TV Review: ‘The Gifted’ S1 E01 “eXposed”

20th Century Fox launch their newest small screen X-Men offering…

The Gifted Prem

On the run: The lives of the Strucker family are turned upside down in Fox’s new ‘X-Men’ series ‘The Gifted’.

Starring:  Stephen Moyer, Amy Acker, Natalie Alyn Lind, Percy Hynes White, Coby Bell, Sean Teale, Jamie Chung, Blair Redford, Emma Dumont

Series created by:  Matt Nix

Written by:  Matt Nix / Directed by:  Bryan Singer

What’s it about?

When an incident at school forces teenagers Lauren and Andy Strucker to reveal that they have mutant abilities, the Strucker family find themselves on the run and hunted by the authorities…

Episode review

Following the launch of Legion earlier this year, 20th Century Fox Television add another X-Men universe show to the roster with The Gifted, developed by Burn Notice creator Matt Nix with an enjoyable, if slightly flawed, series premiere.

Unconnected to Legion and taking place apart from the X-Men films, The Gifted is unshackled by the demands of shared universe canon that can sometimes by more of a curse than a blessing.  It’s a wise move in this instance given the loose, unclear approach to continuity of the big screen X-Men outings – The Gifted establishes a world where mutant groups the X-Men and the Brotherhood have disappeared, leaving the series free to chart its own course.

The premise is nothing new (mutants are of course still hated and feared) and The Gifted is more of a straightforward comic book action adventure series in the vein of Heroes or Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. than the arty head-tripping experience Legion is, yet it certainly doesn’t try to be anything else other than an entertaining watch.  As Reed and Caitlin Strucker, Stephen Moyer (True Blood) and Amy Acker (Person of Interest) are capable leads, along with their mutant teenage children Lauren (Natalie Alyn Lind) and Andy (Percy Hynes White), their characters are likeable and have potential but it doesn’t feel as though we get to know all that much about them and their backgrounds in this first episode in order to really root for them.  For example, we learn from the outset that Reed works as a mutant prosecutor but “eXposed” doesn’t quite delve into this properly and explore more deeply the fallout and consequences of him learning that his offspring have mutant abilities.  Hopefully this will all come later as the series progresses and the writers have had more opportunity to develop the principal characters.

Whilst there are no ‘A-list’ X-Men present (nor was it expected), the mutant underground sought by the on-the-run Strucker family does include fresh takes on iconic characters – Eclipse (Sean Teale), Polaris (Emma Dumont), Thunderbird (Blair Redford) and Blink (Jamie Chung).  They’re obviously not literal spandex-clad translations of their comic book counterparts but are a welcome addition that solidifies the show’s X-Men credentials.

The Sentinel Services and their spider-like drones are also a nice twist on established lore, a television budget pretty much ruling out the inclusion of the gigantic mutant-hunting robots seen in X-Men comics (and reimagined in X-Men: Days of Future Past).  Likewise, mutant powers are somewhat restricted and less elaborate than what we’ve seen on the big screen but that’s understandable and director Bryan Singer – who has helmed four X-Men feature films (including two of the most popular, X2 and Days of Future Past) – brings skill and experience in utilising the tools available to him and where “eXposed” may falter a little in characterisation it compensates for with relatively tense pacing and satisfying action beats.

With its premiere, The Gifted establishes an interesting set-up, the fugitive scenario promising plenty of excitement and the intolerance and prejudice towards mutants offering some social relevance in these sadly turbulent times.  There’s work to do with the characters but if the writers are able to flesh them out and explore them more deeply in episodes to come then The Gifted could prove to be a solid accompaniment to Legion and a worthy addition to Fox’s X-Men universe.

The bottom line:  Despite some initial shortcomings, the season premiere of The Gifted is non-the-less entertaining and shows potential for the series ahead.

The Gifted airs in the UK Monday nights on Fox UK.  U.S. viewers can catch it on Fox every Sunday.

TV Review: Marvel’s ‘Agent Carter’ S2 EP1 “The Lady in the Lake” – SEASON PREMIERE

Starring:  Hayley Atwell, James D’Arcy, Enver Gjovak, Chad Michael Murray, Bridget Regan, Wynn Everett

Series created by:  Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely

Written by:  Brant Englestein / Episode directed by:  Lawrence Tilling / aired in the UK  : 28/01/2016

What’s this episode about?

