Fox’s The Gifted has finally hit the air, following Legion as a second strong showing for X-Men television. The Gifted officially trended on Twitter shortly after its premiere on the East Coast and instantly garnered the attention of a world who have missed the X-Men; Marvel’s original outcasts, the children of the atom, who were born into a world that hates and fears them. Originally debuting in September 1963, the superpowered Homo Superior consisted of a cast of characters that encompassed everyone from Charles Xavier, a teacher who believed in working for peace between humanity and mutantkind, and Magneto, a survivor of the Holocaust, who saw humanity as wholly evil and did not believe they would do anything to protect mutants. Setting aside those stories, The Gifted enteres as an X-Men story where the X-Men apparently are no more. Thankfully, however, the X-Universe has a host of great television, proving that even without the X-Men, there are still “mutants among us”.
Starting with the critically acclaimed Legion, starring Dan Stevens as David Haller, the rumored son of Charles Xavier, the flagship series of Fox’s corner of Marvel TV pushed the bounds of creativity and the limits of the human imagination. The comic book, illustrated by Bill Sienkiewicz, did to comics what Fargo creator Noah Hawley has done on television: ask audiences (and readers) to question their reality. From Bollywood dance numbers to surreal scenarios that have important things to say about empowering those who are different, there’s a reason why Legion has a 90% on Rotten Tomatoes. Throw in some new mysteries and a break-out star from Wonder Woman, Saïd Taghmaoui, and you have a recipe for another hit with the second season.
Following Legion, (but so far unconnected in any way) The Gifted delivers a pointed story about the power of family, from the genetic bonds of blood to the hard-earned bonds of community and friendship. Delving deep into a new corner of the X-Men universe where sentinel services are succeeding in their quest to hunt down mutants one by one, the pilot asks viewers to question everything, exploring the gray areas of morality, and pointing out that what’s truly important isn’t safety or security but the home that’s where the heart is. While doing all of this, it offers a timely lesson about the impact that mistrusting those who are different can have on the world around you and those closest to you, a theme that has been with the X-Men since their comic book inception.
Razor sharp dialogue, creative filming techniques, and a creative exploration of the limits of imagination has the X-Men universe’s first two forays into television leaving a unique mark and providing well-formed characters without needing to lean on their cinematic counterparts to be interesting. The adventures of David Haller in Legion are unique and challenging and The Gifted is delivering fans a timely story with fully composited characters that people are ready to root for. Marvel Television’s newly established X-Division is pulling fans away from the street corners of Hell’s Kitchen and Harlem and the out of this world stories of Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD and opening unexplored pathways in a familiar, yet unexplored universe. Legion and The Gifted are giving fans a chance to explore more of the world inhabited by Xavier, Magneto, and the respective brotherhood and X-Men. Cut from the same cloth yet working through entirely different stories, they’re breaking barriers and setting standards for superhero television.
While some of Marvel’s other shows and the CW’s Arroverse saw struggles getting off the ground, X-Men TV has hit the ground running with both Legion and The Gifted; even so, The biggest difference between Fox’s X-Men and the pre-established legion of superheroes on TV isn’t a difference in quality, it’s a difference in reward. Legion and The Gifted deliver critically acclaimed stories without relying on fan-favorite characters. While Marvel has also seen success with Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and its Netflix shows, a poor showing from Iron Fist, a good-but-forgettable Defenders team-up, and a DOA Inhumans show truly make the recent success of Marvel’s new X-Men shows stand out.
Both can make for powerfully good television and both rely on respecting their characters first and foremost. It takes a lot for audiences to love and trust brand new characters who they’ve never met before or might not be familiar with. The Gifted introduced many new X-Men fans to Emma Dumont’s Polaris, the long-lost daughter of Magneto in the comics, after all. Without loving and respecting characters however you can come out with results like Marvel’s Inhumans, characters who are ready to take their audiences on adventures but who fall critically and occasionally emotionally flat.
The fact that both Legion and The Gifted are not only opening new paths and introducing people to new guides is a testament to the powerhouse teams in front of and behind the camera, as well as the storied history they come from. Fans have left the safe territory that was created by the Brotherhood and the X-Men. Where writer Matt Nix and writer and director Noah Hawley are taking fans is a mystery, but it’ll be one heck of a ride along the way. With a hook like that it seems as though the X-Men TV shows will keep killing it for many episodes to come.
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