The Gifted: 1.01 eXposed
There are numerous superhero themed TV shows these days and this year has seen Fox develop two new series from the X-Men universe. The superb Legion kickstarted the year by offering something radically different in the TV genre and now we have The Gifted; a series which looks to be closer in tone to the big screen adventures.
While there was nothing spectacular about the opening episode, I was pleasantly surprised at how effective the world building of The Gifted was and how well paced the narrative was to. It opened with a band of hunted mutants tracking Jamie Chung's Blink, fighting off pursuing officers, referred to the missing X-Men, established the head of the central family - Stephen Moyer's Reed Strucker as a mutant prosecutor, his loving relationship with wife Kate Amy Acker, the strong connection between siblings Lauren (Natalie Alyn Lind) and Andy (Percy Hynes White) and set off the trigger at the school dance that unleashed Andy's powers and reveals that he and Lauren are mutants. And that was the first twenty odd minutes
What might normally have taken a full hour is condensed into half an episode without feeling rushed. Writer and series creator Matt Nix (of Burn Notice fame) and director and big-screen mastermind of the franchise Bryan Singer, know that the audience know what mutants are, the nature of the X-Men and the conflict against humanity. A couple of mentions about the infamous team and the presence of the sinister Sentinel Services are all that is needed to show that this is a world where mutants are without hope and the reveal that the Strucker children are mutants puts the entire family in jeopardy.
The episode successfully delivers a wide range of mutants and their fascinating abilities; Emma Dumont's Lorna Dane (AKA Polaris) was perhaps the most interesting, with some groovy magnetic abilities, though it wasn't hard to differentiate between the telekinetic abilities of other mutants in the show. Trapped by Sentinel Services and pregnant with Marcos Diaz (AKA Eclipse)'s child, she certainly delivered the best performance and has been set up for a great jailbreak in the upcoming episode(s). Sean Teale's Eclipse had a great ability - his body filled with and the ability to manipulate light - but he needs some development as a character, despite the decent a performance he gave. I quite liked Blair Redford's John Proudstar (AKA Thunderbird), with his ability to sense other mutants, but he again needs some work to be fully engaging.
The central mutant outside the Strucker siblings was Jamie Chung's Blink, a character previous seen in the movies and given more to do here. Her ability to create portals will surely come in useful for the upcoming jailbreak; there wasn't quite enough oomph to Chung's performance to really shine in the ensemble, but she served the part decently enough and there is certainly scope to expand in future episodes.
And then we have the Strucker's themselves. What I really liked about Lauren was that she wasn't the sassy, stroppy teenage girl I expected her to be. She had a very strong connection with Andy and a maturity brought on by harnessing her secret ability to manipulate the air over the years. Lind certainly gave it her all in the action sequences and the quieter family moments. Acker and Moyer, cult television veterans were all very serviceable and their roles at present felt like a bit of a waste of their acting abilities - particularly Acker's - but I'm sure she'll get something decent to get her teeth into once the drama and tension unfolds further.
I've talked a lot about the characters but what about the story? Admittedly, it did feel a little paint by numbers at first. A traumatic event unlocked Andy's powers, Reed was forced to betray his life's work for his family and the Struckers would be forced to work with the mutants they feared in order to protect their children. Perhaps it was because the trailer gave a lot of this way or the central narrative was classic X-Men; but the simple story can be forgiven because the first episode didn't waste any time getting the Struckers and their new mutant allies to where they needed to be. Instead of making the school dance chaos the climax of part one, it was the mid-way twist, setting up the exciting chase climax at the end.
This is where eXposed stepped out of the obvious plot tropes and delivered something thrilling. The spider-like Sentinel machines were very cool, relentless and unstoppable; they reminded me of the killing machines from The Matrix. It upped the threat from men with guns and raised the tension, leading to the loss of Reed as he failed to escape through Blink's portal. It will be interesting to see him imprisoned by the people he worked for, though I hope there's a more interesting big bad to face off; Burn Notice's Coby Bell is a decent hunter in Jace Turner but The Gifted doesn't have a decent villain yet.
The first episode hit everything it needed to; establish this world, the family dynamic, the threat and the mutant underground. Where eXposed fell down is in having truly dynamic characters. Take fellow X-Men series Legion for example; I loved the characters of David Haller and Lenny Busker from the very beginning. The Gifted still has room to grow and unlike the other, it has the premise nailed from day one. I'm intrigued to see what it does with it.