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Will Legion be the first great superhero TV show?

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There are by my count about 3 umpty zillion tv shows based on comic books currently streaming on your TV. Okay maybe that is an exaggeration, but there are nearly a dozen. I honestly can’t count them all. Among them are history making hits – Walking Dead – comfy, pectoral-baring morality tales – the Greg Berlanti-verse – quirky fantasies – I Zombie – and edgy remakes – Riverdale. And the Marvel Netflix Empire which is fun but worn thin by 13 episode commitments. But among them all there is nothing that stands out in this golden age of TV, an era of mesmerizing style, powerful themes and one of a kind esthetics. It’s the era of Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones, Westworld, Fargo, Stranger Things, True Detective Season One.

Superhero movies are stuck between a blanderizing effect – all the Marvel movies, which reduce tech, craft and casting to a formula – or out of control style and horrible scripts – anything by DC. As entertaining as they are, its debatable whether more than a handful of superhero movies** have been very good as movies, and not as chapters in a thrilling serial of $150 million dollar franchise films.

So maybe Legion, debiting tonight on FX, will be the first superhero adaptation on TV to transcend its origins and create its own esthetic. All of this comes down to showrunner Noah Hawley. Although I don’t talk about it here since it’s non genre, Fargo is just about my favorite TV show currently running. When I first heard of it, I thought the idea of a Coen Brothers spinoff was utterly superfluous. But rather than copying their style, Hawley took the key themes – the dogged persistence of good in the face of clever and dedicated evil – and concocted complicated, powerful stories about ordinary people. Season one was great; seasons two was one of the best “TV shows” I ever saw.

So when I heard Hawley was making a superhero TV show, I got excited. Legion deals with David Waller the character created by Chris Claremont and Bill Sienkiwicz in New Mutants, who turns out to be Charles Xavier’s son. As Brad Ricca explained yesterday, Legion’s powers involves multiple personalities and telekinesis – he’s a loose cannon in all sense of the word. Luckily, by all accounts, Haley hasn’t been very interested in just adding to the sincere yet cheesy library of Superhero tropes.

Legion will allude to the rest of the Mutant universe, but it’s not set in that universe. We won’t see Patrick Stewart making a fatherly cameo. As the first live action show set in the X-men world, it’s wisely not trying to cram all the info Jay and Miles have spent 145 episode (and counting) of their podcast explaining to us. For that we have the upcoming Matt Nix-produced show.

Producer Lauren Shuler Donner (who also  produced all the X-men movies, the Wolverine movies and Deadpool)  put it this way:

Lauren Shuler Donner: It was with Noah, yes. Not with everybody else. But with Noah, I think for him, he just wanted to tell a story through these characters. For him, it’s always about storytelling. He wanted to explore the world and came upon this character, David Haller, and thought he was a fascinating character, and then went from there. When he told me his idea, for me and for Marvel, it was great because it wasn’t same-old, same-old. The only way we will survive is if we do not repeat ourselves, if we’re new every time we’re out of the gate. For me, it was like, “Yes, this is the way to do it.”

And Hawley himself told THR:

“Here, one of the things I always loved about this genre and genres like it — science fiction and fantasy — is that there is a sense of wonder to it and creativity and pure imagination,” he continues. “You look at things like The Twilight Zone or Doctor Who or Doctor Strange. These sorts of very concept-driven genres. I really loved that idea. I didn’t want to make something earnest about the inevitable battle between good and evil. What I liked about this character of David Haller is exploring, what if someone who has been diagnosed with a mental illness may not be mentally ill? There’s this inherent disconnect between perception and reality. I was excited to make something subjective, something where the audience … the best way to understand David was to be David and understand that he sees things and doesn’t know if they’re real or not. So we also see things and we don’t know whether they’re real or not. He doesn’t understand what they mean, but he’s trying. That’s our journey as well.”

All good talk, but I’m also basing on hopes no two other things:

1) It’s got Aubrey Plaza in it
2) It’s got Jean Smart in it. (Smart was heartbreaking in Fargo Season Two and all of Hawley’s shows are insanely well cast.)

So far the critics love Legion! Even The New Yorker’s Emily Nussbaum

Noah Hawley’s “Legion,” on FX, the latest Marvel production based on the X-Men, has an aesthetic that might be described as caustic whimsy. It’s a sleek, stylized diorama of alarming imagery, as much about fear orange and misery avocado and rage yellow as it is about anything else. You don’t actually have to understand much about the X-Men to enjoy watching it.

And The NY Times referenced The Prisoner. I’m so in.

I’m one of the few people on the planet who hasn’t seen the first few episodes, but let’s say I’ll be watching tonight. And just to warm you up here’s some of the promos.

https://t.co/lwrDoxJWu3

 

** They are the first two Spider-Man movies, Superman, Batman, Deadpool, Guardians of the Galaxy and maybe The Dark Knight.

4 COMMENTS

  1. I don’t know, my heart has warmed a bit to certain earlier Marvel films: Thor, Captain America: TFA, whereas almost everything in Phase 2 leaves me with that very unfulfilled feeling you mention above. But, honestly, I think the *great* superhero movie list is even smaller – Batman ’89, Superman, and yeah maybe The Dark Knight, and I’m also a huge fan of Civil War as blockbuster perfection – though I’m willing to accept the argument that none of them qualify as *great* cinema.

    Anyway, yes, Legion, very excited! Jessica Jones and the first season of Daredevil flirted with television excellence, but as you say, those mid to late season sags get them every time. The second half of Luke Cage, was unfortunately, its undoing.

  2. “Will Legion be the first great superhero TV show?”
    Uh, you guys have seen DD season 1 and Jessica Jones, right?

  3. I liked Daredevil season 1 and Jessica Jones, but they have some problems in their back-halves. They could have both done with being about 4 episodes shorter.

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