What’s The Show? The Gifted
What’s It All About, JG? The Struckers discover that their children have “special powers” of the type that ought to be immediately identifiable to anyone with a passing knowledge of pop culture over at least the last twenty years or so. They’re mutants of the X-Men variety, destined to be hunted by mutant-hating purists who want to “keep the human race from extinction” by persecuting said mutants, which means the family need to go on the run. They’re being hunted by Sentinel Services, a government-sanctioned (sort of) mutant control authority who absolutely totally aren’t just Nazi stand-ins, honest guv. So – family on the run, secret to hide. There’s a line in the last Deadpool movie about how mutants are, “a dated metaphor for racism in the 60’s!” Mmm-hmm.
Part of the problem faced by The Gifted is that there’s been a lot of material covering very similar territory. Even ignoring the plethora of X-Men movies, there’s been Misfits, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Legion, The Tomorrow People, Inhumans, Sense8, Legends Of Tomorrow and many more which are all basically doing the same thing – taking the “mutants” aspect and using it as a stand-in for puberty, homosexuality, race, religion or any prejudice you care to name, really. This is, in other words, exceedingly familiar, and it really does look dated now. So The Gifted absolutely needs to do something to distinguish itself from the glut of other material covering the same subject if it’s going to stand out in a packed field. Sadly, though, that’s not what we get.
Why Did You Give It A Go? After the hilariously awful Inhumans, the very definition of a misjudged show, there was space for a series to come along and try and do something interesting in the “mutants” space. Marvel TV shows can be hit and miss, but there’s been enough hits to make at least checking out another one something worth doing.
Is It Any Good? Not especially. The problem with The Gifted is that it has absolutely nothing new to say at all. The family drama is completely boilerplate. The “mutants” angle you’ve seen a dozen times before. The powers are, for the most part, pretty unremarkable. The bad guys are mostly just bad guys. What’s lacking in The Gifted is really any reason for it to exist. It’s not as bad as Inhumans – really, how could it be? – but it just never takes flight either. The first season isn’t a complete bust and a few early episodes suggest there might be a one or two interesting places to go with the concept of a family on the run. Rather than be-suited superheroes or big-picture sweeping epics of the X-Men series, we’d get a ground-up look at how powers might work for an average family (roughly analogous to the difference in perspective between the Marvel Netflix TV shows and the big-screen Avengers movies) and how it would affect them.
That’s not really what emerges though, and instead we get a couple of standard rebellious-teens storylines, a few “but they’re persecuting us!” moral dilemmas which have no actual dilemma to them, and a bunch of people standing around declaiming things at each other. The moments when the show manages to be interesting are all the ones which break away from those stereotypes, like an early episode where a sick mutant is causing portals which are ripping apart their hiding place and jeopardising everyone. It’s inventive and different and given a good indication of what the show might be capable of but this happens far, far too infrequently to maintain interest, so instead for most of the rest of the running time there’s lots of wobbly-lower-lip acting going on in the hopes that this might convince you there’s some actual stakes here. It doesn’t come off.
How Many Episodes Did You Watch? All of the first season, five punishingly dull episodes of the second, and that’s more than enough. No more.
Would You Recommend It? No, because it’s just not interesting. The best mutant shows find a new angle on familiar material. One of the reason Misfits was so great was that it dealt with actual working class people and the impact mutations had on them, so we got a compelling new approach and an interesting perspective. Sense8 combined intricate plotting, batshit crazy antics, sexuality and a real self-belief into an amazing collage. The Gifted, by contrast, has a couple of moody teenagers, a mild marital crisis and cosily middle-class attitudes to everything. T
he cast here are also part of the problem. Almost none of them stand out (noble exception: Jamie Chung, working hard to make anything she’s given to do seem interesting), and that’s a real problem because it’s impossible to invest in their personal issues if you just don’t care about them. Amy Acker and Stephen Moyer as Caitlin and Reed Stucker as have no screen presence at all, they’re just bland mom-and-pop cliches but dealing with mutants rather than catching their kids smoking pot or something. The whole thing isn’t so much cast as a United Colours Of Benneton ad given a script and told to get on with it. There’s a hunky Native American guy. A cute Asian girl with coloured hair. A blonde femme fatale (actually, three). A token Middle Eastern guy. I’m all in favour of inclusive casting, but nobody here looks like a real human being at all, they all look like models who just stepped off the catwalk rather than, you know, people on the run. They might as well have been created by algorithm.
It also becomes obvious very quickly that the budget can’t stretch to the kind of show this wants to be (one about a family fleeing persecution) and this has a direct impact on the creativity that can be deployed, because the main family aren’t on the run at all, they stand about a couple of static locations and have crises at each other. Season Two attempts to retool this a bit but with very limited success – Andy Strucker, nominally one of the leads, undergoes a personality chance as he rebels, allegedly, but this mostly involves making him look like a train-station rent boy (complete with bleach-blonde hair and leather jacket) but changing nothing else about him to make the character more interesting. But he’s separated from him parents so the emphasis of the show shifts from running to getting him back, giving them an excuse to stay in one location. It’s contrived in the extreme, and that’s the heart of this show – contrived, but never in a way that becomes interesting. A real wasted opportunity.
Scores On The Doors? 5/10