Marvel Comics has established itself not only on the big screen but also on the telly.
Daredevil, Jessica Jones and the recently-released The Punisher have made the medium their own infinite canvas in exploring the many facets of heroism via extremely flawed human beings – with or without powers.
The X-Men universe proved it, too, has room to manoeuvre on the small screen.
Early this year we had the fantastic series Legion – from creator Noah Hawley (who also brilliantly adapted Fargo for TV) – which challenged everything that is normal. At the end of every episode, you end up staring at the screen wondering what just happened and, at the same time, excited to watch the next episode.
Now Matt Nix (who created Burn Notice) has come up with The Gifted, a series set within the X-Men universe; it is about mutants with abilities, as well as exploring the theme of being different, and persecuted for it.
Unlike Legion however, The Gifted slants towards the more conventional storytelling and character/plot developments. This isn’t to say there isn’t anything good about the series … however, it is not something you wait with bated breath each week.
The Gifted centres on a typical American family – a loving mum and dad, a popular daughter and a son who’s bullied in school. Their humdrum life is turned upside down the minute parents Reed (Stephen Moyer) and Kate Strucker (Amy Acker) learn that both their children have mutated X-gene that gives them incredible powers.
The clincher is, Reed indirectly works for Sentinel Services, a government organisation that hunts down mutants on the basis that they are a danger to the community.
In the first three episodes, the children – Lauren (Natalie Alyn Lind) and Andy (Percy Hynes White) – are on the run with their mum, as Reed is captured by Sentinel agents, which lands him squarely on the other side of his employer’s chair.
While Reed is being questioned and forced to be a mole, Kate and the kids find shelter with a band of mutant misfits called Mutant Underground.
Eventually, Reed is reunited with his family, allowing The Gifted to jump into the next chapter of the story – the Struckers joining forces with Mutant Underground on their rescue missions while trying to be a family.
Each member of the family is able to contribute: Kate is a nurse, Reed has info on Sentinel and the two youngsters have powers. It is nice to watch a sci-fi series where the parents actually have a presence in the kids’ lives.
Unfortunately, like most teenagers on TV, Andy quickly gets on my nerves. His actions – that stems from impatience and naivety – almost always put everyone in danger. Things are made worse as he possesses the power to destroy things with his thoughts (like bringing a wall down) but has no full control over what he can do.
Luckily, the sister is less annoying … so far. It is interesting how Lauren has known about her powers for three years, harnessing it without her parents or friends finding out. That is quite a feat.
Actress Lind kind of reminds me of Hayden Panettiere who played Claire Bennet in the other show about mutants Heroes. That similarity will get you to draw comparisons between Heroes and Heroes Reborn with The Gifted, only to realise this new series isn’t all that different after all.
Remember how Claire was blamed for a terrorist attack that decimated a town, causing people with abilities to go into hiding? Here, Sentinel Services was formed after a peaceful protest by the mutants went wrong and a massive explosion at that site killed many people. The subplots of new mutants learning to control their powers, and some using powers for bad purposes were also something featured in Heroes.
Fortunately, sporadically, The Gifted does stand out.
It remains cool to see the variety of powers the writers of the show can come up with. There is a character whose power is to emit bright and hot light from his hands; one mutant can access other people’s memories; another can turn himself and things around him invisible. Credit goes to the practical and special effects teams who are doing a superb job in this area.
The series also quickly establishes that this world is without Professor X and his yellow-and-black uniformed X-Men. One character says, they’ve all disappeared. Hopefully, The Gifted will look into it at one point of time even if they can’t afford to hire Patrick Stewart to appear as Prof X.
An interesting development happens when the Sentinel Services hooks up with Trask Industries, the military contractor that conducts experiments on mutants with the intent of turning them into assets in the field.
There is also a mystery about a pair of powerful siblings in the past which got Trask Industries interested in wanting to capture Lauren and Andy; it is discovered that their powers work better when combined.
Although the family drama is the main plot, it is all the above-mentioned mysteries that intrigue us most.
Acting wise, The Gifted benefits from Ackers, Emma Dumont – who plays a bada** mutant with powers not unlike Magneto – and the ever brilliant Garret Dillahunt. Burn Notice actors, Sharon Gless and Coby Bell also add to the talented cast. The same can’t be said for Moyer who delivers his lines like he did in True Blood.
Having said that, an ensemble cast like this does make it difficult for the show to focus on a single character and this causes the show to suffer as there is no one obvious lead for the audience to latch on to.
The Gifted also fails in holding our attention from week to week, plot-wise. The first four episodes were promising, but subsequently The Gifted peddles the same old thing – planning/executing rescue missions, training young mutants to control their abilities, teens being annoying, parents doing the best they can, past deeds catching up, introduction of a new mutant with a convenient ability for that episode, etc.
While it’s fine to put a magnifying glass on issues such as bullying, discrimination and the ever-growing refugee situation – which run parallel with the goings-on in the real world – The Gifted isn’t offering the audience anything new in the realm of comic-book scope.
In a landscape that is saturated with a number of superhero-based shows (both of DC and Marvel origin), The Gifted doesn’t quite shine as brightly.
The Gifted airs every Tuesday at 9pm on Fox HD (Astro Ch 724).