The trend towards small screen superheros continues with several new offerings across networks this season, including Fox’s “The Gifted”, an X-Men spinoff that premiered this week.
Writing for Mutants Must Be Hard
I wasn’t sure what to expect when I tuned in last night, as Fox had done a pretty good job of keeping most details about the show quiet until it premiered. Even the original trailer was pretty full of Episode 1 stuff and not much else. What I found was a pretty standard “humankind is afraid of mutants, we must hunt them down and control them” trope. In fact, the premiere was so much like the first season of NBC’s Heroes that I posted on Facebook “Save the Cheerleader, Save the World”. The lead character, Lauren Strucker, played by Natalie Alyn Lind, even bears a pretty spot-on resemblance to Hayden Panitierre’s Claire Bennett from Heroes.
If that was the only similarity that creator Matt Nix came up with, I could have lived with it, but there was more. Lauren’s father, Reed Strucker, played by Stephen Moyer, is a prosecutor who tries mutants who are arrested after they are caught using their powers. He works with a dark government organization called Sentinel Services, an homage, I am sure, to the large Sentinel Robots that the government created to hunt down mutants in the X-Men Comics. And, there certainly isn’t too much of stretch to connect The Gifted’s Reed Strucker to Heroes Noah Bennett, Claire’s dad, played by Jack Coleman, who spends his days hunting down Evos (Heroes version of mutants) for the equally dark Primatech. When I first heard his character name, I thought that I heard Stryker, of course, and believed it must be a relation to the infamous Will Stryker, a long standing foil to the X-Men.
Another similarity to NBC’s mutant show, the mutants are underground, hiding their powers from the humans that fear them, one of the initial premises of Heroes. As I recall, there was even a network of hidden evos in Heroes that helped each other, before the later seasons when they were more visible.
The whole “mutants are feared, let’s hunt them down” thing is a pretty tired trope. Not only is it in Heroes, but it features prominently in all of the X-Men film universe. It is the essentially Ian McKellen’s whole schtick for assembling his team in the first set of films. That it is the whole premise for this series was a bit disappointing. I do feel a bit heartened that the story seems to be about a family on the run, but that story line has been used a few times too, (See also: First two Terminator movies and Sarah Connor Chronicles)
X Marks the Spot?
The connection that The Gifted has to the X-Men is loose, at best. It is not based on any published story line from the comics, nor is it filled with familiar characters that have appeared in the fairly full X-Men universe of films. It’s sort of like the Netflix Marvel connection to the MCU. In one scene there is a one-line reference to the wider universe when Thunderbird says.
“The X-Men, The Brotherhood, we don’t even know if they exist anymore.”
A nice quick way to say, “don’t expect Charles Xavier or Wolverine to make a cameo”. The lead characters, however, include a few familiar names who have made appearances in the comics. Blink, played by Jamie Chung; Polaris, played by Emma Dumont; and Thunderbird, played by Blair Redford; have all made appearances in the comics over the years, and each had some nice scenes in The Gifted premiere episode. Eclipse, played by Sean Teale, however, is a character developed for this series.
“The Gifted” Title Could Just As Easily Refer to the Cast
There is definitely no shortage of talent in the cast. In addition to those listed above, it rounds out with the extremely talented Amy Acker (Person of Interest) playing Caitlin Strucker, mom to Lauren and Andy, played by Percy Hynes-White, their telekinetic son who discovers his powers after a particularly traumatic experience. Coby Bell (a Burn Notice vet like Nix), plays a lead agent in the Sentinel Services. I enjoyed Bell, as I see that he has some inner conflict with what he is doing for a living. Maybe that will translate into a story line later in the season. Maybe he is conflicted because he, or someone he loves is a mutant.
From a visual point of view, The Gifted is quite well done. Nice to see on a TV show that has a fraction of the effects budget that a film does. There is a gritty feel of oppression and sadness in the darkly lit scenes that feature the mutants. Often they also have bright shafts of light cutting through them for a stark contrast. The effects for the mutant powers are also well-done. There is something to be said for the “less is more” approach that lower budgets drive. There are some exceptionally fun animations of high-tech robots that are way cool. Watch for the spiders, you’ll know what I mean. Way cool. They are going to be a great foil for the mutants throughout the series.
I’ll be back for another week or two and see where it goes. The fact is, I love the X-Men and despite dragging out an old trope, I like the strong cast, and the visuals. There certainly is always a chance to deliver a winner with an old theme. “The Gifted” airs on Fox on Mondays at 9pm EST. It premiered to 4.8 million viewers even without being able to use the Marvel name in their promotions.
+ Mutants. I love mutants.
+ Strong Cast
+ Great visual elements
– Old, overdone trope
– Similarities to Heroes are disappointing
Did you watch The Gifted? What did you think? Leave me a comment below. I’ll answer. I really will.
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The Grumpy Geek, Pete Herr is the author of “10 Things We Should Teach You In High School and Usually Don’t”. He is the oldest geek in the Geekiverse by a factor of two. Follow Pete Herr on Facebook, Twitter,and Instagram . If you don’t he gets Grumpy. You don’t want to see him Grumpy.
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