds can ride hard on that one. Hastings is a grounding presence for the series, and a much-needed voice of wisdom when the siblings must cope with their increasingly unhinged mother while attempting to solve a mystery that feels like whack-a-mole. Once one aspect is solved, a couple of mini-mysteries shoot in different directions. Helstrom will keep viewers guessing, and it’s a nicely distracting series from our current situation.
Underneath all of the mystery, though, Helstrom is simply a fun show. The aesthetics might appear gloomy (since much of it takes place in Portland, Oregon), but it’s sheer entertainment to watch this dysfunctional family joust with Hell itself. The show also goes down smoothly for those looking for a suspenseful and shadowy, but not too scary (or stressful) TV series for this Halloween season.
Hulu will stream ‘Helstrom‘s entire first season on October 16.