Fox’s new X-Men universe connected series The Gifted premiered two weeks ago. Going into the third episode it’s everything one could expect from a Bryan Singer produced and directed television series set somewhere in the X-Men universe. Dear Readers, that is no compliment. (Insert Spoiler Warning here)
The Gifted is Bryan Singer and Fox’s attempt at connecting an X-Men television world within the larger cinematic X-Men universe. It’s the same thing Marvel has successfully done with Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and its Netflix series and, to a lesser degree, The CW has done with the Arrowverse. The only difference is the latter two have succeeded where Singer’s first attempt is failing right out of the gates.
When in the X-Men universe is The Gifted set? Is it set before Wolverine changed the past? Is it set in the future Wolverine created after Days of Future Past? Why are the X-Men and the Brotherhood missing? Is it connected to the July 15th event mentioned briefly in episode two? The bigger question is, “Why should we care?” Frankly, The Gifted hasn’t given us any reason to care.
The Gifted has managed to cram in almost every tv drama and comic book cliche possible in two episodes. First, there’s the father, Reed Strucker (played by True Blood’s Stephen Moyer). Reed works for the government as a prosecutor who sends mutants to jail. Of course, he learns his children are mutants. It’s then he decides to fight the good fight because ”My family means everything to me.” Not cliched or over done? Heroes was doing it long before The Gifted.
How did Reed get put into a situation where he has to declare his family means everything to him? Reed’s son, Andy, is a mutant. In fact, both his children are mutants. Again, Heroes‘s Jack Coleman also had a child with super powers. The similarities between The Gifted and Heroes can’t be ignored. What also can’t be ignored is when Andy manifests his power. Andy’s powers manifests themselves when he’s being tormented by bullies in a bathroom. Sounds just like Scott Summers in X-Men: Apocalypse. Like Scott Summers, Andy manages to destroy a lot of school property. What’s Bryan Singer’s deal with characters being bullied in bathrooms anyway?
Of course, the Strucker family goes on the run after police knock on their front door. What else is a family hunted by the government to do but run? It’s also a perfect excuse to throw another cliche at us. Reed and Andy, who has been crying on and off since the series started, have to comfort their mother and sister in the most manly of manner possible. Why? Because we know women are fragile creatures who need comforting in times of crisis (That’s sarcasm, Dear Readers). Or, in some underdeveloped reasoning, Singer was attempting to show how in the matter of hours mother and daughter have toughened up enough to fight the battles that are sure to follow.
Going on the run also serves the purpose of bringing the Strucker family and the Mutant Underground (No, the writers could not think of a better name) together and to put Sentinel Services on both their tracks. First, Reed has to get sensitive documents only his briefly introduced co-worker can get for him. Of course, the co-worker retrieves the only documents that lead to the Mutant Underground’s whereabouts. Her reasoning behind what can only be called Marvel Comics treason is,“I owe you my career.” Bad dialog abounds in The Gifted.
Reed and family manage to contact the Mutant Underground. Of course, Sentinel Services corners them in a dead end building. Why? Because in covert meetings you always meet in a location with no way out. That’s how these things work, Dear Reader. Don’t worry, everyone makes it out. Well, except, for Reed, because someone has to be left behind to further the story line.
In order to learn where the Mutant Underground is hiding (Because Reed has the only documents that pinpoints their location and they can’t possibly interrogate the mutant arrested in the opening minutes of episode one) Sentinel Services, a cute way to introduce a new division of the Secret Service and at the same time reminding people Sentinels hunt mutants, brings in Agent Jace Turner. In one interrogation, Turner (Burn Notice’s Coby Bell) throws in every I-can-do-anything-because-of-the-Patriot-Act cliche imaginable. He even throws in the my-child-was-killed-in-a-mutant-attack-so-now-I-hate-mutants cliched used in Singer’s X-Men 2 (Check out William Stryker in X-Men 2). In the history of television there have been a million police interrogations on a thousand police shows and each one was better than the exchange between Turner and Reed.
The Gifted also introduced and re-introduced new mutants. There’s Eclipse, who does things with light and heat, and Polaris, who has the same powers as Magento. There’s the Native American mutant tracker who can hear things really well called Thunderbird. Yes, Marvel gave a Native American a name most people associate with alcohol. It’s only slightly less offensive than giving the only Native American the mutant powers of tracking people. Overall, it lacks imagination. The first episode re-introduces Blink, played by Bingbing Fan in X-Men: Days of Future Past. There’s also a lot of background mutants who serve only as proof that the Mutant Underground has helped mutants at some time in the past.
So how do the Struckers ultimately meet the Mutant Underground? In the opening scene of episode one, Polaris is captured by law enforcement when the Mutant Underground is saving Blink. Reed, as mutant prosecutor, is sent to question Polaris in a glass prison cell. We’re not sure why she’s in a glass jail cell. Perhaps it’s because bouncing a cop off a dumpster does not immediately let the viewer know what mutant power Polaris possess. It’s still not obvious until she manipulates the metal in Reed’s knee. Viewers need and want to know right away what kind of superpowers a character has, but The Gifted took a long time to establish Polaris’s abilities. Comic book readers may know Polaris has the same powers as Megneto, but the viewers who will make or break the series want to know these things a lot sooner.
At some point in time, Polaris is moved from the glass jail cell to a prison. The prison cliche is also in fullforce in The Gifted. The prison is filled with the roughest, baddest, toughest women one could imagine. Yet the sight of Polaris washing out her hair dye revealing she has green hair is enough to scare them. Is there anyone today shocked or scared to see green hair? Maybe some people are still shocked and scared at the sight of a green-haired woman, but they’re not in a prison with a bald, albino woman, with weird eyes, and veins running throughout her body.
The first two episodes aren’t finished with the cliches and overused tropes. There’s the Mandatory Stan Lee Cameo, because no Marvel movie/television series is complete without a Stan Lee cameo. It was cute the first couple of times. Audiences would look for Lee’s cameos. Where would it be, what would he be doing in his cameo? Now? It’s just played out. The Gifted is also packed with location cards. Singer is constantly reminding the viewer where the characters are at all time because actually letting the location speak for itself (It’s hotel room. We don’t need to know it’s on the outskirts of any city) is just too much work for the series.
The Gifted is also constantly reminding us that mutants are people too and deserve the same rights as other people. Equality was the over all theme running though Singer’s first two X-Men movies after the fights and CGI are stripped away. Bobby Drake’s mother in X-Men 2 even asks Bobby if he can “just stop being a mutant.” It’s the 21st Century. Racism, homophobia, and intolerance are all alive and well. We need to be reminded of this fact, but The Gifted rams it down our throats whenever possible. There are better ways, even more subtler ways, to get your message across to the masses. For starters, don’t name your Native American character after cheap liquor.
It may be unfair to judge The Gifted on two episodes. The season is just starting so there’s plenty of room for improvement. The series will need to improve in a lot of areas to make the series watchable and to distinguish itself from Heroes. If the series doesn’t improve it won’t live to see a second season. The Gifted doesn’t have the luxury of Disney saving it from cancellation like it did with Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.