The expanding world of superhero television is starting to filter back in for the fall season. Fox is now in the somewhat odd position of showing series from both DC Comics (Gotham) and Marvel. Gifted is set in the X-Men Universe (which possibly is the same as the Fantastic Four Universe, since Fox has the rights to both bundles of characters). I was surprised as the show went on at how many characters I knew and others that were at least strongly hinted at.
The basic framework of the show is this: the X-Men have been missing for quite some time. Things have gotten bad for mutant-kind. Special laws have been passed making mutants almost illegal just for existing, and the shady government agency “Sentinel Services” enforces what local police can’t. Andy and Lauren Strucker seem like somewhat normal high school kids, having issues with bullies and their parents, until the big school dance (shades of Carrie!). After some very public use of their powers, the kids (and, to their credit, their parents) go on the run, meeting up with the mutant underground, who are shown in action throughout the episode.
That simple overview to one side, it was a nicely done show. They used several familiar characters, names, and concepts throughout their premier episode, “eXposed.” Among the X-Universe characters they use are Blink, whose real name is Clarice and creates portals that can teleport people from place to place. Also prominent are Lorna Dane and John Proudstar. Lorna has magnetic powers and is usually seen with green hair. In the comics, she’s been the long time love interest of Alex Summers, AKA Havok and Cyclops’ younger brother. She goes by Polaris, and at least in some versions is Magneto’s daughter. Proudstar has enhances senses, superstrength, and durability. In the comics, he was known as Thunderbird, and was one of the X-Men’s first fatalities. His younger brother, James, eventually became a more powerful mutant using the codename Warpath.
The government muscle is Sentinel Services. Any X-Men fan can tell you the Sentinels are gigantic robots designed to hunt and kill mutants, and have figured prominently in the comics for years. Those same robots were also major antagonists in the Days of Future Past movie. So far, there’s been no sign of the giant robots, but the agents have the same anti-mutant bias and bigotry as the people behind the machines usually do. They also have some nasty hardware that is dangerous enough to have been designed by Tony Stark over in that parallel Marvel Cinematic Universe.
What I also thought was interesting was the family name of the main characters. Father Reed works for the prosecutor’s office in Atlanta, Mama Kate seems to be a stay at home mom, Andy has telekinesis, and Lauren possesses some strange power that so far she’s used to make shields and nudge objects. Their last name is Strucker. The Struckers aren’t usually part of the various X-books. Baron Wolfgang Von Strucker and his family are the ruling family of Hydra. On the one hand, this family seem like the good guys and Hydra is firmly part of the main Marvel Cinematic Universe. On the other, that would be a hell of a coincidence if they just coincidentally have the same very unusual name.
The show did a lot of great things. It’s nice to see a family that isn’t all sweetness and light, but isn’t trying to kill each other, either. The Struckers (hopefully not Hydra sleeper agents) were a believable family that very clearly love each other. It would have been easy, and expected, for the very establishment father to side against the kids or at least try to “work things out.” Instead, he goes on the run with the family without even a backward glance or hesitation. Mom is no damsel in distress, and is fierce when it comes to protecting her family. The kids clearly care about each other and are helping each other.
The Mutant Underground is an interesting mix. Polaris and Warpath are fairly powerful in and of themselves. The others they show have a good range of powers and a lot of potential. Eclipse/Marcos, at a guess, is standing in for Havok, who they’ve already used, and killed off, in the movies. If they keep Blink around, they’ll have transportation and quick escapes. Hopefully, all that together will overcome the technology of the Sentinels.
Since the beginning, the X-Men have been proxies for various social issues. The anti-mutant hysteria throughout Marvel has often been written to parallel civil rights issues. In the 90’s, when the Legacy Virus swept through the mutants’ ranks, they did a lot of stories similar to issues going on with AIDS. Now, with special laws written against them, fear and bias making people fear them, they seem to be taking the place of Muslims in the current political climate, although there are other ways to interpret that.
As the episode goes on, there are people injured, chased, captured, and wounded. There’s a lot of action and some great special effects for the various powers and gadgets. Steven Moyer of True Blood fame and Amy Acker (Root from Person of Interest and the Cellist from Agents of SHIELD) are well cast as the parents. There’s some decent character development, except for the bad guys. I was really impressed with this as a first episode.
What I liked: I mentioned a lot of good stuff above. It was well written, the effects were well done, I liked the characters, and I was surprised at how many established characters they actually used. Thunderbird is a character I’ve always liked, and it’s nice to see an American Indian on a big tv show. And there was a cameo by a certain famed Marvel personage.
What I didn’t: While I get they’re supposed to be bigots and bad guys, the Sentinel Services agents were remarkably undeveloped. They were just kind of there to do bad things. It was particularly glaring since the other characters were well-fleshed out. The high school bullies seemed a bit stereotypical. The dance being the big eruption of powers setting really was a bit derivative of Carrie.
I’ll give this one a high 4 out of 5. I liked it a lot. And now there’s a new Marvel married couple, with Steven Moyer playing Reed Strucker and his wife Anna Paquin, who got one of her first big breaks as Rogue in the original X-Men movie.