Have we reached superhero fatigue yet? There’s the DC universe on the CW, the Marvel universe on Netflix, stray series like Gotham and Legion, and several new projects in development or premiering soon across cable and streaming (Inhumans, Cloak and Dagger, Marvel’s Runaways). The Gifted enters a crowded, noisy arena, one that isn’t even taking into consideration the movie universes, which is notable with this project which quasi-reboots, again, the story of the X-Men.
But in this case, Matt Nix’s 10-episode Fox drama focuses on a time post-Brotherhood, one where mutants are not just ostracized but hunted by Sentinel Services, a federal agency with cutting edge tech to aid their cause. It also, smartly, focuses on two families — one a traditional nuclear family, the other a collected group of mutant misfits — to ground the drama and keep it compelling.
The Gifted’s pilot (directed by X-Men regular Bryan Singer) splits its time between those families before bringing them together for the cliffhanger ending. Reed Strucker (Stephen Moyer) prosecutes mutants, which makes it complicated when his wife Caitlin (Amy Acker) tells him that their children Lauren (Natalie Alyn Lind) and Andy (Percy Hynes White) are mutants themselves. The revelation of those “gifts” works very well, as Lauren (the protective and outgoing older sister) keeps hers quiet until troubled younger brother Andy lets his be known in an explosive, Carrie-esque scene. It’s that scene, and the build-up to it, that helps The Gifted stand out. Andy is bullied, tortured, and distant. The pilot doesn’t have enough time to really dive into it, but it’s clear enough. As for Lauren, her “perfect” image would be besmirched by a mutant reveal, so she represses it. The X-Men have always been a metaphor for those who are different and excluded because of it, or who feel they can’t reveal their true selves. With Lauren and Andy, the show takes that concept back to its purest form.
The other faction are the Mutant Underground, who are pretty generic and still Heroes-y, but not an unlikeable group. They each have a particular set of skills, the full power of which is not yet known (at least, to non-comic readers like myself). Sean Teale, Jamie Chung, Emma Dumont, and Blair Redford make up the core group who help to save other mutants and resist the ban; but after Dumont’s Lorna is captured for using her power in public, she becomes a bargaining chip for Reed in getting the group to house his family.
Though most of The Gifted’s beats are typical of a drama pilot (it movies quickly and explains a lot, but not with distracting exposition), there are elements to Nix’s script that suggest a superhero series that wants us to really know its characters beyond their abilities. Despite all of the action and intensity, there are lighter moments, which a show like this needs. Lauren and Andy are teens, and that should matter narratively; here, it does. As for the powers, we’ve only seen glimpses and they vary widely, from the manipulation of light and tracking abilities to the creation of portals and extreme destruction (and the effects are very good). But importantly, most of the mutants are only just learning how to control and use their powers, which is one of the things that made a movie like X-Men: First Class such a delight.
Still, the aesthetics of The Gifted are, for now, largely dark and serious, and it’s hard to know (as always with a pilot) what the rest of the show will choose to focus and follow-up on. But The Gifted has come out of the gate with a solid first hour and memorable cast (something that’s hard when there are so many of them), and there are plenty of things that should make viewers optimistic — assuming it can cut through the noise and prove that it deserves to.
Rating: ★★★ Good — Proceed with cautious optimism
The Gifted premieres Monday, October 2nd on Fox; check back then with Collider for episode recaps from Kayti Burt.