So, it’s time I came clean about it… Given that I log on every day and talk mutant with over 13,000 people on Facebook, (not all at once, clearly) I feel like it’s time I came clean. I have a dirty little secret. The unthinkable for an X-Men fanatic. I quit watching The Gifted.
To be clear, I rarely outright knock shows, movies, comics, and characters that people love and their fan base. Our comic culture is already in a tepid and dangerous fundamental state of change. Supporting it is not just important but vital through consumer engagement, be it viewership ratings or unit sales for comics. In today’s climate, both are so interlocked that without the continued support and success, it won’t be long until the digital age and the new millennia drastically changes our access to them and eventually their long-term survivability. But we all have various tastes. When the Gifted was announced I was ecstatic. It had everything I could want in the television show. It seemed like a sure bet. But despite my best efforts, even my allegiance as a staunch X-Men devotee, I simply lost interest and walked away.
First, I loved that characters outside of the usual central mutants we typically get was were selected as the main cast. On top of that, I actually enjoy when writers make the bold move and elect an alternative take on their comic backgrounds or concepts. I always watch any show or movie derived from comic books as I would read the former “What If…?” comics like I used to as a teenager. Diverging from strict adherence to the source material is always a welcome change for me. I mean, I already read the story so sampling something new is always intriguing to me.
The first episode didn’t start with the bang that I had hoped for. But I chalked it up to simple world building. Feeling the same after viewing the next few episodes, I still clung to the notion that we were in the development phase. A period I’m all too familiar with in television shows. The episodes that are a bit mundane, somewhat awkward as it tried to find its footing, but sets up for the bigger picture in which the quality of the show finally reaches its stride. By the episode seven, I knew there was a real problem but still I refused to yield. To my great frustration, slowly but surely, I found myself less and less interested until finally, I came to the realization that the series just wasn’t for me.
Thinking about it, I had a really hard time with a few elements of the show. What didn’t work for me were some pretty crucial factors in terms of production. Paramount of all being the actual story and the pacing. There seems to be a weird practice to dragging out what I felt were lesser or mundane plot points but in other areas skipping on moments of opportunity.
The Strucker kids just aren’t that interesting to me. In saying that I actually feel disappointed because I really wanted them to be. Again, in the comics, neither character has ever truly been significant in their own right and typically are intermingled in a larger story and cast. I thought it was cool the show not only featured them as pretty much passed on in the comics but revamped their backstory. But I felt that the story itself, the predominant premise and catalyst for the show was actually pretty dull. So far there’s nothing in their story that really feels new or compelling. I struggle to see how either sibling can really evolve with any true significance as the series progresses further with additional seasons. Beyond that I felt was such a miss with their powers. I mean, when members post the all too frequent vein of questioning “Whose powers would you want?” I’ve yet to see a response that includes either of the Strucker kids abilities. As I kept watching I had this cloying familiar feeling that I had already seen this before. Even in some of the actual shots and filming, I kept thinking, especially in Lauren’s case, “God who is she reminding me of?! It’s driving me crazy!” Then I realized it. In a lot of the panoramic style shots and display of power use, even in facial expression, it dawned me. The similarities between her and Kristin Stewart’s character “Bella” using her forcefield ability are so close I kept getting visuals of her fight scenes in the final showdown in Twilight: Breaking Dawn part 2. And not in a good way.
And really what do we all watch superhero shows for when it comes down to it. The awesome powers. (Or what should be…)
Andy Strucker’s power and the show’s interpretation of his telekinetic displays is just so off the mark for me it’s too much to get around. That and what seems to be the theme of coaching the actors to use their hands during moments when utilizing their abilities that look a lot like Lady Gaga’s monsters at a concert with their paws in the air. Being a former professional dancer the use of how performers use their hands and fingers as well as body to create angles for what should garner great cinematic shots is important to me and can make or break my interest in a show especially when the use of superpowers being as authentic as possible in a fictional story setting is really important. It also seemed like Jamie Chung received almost identical instruction for her use of Blink’s abilities. (The best visual I can give is that it looks like everyone is holding a really hot cup of cocoa in their hands.)
