TV Review: The Gifted (Season 1)

*This review may contain some spoilers*

“The Gifted” starts off grounded, and then slowly transitions into the more well-known X-Men territory. At times, it captures much of what makes the X-Men film and comic books great. But it is hurt by occasional lacks of direction and operating on a television budget.

The story takes a while before it really takes hold. It begins as a family on the run drama that turns into a rescue mission. It’s really only after Roderick Campbell and his Hounds come into the forefront that the heroes of The Mutants Underground and the Strucker family finally have a tangible conflict that carries the show through the second half of its short season. Unfortunately, there’s much wheel spinning and repeated story beats that bog things down. Seems like every other episode there’s another rescue mission. And characters have the same arguments over and over. There’s also the side plot about Eclipse making a shady deal with his old cartel buddies that never pays off. Neither does the romance between Laruen and Wes.

The action sequences are generally lackluster. There are typically one or two cool uses of superpowers, and then mostly a lot of mediocrity. The effects look fine, just never that elaborate. Again, much of this seems to be tied to the budget. But, some of it is just lack of imagination.

What does work best for this show is the classic prejudice angle used by the X-Men franchise. There is are a lot of parallels between mutants fighting for their civil rights and the humans opposing them to other minorities fighting for similar human rights against bigots in the real world. While some of the humans on this series can be over the top, they are usually nuanced enough that you understand why they feel the way they do. Also, the X-Men films, the mutants must decide how far they want to go to fight for equality. This becomes much more interesting with the introduction of the Stepford Cuckoos (aka the Frost sisters) and the briefly-shown Hellfire Club.

Another strong aspect of the show is the characters. While it takes some time for most of them to gel, they become much more well-defined by the finale. Especially thinking back on the first episode, all the major character get a story arc and end up at a much different point then where they started. The Strucker family goes through the most changes, with both Reed and Caitlin changing the most. Laruen changers the least, and Andy’s more aggressive turn is telegraphed early on, but the way that they become the most powerful mutants is fun to watch, even if they do a poor job of portraying the true destruction they cause with their abilities. Probably the most interesting story arc is Polaris’. Even though the balked at revealing her true father’s name, it was still impactful watching her come into the same mentality that drove him.

Which brings me to another negative. I understand why we don’t see any major members of the X-Men or the Brotherhood, but it’s way too vague about what happened to them. We know there was some kind of violent protest, and then the X-Men set up the Mutant Underground, and then they vanished. I really didn’t need to many details, but just a little something to understand better what went down and how the underground got up and running. (There are some good flashbacks involving Mutants Underground members that fill in some of their backstories. They flesh out the characters a bit, but they still feel like we could’ve got a bit more.)

“The Gifted” has grown into a good entry into the X-Men mythos, and with the heroes choosing sides, the show has a lot of potential. With no hints towards what enemy they will face next season, it’s hard to get too excited about what comes next.

Season’s best episode: “eXpoited” (Episode 10): Things pick up. The Cuckoos and the Stuckers in all their glory and a main character is murdered suddenly.
Season’s worst episode: “eXodus” (Episode 7): The show stalls here, with the lame attempt to find political help and the overreacting, gun-toting neighbors showing up. Too many bad decisions made.

*** out of *****

TV Review: Runaways (Season 1)

*This review may contain some spoilers*

This show has a strong concept, and shows signs of making something great out of it, but there’s too much time wasted going nowhere and setting up season two.

I have not read the “Runaways” comic books, but I know the general concept: A group of high school friends learns that their parents are all super-villains, so they kids go on the run while discovering that they have abilities of their own. The cadre of evil parents includes wizards, mutants, time-travelers, mad scientists, aliens and crime lords. The show takes many liberties with this concept, some for the better, many for the worse. Here, the parents are doing unspeakable things, but are generally normal people with a few dark secrets. The more fantastical backstories are replaced with more realistic traits. Crime lords are now just former Crips, warlocks and time-travelers are just tech geniuses. With the Marvel films already establishing that magic and time-travel exists, it’s disappointing to see this not explored on a smaller scale.

The story moves quite slow at times as the children very slowly try to discover what their parents are up to. Despite the show being called “Runaways” and being based on a comic called “Runaways” about a group of kids who run away from home, they don’t even runaway until the end of the last episode. The show sets up quite a few mysteries, but by the end of the season, very few questions are answered. While it’s a good choice to leave some things to be discovered for later seasons, they overdo it. There’s almost nothing that gets fully explained by the final episode. It feels like there’s no true conclusion to this season. They don’t defeat the villain. They don’t save the world. They barely even come together as a team.

There’s not much action, and only a handful of moments do they get a chance to use their special skills. Even when they do work together, they don’t really establish many threats that feel as if they would have to work as a unit to triumph. And the one time they do look like they do need to join forces, they don’t.

The story focuses on the parents just as much as it does on the kids, especially in the early episodes. They have their moments, but their histories are so mysterious it’s hard to truly understand their motives. They also spend a few episodes dealing with love triangles. It’s never really that interesting and it doesn’t have a payoff. (There’s already enough going on with all the kid’s multiple love triangles.) I would’ve enjoyed if they were really villains, and not just making bad choices. Bad guys who think they’re not evil can be compelling characters, but instead they all seem to regret their choices.

The acting is fine. There’s not any real standout, but everyone adds enough nuances to make their characters come to life. The dialog can be really corny at times, but they work in some a few strong heart to heart moments.

“Runways” has a lot of potential, but they try too hard to ground things in reality. The show takes it’s time getting where it needs to go, but unfortunately, that journey won’t be completed till next season…or maybe longer.

Season’s best episode: “Kingdom” (Episode 5): Some backstories shed light on the parents, hints of what the future holds and the Runaways finally working together in all their glory.
Season’s worst episode: “Refraction” (Episode 7): Everybody makes weird choices, and the Pride’s relationship drama becomes the focal point.

**1/2 out of *****