Thursday, October 26, 2017

"The Gifted" - Just Another Superhero Show?

Photo: Fox

Of all the TV shows in the world that I have wanted the most--but expected the least--X-Men has to top the list. While Fox's "The Gifted" is not quite "Classic X-Men" it nevertheless remains truer to comic book roots than most of the movies. This gives it an edge and unique flavor that already set it apart from the plethora of other superhero shows on screen this year.

"The Gifted" was, it seemed, hobbled from the start with a less than A-list team of mutants. Those who grew up on any of the animated shows might recognize one or two names, but most of the characters are obscure even for comic book readers. Indeed, many viewers may be tuning in more for the actors than the premise, if Amy Acker's fan club is anything to go by.

But the X-Men have a proud tradition of taking no-names and turning them into stellar stories precisely because they focus on character development and strong plot rather than A-list headliners. My absolute favorite X-Men title is "X-Factor Investigations" which took a whole band of b-list and c-list mutants and grew them into a strong cast of three dimensional characters. "The Gifted" seems to be doing pretty much the same thing, and is off to a good start.

That is not to say that the show is without flaws. Balancing the mutants and the Strucker family plotlines is a mix they have not yet perfected. And yet...the show is slowly melding different ingredients into an increasingly engrossing whole. First and foremost it completely understands that the appeal of the X-Men revolves around their outcast status, and the family of misfits they form.

The Strucker family (maybe, possibly, based on the Von Struckers/Fenris), are the template "Fox Family Action Show" unit. Yet with strong acting leads carrying the parental roles, they provide an important function and perspective; namely how ordinary parents react when discovering that their children are a feared and endangered minority. I particularly like how Caitlin, though powerless, is given strength and knowledge of value that make her a key player even in the midst of the mutant underground.

The kids are the weak link, and yet they are necessary to a show set in a creative universe that has always been about young people discovering their powers, and uniqueness, in the midst of the craziness of puberty. The actors are fine, yet the show struggles the most when trying to make the kids relevant to the plot. Hopefully this will work better as the show progresses, although at episode 4 of 10 it is a little worrying.

Unlike "Agents of Shield" which shied away from actual legacy characters, "The Gifted" features a cast including long-time X-Men frontrunner "Polaris." Her scenes are definitely my favorite, and I am pleased to see Emma Dumont's performance as the Mistress of Magnetism (yes, she IS Magneto's daughter) topping the highlights of most reviews.

Thunderbird/John Proudstar is another longtime X-Men teammate, and is played by Blair Redford, a face which will be familiar to longtime ABC family (excuse me, Freeform) viewers.

Rounding out the trio of 'recognizable comic book mutants' is Jamie Chung (Mulan from OUAT), as Blink. Interestingly, Blink appeared in "X-Men: Days of Future Past", though differently cast. (This is fine in-universe, actually, as comic-book Blink was from a different version of earth anyhow).

It's been a rough decade as an X-Men fan. The movies are notoriously rocky, and many fans have been completely turned off them. Interestingly, the last few outings have taken a turn for the better. Although I haven't seen "Logan," I have heard countless good things about it. And while "Legion" is weird and adult enough that I haven't written a review here, it nonetheless is one of the finest bits of live-action story to ever bear any connection to the X-Men. "The Gifted" doesn't live up to the bar set by either of these, but it is on a far better path than I originally anticipated, and I sincerely hope it gets a second season to continue fleshing itself out.

You can read more of my X-Men nerdery below:
Intro to Classic X-Men (Where do I start?)
First Class -- My Review
The X-Men weigh in on the trailer (spoof)
X-Men -- a history of TV and Film

X-Men watch Downton Abbey (humor)

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