Maybe I think about these things too much but sometimes I question whether the production team understands the use of their powers as it relates to events happening in real time. By the time half of these mutants use their abilities, with the exception, for the most part, being Polaris who seems to be the most adept, most would be shot or caught. Watching Blink use her powers really was grating on me. I kept having visions of Dragonball Z. Even Goku would be thinking it’s all a tad overkill.
And speaking of which, Clarice has been such fan favorite for years. X-Men fans have been clamoring for her regular inclusion since the Phalanx Covenant in the central series yet have rarely been rewarded. Aside from Exiles which taken as a stand-alone book was excellent and other minor appearances like Necrosha and the later part of New Mutants 3rd series as a teleporting replacement for Magik after she departs for Cyclops’s Extinction team storyline, shockingly little has been done with her. The announcement of her inclusion in Gifted’s larger cast felt like a true exception in which they actually heard the groundswell of demand despite Marvel’s ever-increasing practice of not listening to fans. I know after I learned she would be a featured character I distinctly remember an exclamation of “Finally!” But I can’t hide my disappointment with regard to how watered down this take on her character feels. Though widely panned, the Fox brand of X-Men movies is largely disavowed by a large percentage of devout comic purists as trashy fanservice combined with cheap knockoffs of their central comic book interpretations. However, even if I were to concede that point, (which I don’t for the most part for reasons cited above,) in the film adaptation of Days of Future Past we got a sliver of what the true Blink is capable of. Gifted’s rendition isn’t even close. In what should be an easy standard to surpass, Clarice just doesn’t seem to work. The optimist in me would argue that perhaps they plan on the continued development of her expertise in the coming seasons. I hope certainly for the fan base that this is the case. Otherwise the swift and deadly threat we come to know and love will be omitted or a weaker and far less dynamic character.
Overall, I’ve found the acting wanting. That isn’t to say Gifted has bad actors, but they certainly don’t receive any favors when it comes to script or dialog. I can only imagine the number of takes some scenes required when things get heavy, everyone furrows their brow and someone, (typically Thunderbird,) begins to narrate some story aspect we’re supposed to understand is serious biz. That’s a given in hero variety television. But I just can’t forgive well-paid writers who attempt inject some levity with poor humor and random timing. There were moments that really made me cringe. That’s what outsourcing is for folks. Farm it out. Amy Acker, I know can deliver the right material. Fred always came through on Angel. But Stephen Moyer’s strong suit has never been comedic delivery. It still makes me shiver with the creeps when I hear him say Sookie’s name in my head.
Compounding a weak delivered performance would be the lackluster special effects. For a big budget network tv show I’ve been shocked at how often they rely on cutscenes during filming or the CGI/VFX. I feel for the most part the DC gang over at the CW has this part on lock. Alternatively, Legion opted for incredibly strong visuals by employing a model that camera techniques and shots were of the highest importance and CG was to be used to aid the effect or moment and not the other way around. But really I would be happy if they could just get Polaris’s hair color right and maybe a little bit of vitamin D in her diet. (But really, the goth look is a bit on the nose and borders on trite considering the archetype she’s written to portray.)
The core issue for me is the loose implementation of its central plot. If you’ve been an X-Men fan for any stretch of time you understand the general premise that mutants are hated and feared because of their dangerous abilities and the constant fear that humans will eventually lose their dominance in the pecking order. Thus, we have the introduction of Sentinel services as the stories main antagonist and primary threat. The problem is that aside from the central figures inside the fictional government agency, the term threat is pretty difficult to take seriously.
In the comics, the Sentinels are gigantic robots equipped with countermeasures for mutant abilities and preprogrammed to hunt them. Each new version or upgrade modified from the last makes them even deadlier than the one before. In the show, mutants face off against some generally defenseless government agents and police units who are typically dispatched with relative ease. As for the robots, I suppose one of the writers decided spiders would be cooler. In either case, when they do gain the advantage, the circumstances are generally convenient and hard to truly appreciate as these events occur simply for the sake of propelling one episode to the next and the continuation of a storyline that’s pretty weak from the onset. In the beginning, the X-Men are referenced as dead or gone with no real further detail. Gifted would have done well to explore the concept behind the how, when, what, where, and why as opposed to the central plot of chasing the Strucker kids as a paramount initiative. Though the featured cast does rotate in terms of focus, a lot of events occur too often “just because.” Probably the more significant shortfalls for Gifted.