SSR Agent Peggy Carter is transferred to Los Angeles where she’s reunited with old friends and faces a new mystery…

Episode review

With Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. on its State-side mid-season break, Marvel’s second network television series returns to fill the gap.  Since Agent Peggy Carter’s introduction in Marvel Studios’ Captain America: The First Avenger (2011), actress Hayley Atwell has been able to forge a likeable and important screen presence with numerous subsequent appearances in episodes of Marvel’s first small screen spin-off, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (courtesy of flashback sequences) as well as big screen hits Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014) and Ant-Man (2015) helping to develop connective strands woven through the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Given the overwhelmingly positive reception of the Agent Carter ‘Marvel One Shot’ short included in the Iron Man Three blu-ray release it was no surprise that Atwell would subsequently land her own series.  Over its eight episodes the first season of Marvel’s Agent Carter proved to be a successful mix that was thrilling, fun and funny.  The season 2 premiere (which aired together with episode 2 in the U.S.) sees Peggy transferred to the newly established L.A. division of the SSR by disgruntled Chief Jack Thompson (Murray), not wanting to be outshone by Carter whose struggles to prove her worth as a skilled and competent agent in a male dominated environment were explored last season.  The breaking point for Thompson comes when Carter aides in the capture and interrogation of Black Widow assassin Dottie Underwood (seemingly tying up lose threads from last season?  That may not be the case?).  These chain of events allow for an action packed opening and for Atwell to stretch her acting chops in some well-played scenes between Carter, Underwood (a returning Bridget Regan once again providing the right level of cool and unhinged femme fatale villainy) and Thompson.

Gladly, Carter arrives in L.A. to be reunited with Howard Stark’s faithful (albeit suffering) butler Edwin Jarvis, bringing back together the exceptional team of Hayley Atwell and James D’Arcy that was a one of season 1’s most successful elements.  D’Arcy is pitch perfect in the role of Jarvis and deftly infuses the character with doses of British stiff upper lip as he bemoans of the glitz and glam of the Hollywood lifestyle and the obsessions and demands of his master.  Dominic Cooper’s Howard Stark may himself be absent from this episode but his presence is certainly felt as Jarvis grapples with the latest addition to Stark’s menagerie…a pink flamingo that refuses to co-operate!

There’s some unease when Carter confronts her new chief, Daniel Sousa (Dollhouse’s Enver Gjovak) given hints of a blossoming romance at the end of last season but both soon re-establish their camaraderie as the SSR investigates the corpse of a mysterious women, frozen in a lake (during an L.A. heatwave no-less) and how it may tie to actress Whitney Frost (Wynn Everett), the LAPD and a radioactive isotope being manufactured by shady corporation Isodyne Energy.

The move to L.A. provides the series with a fresh start that’s welcoming to new viewers and once again the recreation of post-War 1940s is well-presented via costume and production design (aided by the peppering of some period stock footage).  Brant Englestein’s script serves well as a reintroduction to the main characters and a taster for this season’s storyline along with some neat twists (and a surprising connection to Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.) and the odd easter egg for die hard Marvel Comics fans.

The bottom line:  Peggy Carter is back in a fun and tantalising opening for Agent Carter’s second season.

Marvel’s Agent Carter airs in the UK Thursday evenings on Fox.  U.S. viewers can catch it on ABC.

What did you think of the ‘Agent Carter’ season premiere?  Share your thoughts below!

Hayley Atwell returns as Peggy Carter in Marvel's 'Agent Carter'.

Hayley Atwell returns as Peggy Carter in Marvel’s ‘Agent Carter’.

TV Review: ‘Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ S2 EP1 “Shadows” – SEASON PREMIERE

Enter S.H.I.E.L.D. 2.0…

Starring: Clark Gregg as Agent Phil Coulson, Ming Na-Wen as Melinda May, Brett Dalton as Grant Ward, Chloe Bennet as Skye, Iain De Caestecker as Leo Fitz, Elizabeth Henstridge as Jemma Simmons

Series created by: Joss Whedon, Jed Whedon & Maurissa Tancharoen

Episode directed by: Vincent Misiano / Written by: Jed Whedon & Maurissa Tancheroen / aired in the UK: 24/10/2014

What’s this episode about?

Coulson and his team must prevent a superhuman criminal from stealing a powerful artefact stolen from Hydra during World War II…

Episode review

Having endured mixed reactions from fans and critics for much of its first season, it was great to see Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. begin to find its creative footing as it moved from the format of an episodic family-friendly procedural to something edgier and more arc driven as Marvel’s fledgling show linked into the events of big screen hit Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

AoS makes a confident and sure return – kicking as much back-side as Ming Na-Wen – as “Shadows” picks up were season one left off, with ‘Director’ Coulson leading the remnants of S.H.I.E.L.D. in the fight against Hydra and other extraordinary threats to the general populace. As the episode title infers, Coulson and his team are now working from the shadows as they continue to thwart the plans of their enemies whilst evading capture by the U.S. Government.

