The Gifted, FOX's X-Men-inspired family drama, serves up an impressive premiere from director Bryan Singer that promises a compelling comic book series.
[This review contains slight SPOILERS for The Gifted series premiere.]
After the successful launch of Noah Hawley's hallucinogenic X-Men-adjacent series Legion earlier this year, 20th Century Fox continues to make the most of the rights to Marvel's merry mutants with another television adventure inspired by the superhero outcasts. The Gifted hails from Burn Notice creator Matt Nix, and presents a compellingly mutated take on the classic X-Men story of discrimination and persecution from a world gripped by fear over what these unique individuals can do. And while the story of a family on the run from its own government doesn't necessarily push the mutant story in a radical new direction, it does reposition it from much less fantastical, yet surprisingly compelling, perspective. The emphasis on family drama, then, becomes the series' main selling point, with the world once inhabited by the X-Men serving as a reliable backdrop while adding a hint of mystery.
The reliability of the mutant property is what makes The Gifted work, and coming just days after the television premiere of Marvel's appallingly bad Inhumans miniseries, its competency and consistency stands in stark contrast to the ramshackle presentation of the publisher's ultra-lame moon-based upstarts. Even without such notable players as Wolverine, Cyclops, Jean Grey, Professor X, or Beast, the X-Men universe remains a compelling place to visit. And in his creation of a post-X-Men world, Nix has a firm grasp on why it works so well: the characters' humanity in the face of dehumanizing discrimination is ultimately more fascinating than whatever amazing power is at their fingertips.
The Gifted is primarily a story about the Strucker family, headed up by Reed (Stephen Moyer) and Kate (Amy Acker), and their two teenage children, Lauren (Natalie Alyn Lind) and Andy (Percy Hynes White). The Struckers are about as nuclear a family as you can get, and that connection becomes incredibly important once it's clear Lauren and Andy are children of the atom. And in a world where mutants are hunted down over fears of what they might do with their abilities, Nix adds a degree of difficulty with Reed's job, which puts him near the front lines of the human vs. mutant war being waged by the government. Surprisingly, this doesn't generate immediate conflict between Reed and Kate, but rather it demonstrates how strong the family bond is by how quickly both parents act in order to protect their children.
Although The Gifted doesn't feature the X-Men, and in fact only mentions them with past tense remarks shaded in tragedy, that doesn't mean the series lacks any X-Men of its own. A small group of mutants headed up by Sean Teale's Marcos Diaz/Eclipse that also includes the likes of Clarice Fong/Blink (Jamie Chung), Lorna Dane/Polaris (Emma Dumont), and John Proudstar/Thunderbird (Blair Redford), works to ferry mutants to safety and avoid confrontations with the mutant hunters at Sentinel Services, like Burn Notice's Coby Bell.
It's a strong pilot, made so in part by some smart writing choices that use action as exposition, and by the direction of Bryan Singer, who, at this point, knows a thing or two about making a live-action X-Men product. The pilot is something of a return to form for Singer, as its circumstances (and network television budget restrictions) has him delivering an episode that's more in keeping with the kind of storytelling on display in X2 than, say, the CGI bombast of Days of Future Past or X-Men: Apocalypse. The tenor of the premiere, as Reed and Kate deal with the realization their children are mutants and as such are at risk of some horrific treatment by the government, is in keeping with the moment Logan, Rogue, and Pyro wind up at Bobby Drake's house and meet his less-than-understanding parents. The Gifted's focus on fear and discrimination, and the unintended consequences of discovering you're a mutant, offers the X-Men franchise an avenue to deliver a smaller, more intimate, and grounded narrative, while its blockbuster sibling can focus more on spectacle and the genre elements that work on a grand scale.
Where The Gifted excels, though, is in the blending of its various story threads, and the way it balances the intrigue of the not-quite X-Men headed up by Marcos, the anxiety of Reed and Kate doing whatever they can to protect their children, and the way Laura and Andy must come to grips with the realization that life will never be the same for them. It's a lot of story to tackle spread out among a sizeable cast, but the first hour manages to find time to generate interest on all three fronts. Surprisingly, it also finds a considerable amount of intrigue in Reed's internal conflict, and the realization that he was helping perpetuate the sort of discrimination his children now face. By the end of the first hour, Nix throws a curveball at the family-on-the-run conceit of the series by separating Reed from his family following a surprisingly kinetic mutant battle with Sentinel Services that allows all the mutants (Strucker children included) a chance to shine.
In the end, The Gifted works because it smartly positions itself as a spinoff of the much larger and very popular X-Men franchise. Nix isn't trying to rewrite what is by now a very familiar playbook; he's just adding a few new rules and dusting off more than few old ones. The result is a series with a likeable cast that makes good use of its recognizable comic book characters, but still finds a way to present its human characters as complex individuals who don't necessarily see the choices in front of them in black and white. After a premiere as strong as 'eXposed', it looks like The Gifted will be an easy win for FOX.
The Gifted continues next Monday with 'rX' @9pm on FOX.