The Gifted - another superhero show; worth watching?
Reviewed by Chris Coates
(Later episodes will be reviewed as the show develops)
I've had misgivings about The Gifted. The fact I'm still watching 10 episodes into the season obviously means something. Largely, I think, it's down to the potential the show has, rather - unfortunately - than anything seriously spectacular or gripping actually happening. I'm waiting for it to take off and finally with this episode there were signs that it just might.
For the uninitiated; the story follows a family in the near future. Mutants have been blamed for a huge terrorist incident and are now hunted like animals and imprisoned. The family's two kids are discovered to be mutants and the whole family goes on the run, finally meeting up with the mutant underground and holing up in the local mutant HQ, a dilapidated crumbling mansion (obvious parallels with the shiny big building in the early X-Men films).
The Strucker family - on the run and, partly, superpowered.
The problems? The kids are far more interesting than the parents, as are all the mutant characters. The potential appeal of this dynamic is easy to see, you can understand why the writers saw the worth in the normal parents/extraordinary teens thing. It's a narrative that could be mined in all sorts of interesting ways, but hasn't resulted in anything too inspiring yet.
A pattern had been threatening to settle in. Family members/other mutants get arrested by Sentinel Services (the branch of the government responcible for apprehending mutants - the name is also something of an injoke/reference to those who follow the bigger X-Men story) while they are on some mission to get supplies or rescue other unfortuates. Episode ends. Next episode they get rescued. And then we do it all again.
There are also some mistreads that might really irk you - like the main character whose power is he can track and feel where people are. My problem? He's Native American. Hey! Let's make his super power be that he can track people across distances! Like they do in the old cowboy movies!
It's so incredibly lazy. And he wears jewelry with feathers on it, you know, to make you really GET it. It's no coincidence that, so far at least, this guy barely feels like a character.
Also, we spend ALOT of time in the same building, so making the different areas look different (every thing is grey, dusty and cluttered) would go a long way. Two characters have their own bedroom. Put some colour and feeling into it. The family have their own area, make it feel like that. Visually this is not exactly arresting stuff.
But on to the better things. The female characters are puzzlingly more interesting and better written than their male counterparts. I don't know why this is, but they are and I'm glad. Whether it's the lone-wolf girl who can open portals to places miles aways, the seductress who breathes red smoke into her victims faces and can manipulate their memories, or the moody goth force-power girl who just wants to attack things all the time - they're all fun and you like being around them. Out of our main family unit it's the teenaged girl who is by far the most feisty. And fortuately they aren't in the background; we spend as much time with them as anyone.
Polaris - looking for a fight.
To be fair, I suppose, you have to at least recognise that it's a conjested time for decent superhero (and similar) shows to debut. At the start of the year Legion rocketed right out of the gate with each of its' episodes being something of a minor classic, and was constantly pushing at the boundaries of what we could expect from such a genre show (it's firmly in my top 10 TV shows of the year). American Gods similarly blindsided many people. The Defendors had its' critics, but also plenty of people who appreciate the fact that a slow-build leads to the best payoffs. Agents of S.H.E.I.L.D is in space now. And it's pretty damn good.
DC have managed to create on TV what they can't do in film; a compelling universe where seperate
shows and characters can nicely co-exist.
We won't talk about The Punisher (at least not here). Or The Inhumans.
However. The sense that The Gifted has been under-performing can be blamed on itself. The occasional inspired moment has shown it can surprise and be genuinely inventive. Back in episode two things start with an awesome bang, as an uncontrolled portal - quickly shut down - results in the front of a speeding van on a road elsewhere bursting into the mutant headquarters. It was a surprise, deftly presented, and genuinely impressive. The first episode ends with a breathless and pretty intense chase sequence and an effective cliffhanger.
The frustration has been in not being able to see where the story might be going and instead us getting a fair bit of repetition. Captures, rescues, people having the same conversations over and over and LOTS of time spent in that one building. Too much. There's been mention of other places in the mutant network, and branching out into those could lead to needed changes in pace and feeling.
Then this episode happened, when it seems like the writers recognised the need to change the formula. A main character is probably dead, a genuine mutant terrorist incident, and a double-cross that you could see coming... but not the manner of it. S.H.E.I.L.D is a long-form TV show that often manages to end with a cliffhanger that leaves you with your eyes wide open and your mind racing. And finally The Gifted got one of its' own. A real gamechanger and new ground for this show.
Whether this signals the beginning of a new dawn remains to be seen, but for the moment this episode really helped to justify the time spent watching the season up to this point. Until now it has largely been coasting on the appeal of some well-crafted characters and performances. But now there are some strong indications that the story is trying to become worthy of having them.