Much as the show’s direction has undergone some change, so has Coulson and his team. Whilst Skye has become an adept and loyal agent, Ward must deal with the consequences of his betrayal (allowing some rather creepy Silence of the Lambs-esque moments between Ward and Skye) just as Fitz’s mental state is fast deteriorating – offering more depth and dramatic potential for actors Brett Dalton, Chloe Bennet and Ian DeCaestecker.

The team are also joined by some new faces including former Cylon and Warrior Princess Lucy Lawless as Isabelle ‘Izzy’ Hartley – a beer swilling tough cookie that could very nearly give Agent May a run for her money. Although Clark Gregg feels absent from much of the episode, his inclusion is no less significant and his narrative sparring with Adrian Pasdair’s General Talbot are amongst the episode’s many highlights.

The episode’s plot surrounding a stolen Hydra artefact is serviceable, yet intriguing, and offers links to the larger live action Marvel Universe as well as hints at this season’s story arcs. Despite a sizeable threat from superhuman heavy Carl Creel (aka the Marvel Comics villain ‘The Absorbing Man’), facilitating the episode’s requisite action, it’s arguably the show’s characters and their plight that are now in the driving seat.

The season premiere’s real treat though comes right in it’s opening scenes as we flashback to 1945 as Hayley Atwell’s Peggy Carter and the SSR (the proto-S.H.I.E.L.D. organisation established in Captain America: The First Avenger) lead the charge against Hydra as Nazi Germany faces defeat by the allies. More than just a spot of viewer-baiting it provides a welcome tease for the upcoming mid-season Agent Carter series.

All in all, AoS may have had an uneasy ride during its first season but is sure to deservedly find itself atop of the watch list of many a discerning comic book fan.

The bottom line: Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is back with gusto and based on this season’s premiere, shows great potential for the show’s future.

Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. airs in the UK on Fridays at 8pm on Channel 4. US viewers can catch it Tuesday nights on ABC.

'Director' Coulson (Clark Gregg) leads the fight against Hydra from the shadows in the exciting season 2 premiere of Marvel's 'Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.'

‘Director’ Coulson (Clark Gregg) leads the fight against Hydra from the shadows in the exciting season 2 premiere of Marvel’s ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’

What did you think of the season premiere of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. ? Share your thoughts below!

TV Review: ‘Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ S1 EP18 “Providence”

Starring:  Clark Gregg as Agent Phil Coulson, Ming Na-Wen as Melinda May, Brett Dalton as Grant Ward, Chloe Bennet as Skye, Iain De Caestecker as Leo Fitz, Elizabeth Henstridge as Jemma Simmons

Series created by:  Joss Whedon, Jed Whedon & Maurissa Tancharoen

Episode directed by:  Milan Cheylov / Written by:  Joss Whedon, Jed Whedon & Maurissa Tancheroen/ aired in the UK:  2/5/2014

What’s this episode about?

On the run from the U.S. government, Agent Coulson and his team seek refuge at a secluded S.H.I.E.L.D. installation…

Episode review

As Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. begins hurtling towards its first season finale (and renewal for a second looking likely), it continues to maintain the upswing in quality which has steadily been gathering momentum since the show’s return from hiatus.

The aftershocks of recent big screen smash Captain America: The Winter Soldier (read the GBUK review here) are well and truly felt and AoS finally begins to hit the ground running and start fulfilling its potential.

“Providence” opens with Coulson and his team still reeling from Hydra’s decimation of S.H.I.E.L.D. facilitating a much needed sense of purpose the series has sorely been lacking and presents scenarios that continues to define its main characters and their relationships.  Notably – and much like the show itself – Skye has a new sense of direction with her commitment to the cause of S.H.I.E.L.D. (even as the organisation crumbles around her and the rest of the team) and the recent revelations of May’s deceptions causes a rift within the team, allowing some wonderfully played and tense scenes between her and Coulson who pulls no punches on his feelings about her ‘betrayal’.

Brett Dalton is given more meat to chew on as (much like Skye) viewer’s perceptions of Agent Ward are shook up as we learn that it is he who is the traitor amongst the team.  This considered he still remains one of the show’s weaker characters but maybe this will be a chance to redefine him?  On the whole, the characters have grown and raising the stakes has added a sense of urgency which is providing the series with an edge via nifty plot twists, dramatic tensions and scintillating action.

