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TV Review: The Gifted

EPISODE 1: "eXposed"

SYNOPSIS: From Marvel Television, and set in the “X-Men” universe, THE GIFTED is an epic adventure story of a suburban couple whose ordinary lives are rocked by the sudden discovery that their children possess mutant powers. Forced to flee from an oppressive government, the family’s only choice is to contact an underground network of mutants who are fighting to survive.

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REVIEW: Marvel has struggled with their series tied to the highly successful Cinematic Universe they have built over the last decade, but the small screen additions to 20th Century Fox's X-MEN universe have been the opposite. Earlier this year, Fargo creator Noah Hawley debuted Legion to critical and fan acclaim. While that series clearly connects to the X-Men world, it does so in a tangental manner that keeps it a wholly distinct creation from the feature film franchise. Legion also managed to be a cinematic achievement thanks to an unconventional visual approach to the story that keeps it in a world that could be a parallel timeline or echoes of the past. FOX's new series, The Gifted, is much more directly connected to the X-Men films but manages to avoid the pitfalls that Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Inhumans had to deal with in regards to directly connecting to the big screen offerings of the MCU. The Gifted is definitely on a smaller scale than any of the X-Men films and is not as narratively ambitious as the mysterious Legion but that does not prevent it from being a timely and entertaining entry into the larger franchise. 

Thanks to X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST, The Gifted is able to exist in a different slice of the Multiverse from the main film series. In the Bryan Singer directed pilot episode, we are introduced to three main groups that will be the focus of the series: the Strucker family who are on the run after they discover their children have mutant abilities, the Mutant Underground who help their kind escape persecution, and the government sanctione Sentinel division who hunt down those who have the Mutant X gene. What is interesting about this alternate world is that it exists in a time after the X-Men have disappeared without explanation. So, the world at large is aware of what Charles Xavier and his band of heroes did for their kind but without them around, fear of the Mutant X gene has led to those who abilities to be imprisoned for the safety of the general populous. It also does not feature the trademark giant robot Sentinels from the comics or films but instead transforms that threat into an FBI like agency that uses various technologies like drones and spider-like robots to hunt down mutants. This scales down the need for ambitious special effects to a network television budget but also affords more flexibility in developing new types of adversaries for our heroes.

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The main focus of the show is the Strucker clan. Led by fan favorite actors Stephen Moyer (True Blood) and Amy Acker (Angel, Alias), the Struckers are working parents; Dad works as a District Attorney and Mom is a nurse. Their kids, Natalie Alyn Lyn (Gotham) as Lauren and Percy Hynes White as Andy, are leading somewhat normal teenage lives. Lauren is perfect and popular while Andy is tortured by bullies on a daily basis. When an attack by the bullies at the school dance sets off Andy's destructive powers, his sister's forcefield power manifests and sends the family on the run. The dynamic of this everyday American family works well on the show by giving this white collar Caucasians the difficult task of being treated both as minorities but also as terrorists. This is a great move by creator Matt Nix (Burn Notice) to feed on the current political climate facing the United States and the world at large while still using the X-Men comics  as a grounding point. The X-Men series has always been about inclusion and acceptance of those that are persecuted and that comes across without smacking the viewer in the face with it. The Gifted is not preachy in the least.

We also get to meet the Mutant Underground which features familiar faces from X-Men comics are films. The episode opens with the police chasing down Blink. While the character was previously played by Fan Bingbing in X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST, Chung is given a lot more to work with as Blink and serves as a entry for the viewer to the Underground. Led by Eclipse (Sean Teale), who can control light and energy, the Underground also features Lorna Dane/Polaris and John Proudstar/Thunderbird. None of their abilities are all that spectacular on screen (NOTE: the episode provided had incomplete special effects), but that also do not feel as goofy or forced as what ABC showcased with Inhumans. The Underground itself functions like it's namesake from the Civil War to transport fugitive mutants to safer places. Taking away major Mutant characters allows this series to focus more on what it means to be a mutant rather than on flashy abilities or famous characters.

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When Bryan Singer was announced as the director or the pilot, I was expecting something a bit more like his feature work to show up on screen. But, similarly to when Joss Whedon helmed the pilot for Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., the first episode of The Gifted does not feel more cinematic than anything else on network television. The show does feature a much darker visual tone that keeps it more inline with Marvel's offerings on Netflix but with a decidedly West Coast look. If I had to compare The Gifted to anything, it is most similar to the early seasons of NBC's Heroes. But, that series was blatant in being structured like a comic book and had a much glossier style. The Gifted does not spend a lot of time lingering on who or what the X-Men are and I would not expect too many guest appearances from that branch of the franchise universe. While there is the requisite Stan Lee cameo in the first episode, The Gifted feels a lot like it's own world and could easily be unrelated to the X-Men at all if not for a few nods here and there.

The Gifted worked for me as a nice slice of episodic adventure television. By not anchoring itself to the X-Men universe, The Gifted has a lot of narrative freedom to explore minor characters from Marvel's mutant roster and give them much different storylines than would be required by a direct adaptation of existing comics. This show is much more of a family-focused look at what would happen if Mutant were hunted like criminals and looked at with disgust and should be ripe for countless ripped from the headlines stories. The first hour sets a great tone without blasting the viewer with overwhelming exposition and sets up what could be a very long running show. The Gifted is the X-Men story you never knew you wanted but that we have always deserved. If anything, it proves that you don't need costumes or huge action sequences to capitalize on the brilliant world of the X-Men.

THE GIFTED premieres October 2nd on FOX.

Source: JoBlo.com

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