Stemming from another of the show’s missteps is the small issue of the inability to gain any real affinity for the characters. Though each of the main figures have individual back stories none of them are truly engaging and often are delivered in a rushed manner how to pose to new element being incorporated overtime allowing the audience to develop true investment. As a result, each of the characters motives for pressing forward as renegades or outlaws is a bit shallow. Most of these characters with little effort could simply forgo the headache and blend into the larger overall populace if they were so inclined. Aside from the context set forth in the original comic books which mutants band together due to a larger number of threats and varying degrees of danger, Gifted fails to clearly convey the weight or gravity of the situation and misses the mark and make the mutant underground look like a really cool teen center.
Granted superhero television shows are rarely known for their depth in terms of plot or design. As a viewer, one has to have an understanding that a leap of faith is required when translating literary works into live action. A clear recognition of convention is certainly that if the genre takes itself too seriously it is likely to be received as melodramatic and it’s intended intensity is lost. To me, Gifted simply tries too hard. I get that it’s important to woo new viewers with a story that gives equal opportunity for everyone to climb on board at the start but in this instance, I really feel that execs played too far for a new untapped audience and catered too much to those who don’t have prior exposure to the X-Men brand. As a result, the show abandons much of its core concepts and loses any of the true definitions that come along with it. The sole proposition of humans hating mutants alone without the rest of the greater details or context makes the show one dimensional, predictable, and fails to capture the tone of the brand is known for but the X-Men are and have always been much more than that. In a period in our culture where political discord and racial division have been heightened to new levels, the opportunity to capitalize and highlight these issues with a powerful vehicle is being tempered in a way I feel is too safe. Some argue that viewers use television to escape or break from a harsh reality. I would argue that there are countless other offerings provide for that need. (In my opinion, there are actually too many mindless shows on television as it is.) Before detractors initiate their SJW assaults of my opinion I would remind them to reference the past 50 years of Marvel history in which the publisher and its authors have always engaged in events of critical historical import. 2018 should be no different. It’s a shame some fans can’t see past their apathy or insecurities to understand that the webs, hammer, and shield bear true social significance and have since their inception.
When it comes down to it, by no means does it capture the level of complexity that was surprisingly yielded from FX’s foray with Legion. I also struggle with a bit of a grudge as to why Gifted seems to resonate when there are so many parallels to its predecessor Heroes. Yes, we all know that Heroes got bad, was canceled, and through a Hail Mary was picked up again only to completely jump the shark and plummet into a horrific fiery doom. But I still firmly believe that the series would and should have been shopped to another network. Though Heroes clearly took massive lead and inspiration from the X-Men comics, I would argue that first two seasons secured much stronger actors, performances, and a far more engaging saga that achieved more at the same period as we are currently with Gifted.
As ratings remain fair and the renewal for season two having been announced in January, Perhaps Gifted will be a better show with the progression of plot and storyline in coming seasons. In the spirit of being fair, it’s true for many shows regardless of genre or category that many gain their stride as the story continues with each following season. Especially considering that with respect to viewership Gifted performs better than Lucifer, Supergirl, and Gotham, all of which have multiple seasons under their belt, I wouldn’t be opposed to revisiting my position with the news of renewed momentum. I can’t help but smile at the notion that it would be pretty ironic if Ahab has a greater performance and impact on television than he certainly did in the comics which has all but forgotten him.
Follow us on Twitter and Like us on Facebook! Follow Tyler at @IAmTylerWing
Join our Age of Social Media Network consisting of X-Men, Marvel, DC, Superhero and Action Movies, Anime, Indie Comics, and numerous fan pages. Interested in becoming a member? Join us by clicking here and pick your favorite group!
User Review( votes)