Legion (TV, Season 1, 2017)
Showrunner: Noah Hawley
One of the most visually inventive and original television adaptations of a comic-book, possibly ever, this will play with your mind in a way that may alienate many, but if persevered with, helps you empathise with the fascinating lead character.
A young man (Dan Stevens, ‘Downton Abbey’ and ‘Beauty and the Beast‘) who has spent years in a psychiatric hospital is helped to see that rather than being schizophrenic, he is actually a mutant with incredible powers. A group of other mutants use their abilities to help him get control of his own mind while facing threats from those pursuing them.
We’re firmly in the comic-book superhero genre here but in a form that’s rarely attempted and even rarer done well. David’s telepathic abilities are key to his story and the show is built around that. Dizzying editing, frequent use of memories mind exploration, often spectacular depiction of David’s powers, this show takes every opportunity to be visually inventive beyond quirky, through surreal and into the realms of abstract. Some episodes are particularly difficult to keep up with, there are ‘Inception’ levels of mind-wandering. At times the aspect ratio of the screen changes to show a change, though it’s hard to keep track of the reasons for this so you couldn’t exactly rely on them as indicating real life or in his head.
Although the characters aren’t X-Men, they are mutants and clearly referred to as such which is so much better than trying to keep this at arm’s length from the film franchise. It’s much closer linked than I’ll say just in case it spoils a future reveal for anyone, though the show does in a brief flash tell you enough about David’s strong links to the X-Men. I almost wish I didn’t know as much about that as I do, it would have helped keep things more of a mystery and an exciting surprise.
There are some elements I didn’t like about the show, most prominently the depiction of David’s main nemesis, a complex character that’s ever-present and complicated through to their detailed reveal. I don’t mind the way it ties in, nor the extensive exposition late in the season, just the actual look of this character for much of the show is a bit cheap and clashes unflatteringly against the more human depictions of everything else.
It’s almost annoying to see how very inventive and gripping the producers (some of whom are the same from the movie series) can be with the properties they have control of. When we have bemoaned some of the X-Men films with the top-tier characters that felt so homogenized and repetitive, to have a series like this that stands out as completely different and looks like 8 short indie films is weirdly frustrating because it’s proof that they can do better. I hope the second season keeps the short run format and maintains the quality. Sir Patrick Stewart has said he would be interested in reprising his famous mutant role in the show, and while I think it’s very unlikely, it’s absolutely something I would love to see and could actually work perfectly in the show.
UPDATE: I wrote my first draft of this post a couple of months ago, before San Diego Comic Con, where it was announced that Noah Hawley is working on a feature film for Fox focusing on the villain Doctor Doom. So it seems that someone else realised this level of creativity being applied to Fox’s Marvel properties would be a great boost to their creatively flagging franchises. ‘The Fantastic Four’ in particular (to which Doctor Doom is most strongly linked) have essentially been shelved due to the universally panned ‘Fant4stic‘. Hawley’s take on the character is almost certain to be radically different, enough to distance his film from the past versions and add some depth and interest to what would likely lead into another attempt at adapting those characters.
‘Legion’ has already been commissioned for a second season which I desperately hope will be as inventive as the first. There are elements that could be done away with now, while the critical success may embolden Fox to bring this closer in line with the ongoing franchise.