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: ‘Legion’ S1 EP01 “Chapter 1”

Fox explore the more bizarre corners of the X-Men universe for their first X-based television series…

Starring:  Dan Stevens, Rachel Keller, Aubrey Plaza, David Selby, Hamish Linklater, Katie Aselton, Jean Smart

Series created by:  Noah Hawley

Written and directed by: Noah Hawley / aired in the UK : 09/02/2017

What’s it about?

David Haller has heard voices all his life but soon discovers that there may be more to his ‘condition’ than meets the eye…

Episode review

In partnership with Marvel TV, Legion sees Fox bring their live-action X-Men franchise to the small screen.  Developed by Fargo series creator Noah Hawley, Legion is based upon the Marvel Comics character David Haller, created by Chris Claremont and Bill Sienkiewicz who first appeared in New Mutants #25 (published in 1985).  Dan Stevens (Downton Abbey) plays Haller, a mental patient who throughout his life has been plagued by voices that he is starting to believe are real and has drawn the attention of the mysterious Brubaker (David Selby) and his interrogator (Hamish Linklater), who are interested in Haller’s telekinetic abilities and his potential as the most powerful mutant ever discovered.

From the outset it’s obvious that Legion is far less comic-y than its big screen brethren favouring a more restrained, less colourful and more cerebral approach reminiscent of a Netflix or HBO production.  Whilst fans of the X-Men comics universe may find that an initial disappointment, what unfolds in this series premiere is too compelling to ultimately ignore.  Via a series of flashbacks we learn of David’s increasingly tortured mental state from innocent childhood to teenage delinquency and his current plight as a resident of Clockwork Psychiatric Hospital where he is teased by the presence of people who may or may not be real, including his inseparable ‘pal’ Lenny (a suitably sardonic Aubrey Plaza).

Events become all the more unreal as David ‘meets’ Syd (Rachel Keller), a newly admitted patient that he quickly becomes captivated by.  To say much more would spoil things, but it’s this meeting that forms the basis of David’s present situation as he grapples with a loosening grip on ‘reality’.  As Haller, Stevens is magnetic with a melancholic, at times manic, performance that he deftly mixes with prominent shades of agitation, frustration and bewilderment intertwined with smatterings of black humour.  The supporting cast are all perfectly able in their roles but it’s Stevens that carries much of the proceedings as we’re left perplexed by the hallucinatory visualisation of this unusual story.

Written and directed by Hawley, “Chapter 1” is a predominately trippy experience that leaves the viewer in a similar predicament to the show’s central character, primarily in a state of almost maddening confusion, yet manages to leave you intrigued and hanging on for what’s next.  Hawley skilfully depicts the bizarre imaginings of his script, the interesting use of lighting, colour, camera angles, editing and digital effects (not to mention some rather spacey music cues by Jeff Russo) stringing together the non-linear construction of the narrative.  Whether future epsidoes will maintain this approach, to such a degree as it is here – and succeed – remains to be seen but it certainly proves effective for this series opener.

Legion comes off as a creative collision that feels something like One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest meets Being John Malkovich via Inception but ultimately is a strange brew that forms its own personality.  In fact, part of Legion’s unusual appeal is that its setting is at times vague, it’s apparently present day but some of the costumes and decor resemble a period closer to the sixties – a neat visual homage to the times of the original X-Men comics, maybe?

Despite the show being unconnected to Fox’s X-Men films and somewhat distanced from the Marvel comic books, “Chapter 1” still offers solid hints at the core elements of X-Men mythology as it touches on the themes of prejudice and fear of the unknown that stretches back to the stories created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in the early 1960s.  Given David Haller’s connection to a certain wheelchair-bound mutant Professor in the X-Men comics universe it wouldn’t be unwelcome to see more ties into the overall mythology, whether subtle or not.

If there’s any real drawback to Legion it’s that it’s lack of lucidity can be challenging but perhaps that’s part of the plan, to lure us in and become invested in a series that could prove to be unique and addictively entertaining?

The bottom line:  Legion debuts with a complex, chaotic, weird and – in moments – quite funny premiere for a superhero based series that could prove a refreshing addition to an ever popular and increasingly exploited genre.

Legion airs in the UK Thursday evenings on Fox.  U.S. viewers can catch it Wednesdays on FX.

Insane or not? Dan Stevens is Davidd Haller in Fox's 'Legion', based on the Marvel Comics character.

Insane or not? Dan Stevens is David Haller in Fox’s ‘Legion’, based on the Marvel Comics character.

What did you think of the Legion season premiere?  Share your thoughts below!