In terms of guest stars this episode, Heroes star Adrian Pasdair makes a brief but significant entrance as Colonel Glenn Talbot whilst the legendary Bill Paxton makes a more than welcome return as the (now) devious John Garrett and Patton Oswalt provides an enjoyable turn as Eric Koenig, the very Whedon-esque quirky caretaker of the ‘hush hush’ S.H.I.E.L.D. installation the episode’s title is derived from.  The weakest link has to be B.J. Britt whose Antoine Triplett who is proving rather flat and one-dimensional, despite attempts to build a love interest for Simmons.

Once again, though, Clark Gregg is rightfully the focal point and main draw of the series which simply couldn’t endure (or arguably, exist) without him – let’s hope we see a return of Coulson’s appearances on the big screen in future offerings from Marvel Studios.

I’m glad AoS is still on the air but the real question now is can the show’s creative powers continue to fulfil their ambitions and deliver consistently exciting live-action comic book entertainment?  I wouldn’t ever expect it to be ground breaking in the same vein as 24 or Battlestar Galactica, but if it satisfies the hunger for more Marvel excitement between big screen releases then I’m all for it.

The bottom line:  Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is beginning to shape-up and points to a potentially exciting future for Marvel’s presence on the small screen.

Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. airs in the UK on Fridays at 8pm on Channel 4.  US viewers can catch it Tuesday nights on ABC.

What did you think of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. “Providence”?  Share your thoughts below!

'Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.' continues to show signs of improvement in "Providence".

‘Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ continues to show signs of improvement in “Providence”.

TV Review: ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ S1 EP8 “The Well”

Starring:  Clark Gregg as Agent Phil Coulson, Ming Na-Wen as Melinda May, Brett Dalton as Grant Ward, Chloe Bennet as Skye, Iain De Caestecker as Leo Fitz, Elizabeth Henstridge as Jemma Simmons

Series created by:  Joss Whedon, Jed Whedon & Maurissa Tancharoen

Episode directed by:  Jonathan Frakes / Written by:  Monica Owusu-Breen / aired in the UK:  22/11/2013

What’s this episode about?

Agent Ward’s darkest memory resurfaces when he becomes exposed to a piece of an Asgardian staff…

Episode review

So how is AoS progressing so far?  The best I can say is just above adequately entertaining, certainly there is room for improvement yet I still find myself enjoying each episode and look forward to seeing how the concept and the characters continue to grow.  After all, how many shows are truly great in their first season?  Given that AoS isn’t even halfway through its premiere run yet I feel it’s still worth sticking with if only at the very least to keep the Marvel flame burning between films.

Eight episodes in and the writers and actors are starting to get a handle on the dysfunctional (yet functionally efficient) team of S.H.I.E.L.D. agents.  Coulson continues to be the glue with May his now less reluctant right-hand woman, Skye’s loyalties are settled and Ward ever the resourceful Alpha Male.  Ironically, it’s the two characters who at the outset seemed would be the weakest that are proving the most enjoyable – Fitz and Simmons are proving to be the real heart of the series.

With heavy focus on Fitz and Simmons in the previous two episodes, “The Well” highlights the show’s connections to its big screen siblings by following up the events of Thor: The Dark World whilst allowing Brett Dalton to tackle some background material for his character.  Does it work?  Well (no pun intended…or then again was it?) yes and no, Ward serves a purpose and I’d be interested to learn more about the troubled past that’s hinted at, but I found myself more interested in the ‘Fitzsimmons’ moments peppered throughout and yearning to learn more about Coulson’s mysterious ‘death’ and recovery.  I’d also like to see more revelations surrounding Agent May who clearly has an interesting story to tell (between bouts of kicking backside) – but all in good time I suppose!

The Asgardian connection is fun and 24’s Peter MacNicol (or Ghostbusters II for true geek recognition) is a solid guest star bringing a playful and eccentric quality to the wise Professor Randolph.  Thus far though there is a little something missing from the series to make it compelling appointment television but as I’ve cited it needs time to grow as the footings of the writers and actors become firmer and all those wider story arcs alluded to come to the fore.

With the recent news of Marvel’s deal with Netflix to develop a number of series based on lesser known street-level characters such as Daredevil and Luke Cage it’s well worth sticking with AoS and given time I have faith that it will more than fulfil its role as more than just filler between chapters of Marvel’s Cinematic Universe.

The bottom line:  Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is easy going and enjoyable entertainment and whilst there’s potential for improvement, it’s a perfectly watchable companion to the Marvel Studios film series.

Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. airs in the UK on Fridays at 8pm on Channel 4.  US viewers can catch it Tuesday nights on ABC.

What did you think of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. so far?  Share your thoughts below! 

Also on Geek Blogger UK:

–          Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. “Pilot” review 

–          Thor: The Dark World review

TV review: Marvel’s ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ S1 EP1 “Pilot” – SERIES PREMIERE

Starring:  Clark Gregg as Agent Phil Coulson, Ming Na-Wen as Melinda May, Brett Dalton as Grant Ward, Chloe Bennet as Skye, Iain De Caestecker as Leo Fitz, Elizabeth Henstridge as Jemma Simmons

Series created by:  Joss Whedon, Jed Whedon & Maurissa Tancharoen

Episode directed by:  Joss Whedon / Written by:  Joss Whedon, Jed Whedon & Maurissa Tancharoen / aired in the UK:  27/09/13

What’s this episode about?

S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent Phil Coulson returns from the dead to assemble a team of ‘Level 7’ agents to investigate the appearance of a hooded ‘hero’ with special abilities…

Episode review

After much anticipation, Marvel’s small screen companion to their behemoth big screen franchises has been rolled out to an audience hungry for more comic book superhero action.  It’s always difficult (nor fair) to assess a series based on its premiere episode yet the pilot of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. shows a lot of promise for Marvel to replicate their big screen success on a smaller scale.

Just as Marvel cultivated their plans to assemble ‘Earth’s Mightiest Heroes’ (culminating in the colossal Avengers Assemble) they set about grouping together a team of small screen heroes in a much quicker fashion as we’re introduced to crack spy Grant Ward, former field agent Melinda May, troublesome hacker/internet activist Skye and techno nerds Fitz and Simmons.

Bringing these disparate individuals together is Clark Gregg, making a confident and welcome return as S.H.I.E.L.D. (that’s ‘Strategic Homeland Intervention and Logistics Division’) Agent Phil Coulson who together with Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury has helped bind together the Marvel Cinematic Universe and whose apparent death (in Avengers Assemble – a moment that will now have lost some of its emotional punch) we learn was a ruse to give those iconic cinematic superheroes cause to unite.

Dalton and Bennett have a chance to share some chemistry and goofy whiz kids Fitz and Simmons playfully bounce off one another (whether this will become annoying remains to be seen) but there’s clearly some work to be done to flesh out and find the voices of these characters.  Potentially the most interesting member of the team is Ming Na-Wen’s character, Melinda May, reluctantly enlisted by Coulson for a return to field duty – leaving tantalising hints of a back story to be explored as the series unfolds.

I was initially sceptical as to how AoS could co-exist with the Marvel Cinematic Universe and was pleased to see this achieved successfully with well integrated references to the wider Marvel universe weaved neatly throughout (inclduing significant links to Iron Man Three).  There’s also an appearance from Cobie Smulders returning as Fury’s right hand woman, Maria Hill.  Smulders felt a little lost in the mix in Avengers Assemble so perhaps once long running sitcom How I Met Your Mother comes to a close this season we may see more of her both in AoS and in Marvel’s future big screen endeavours.

The abundance of references are generally pleasing and don’t feel forced but going forward there may not be as much need to provide as many links.  An over reliance on them would become stale (even cumbersome) and hopefully the right balance will be struck as the series develops.

Overall this series premiere has a fairly successful mix of action, humour and intrigue that should ensure a sizeable audience.  There’s some work to be done in terms of the characters and developing the show’s own mythology (as there always is with any new series) but the pilot is stylish with good production values and a script that flows comfortably, making good work of introducing the characters in such a short space of time.  Whilst Joss Whedon’s direction in Avengers Assemble felt a little confined and ‘televisual’ at times it works well here, giving the pilot of AoS drive, complemented by its glossy and expensive look.  Given the success of Avengers Assemble it was more or less a given that Marvel would (wisely) tap the talents of Whedon to help secure their footing on the small screen and hopefully there are big things to come.

The bottom line:  The pilot of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. presents exciting prospects for the expansion of the Marvel universe – it’s slick, fun, action packed and holds enough interest to keep viewers watching.

Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. airs in the UK on Fridays at 8pm on Channel 4.  US viewers can catch it Tuesday nights on ABC.

 What did you think of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. ?  Share your thoughts below!

Agents assembled - Marvel's 'Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.' is off to a promising start with a slick and enjoyable series premiere.

Agents assembled – Marvel’s ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ is off to a promising start with a slick and enjoyable series premiere.