Being gifted is all about showing potential. That’s something Fox’s new X-Men series has plenty of.
“The Gifted” (which debuts Monday at 9 p.m.) is an X-Men show with no X-Men; the series doesn’t connect to the long-standing and lightly rebooted movie universe. Instead, producers say it takes place in an alternate reality in which the X-Men did exist but are no longer around. They are mentioned, but they’re not coming back from wherever they’ve gone — at least not initially.
But the series doesn’t suffer from that lack of movie connectivity. Instead, “The Gifted” is allowed to breathe on its own, creating the feeling of a different type of comic-book-inspired show, not something easily accomplished in the now-crowded field of live-action network and streaming superhero options.
Slick suits and supervillains are replaced with a more intense focus on the fear, angst, racism and law-enforcement brutality that comes with being a mutant. Mutants in this world are either out, proud and on the run, or just trying to blend in and not cause a scene. Humans refuse to forget whatever happened when the X-Men were around, and the government wants total control of mutant happenings, hunting down with authority those who have powers.
That authority could be the first eye-rolling moment for X-Men fans. Sentinels, the giant mutant-hunting robots from comic book lore, are now the Sentinel Services. Think the Secret Service, but with a focus on mutants. (It’s a fancy way of saying, hey, we’re on a television budget, so just be happy we got the word “sentinel” in there.) The Sentinel Services are enabled by current laws to arrest anyone who they feel is a threat.
Those threats are the mutants on the run. Faced with government prodding or freedom, the mutants who want to be free hide in a network that exists just below the government’s radar. That includes the family at the center of “The Gifted,” the Struckers. Reed Strucker (Stephen Moyer) is a lawyer who specializes in cases involving mutants who have committed violent crimes. He’s comfortable in his job until he gets a call from his wife, Kate (Amy Acker), telling him that a destructive incident that happened at their kids’ school wasn’t just any accident: It involved their own children, who were outed as mutants. Their son, Andy (Percy Hynes White), is bullied into discovering his “Carrie”-esque telekinetic powers and his sister, Lauren (Natalie Alyn Lind), has to use her powers (which include being able to generate a very cool, protective, bubble-wrap-like substance) to come to Andy’s rescue.
Exposed, the Struckers face two options: Turn their children over to the government or run. Reed, despite being a man of the law, realizes running is the best option to keep his children safe. Fleeing puts the Struckers in contact with the out-of-sight mutants who can get them to safety and introduces us to the show’s other characters, which include the solar-powered Eclipse/Marcos Diaz (Sean Teale), John Proudstar (no, not the guy from X-Force comics, that’s his brother; Proudstar is played by Blair Redford) and Blink (Jamie Chung).
Lorna Dane (Emma Dumont) plays an important role in the first episode of “The Gifted.” Known in the X-Men comics as a mutant named Polaris, she has magnetic-based powers. It’s already been revealed online that, in this universe, Lorna is the daughter of legendary X-Men villain Magneto. That doesn’t mean Magneto will show up, but Lorna appears to have the potential to take on the by-any-means-necessary attitude Magneto has for mutant liberation.
There are few superhero realms as bright, colorful and spandex-y as Marvel’s X-Men universe. Consequently, creating a show that doesn’t fully embrace the “super” of this world could be seen as a gamble. If you watch this show with a chip on your shoulder because there’s no mansion, Cyclops, Professor X, Wolverine, Jean Grey and Cerebro, you should still come away impressed by how much X-essence this show has. Being a mutant superhero isn’t just about the cool suits and jets hidden underneath basketball courts (although, admittedly, that’s very cool). It’s about the pride that comes with discovering you’re different from everyone else, and that being okay. The world isn’t always going to love you, but there’s nothing wrong with fighting for believing in who you are. That’s what being an X-Man is all about.
“The Gifted” has a whole lot of that fight and, after one episode, is surprisingly just as good as any other comic-book-inspired show on network television. Fox’s Colossus-like grip on the rights to Marvel’s X-Men universe just got a little tighter, and it’s safe to say Marvel’s biggest live-action television hits no longer reside only on Netflix.