First episode impressions: ‘The Gifted’ (TV review)

Because of a bizarre reticence to turn big-ticket properties into TV series, the 2000 “X-Men” film inspired things like “Mutant X,” “Heroes,” “No Ordinary Family” and “The Cape” but not an actual “X-Men” series — until this year. First up was FX’s “Legion,” a show so confusing I don’t know when or on what timeline it takes place. But “The Gifted” (9 p.m. Eastern Mondays on Fox) is more accessible.

It’s also more familiar, as we’ve all seen the story of youngsters discovering their mutant powers and then going on the run. Yet it’s timely; what played like a cautionary tale in 2000 is now unfortunately an allegory, with mutants standing in for immigrants or any other group of generally harmless people that have been targeted by the government because enough people put a secure taxpayer-funded job ahead of human decency. Or their fears ahead of reason.

Andy Strucker (Percy Hynes White) goes all “Carrie” at a school dance to evade bullies – something similar to more innocent arcs such as Cyclops’ from the films — but there’s a dark, verge-of-the-apocalypse feel to these visuals and events. Although not explicitly stated, I think it’s safe to assume “The Gifted” takes place in the same timeline as the most recent “X-Men” film, “Logan.” Although the reset timeline of “Apocalypse” gave us a happy ending, the (unfortunately poorly explained) Westchester Incident happened in the backstory of “Logan.” That has led to this reality where Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters (and Magneto’s Brotherhood of Mutants, for that matter) doesn’t exist. The Mutant Underground does, though.

In “Logan,” we’re told no mutants had been born for a quarter century, so we can therefore assume “The Gifted” takes place after “Logan.” Mutant Underground operative Marcos (Sean Teale) and new recruit Clarice (“Gotham’s” Jaime Chung) are in their 20s, and others are younger, so we can extrapolate the time period to roughly 2050 – despite a narrative that seems very much of-the-now.

Sure, in 2000’s “X-Men,” it was somewhat of a curse to be a mutant, but those kids got to attend a spiffy school with awesome teachers and cool friends. While some may have been orphans, and some may have had parents who didn’t understand them, I was actually rather envious of their school situation despite not being a mutant myself.

In the post-9/11 “The Gifted” – with its Patriot Act and militarized police, etc. — being a mutant means time in a cell. The law encourages mutants to either hide their identity or be detained. Or worse. Reed Strucker (“True Blood’s” Stephen Moyer), who works for a mutant registration task force before he finds out his kids are mutants, knows the feds’ Sentinel Services has “disappeared” at least one suspect. Resisting arrest is a good enough reason for arrest in this society (as with ours), so mutants have no choice but to go underground.

I like the family element, as the Struckers — dad Reed, mom Caitlin (“Angel’s” Amy Acker), son Andy and daughter Lauren (“Gotham’s” Natalie Alyn Lind) – are on the run from Sentinel Services. The group of helpful mutants is pretty likable, including Marcos, Lorna (“Bunheads’ ” Emma Dumont), John (Blair Redford) and newcomer Clarice.

The latter will eventually be known as Blink, as she is gradually getting better at creating portals out of thin air for quick escapes. Played by Bingbing Fan, Blink was also in “Days of Future Past,” where she was in full control of her powers in 2023, but that was in the pre-reset timeline. As has been shown in “Deadpool” and “Apocalypse,” the reset timeline allows for rebooting of characters, thus explaining this new version.

Marcos (later to be called Eclipse) can heat up his hands, Lauren can make shields out of air, Andy can move objects using his anger, and Lorna (Polaris) can punch people with air (and can also move objects using her anger, as she moves the screws in Reed’s knee). John (Thunderbird) can put his hand to the ground and sense the location of nearby mutants, which ironically is a skill Sentinel Services would love to have on its duty roster.

The mutant power portrayals are fairly fun, what with a special-effects toolbox that wasn’t available in 2000. (And a Stan Lee cameo has the residue of fun, but it strikes me as a silly cliche at this point.) But overall, “The Gifted” brings George Orwell’s famous image to moving pictures: “a boot stamping on a human face – forever.”

After one episode, the Struckers’ situation seems dire, as they are on the run, ironically (considering the Trump era) aiming for Mexico, where anti-mutant laws are looser. Even worse off are Lorna and Reed, who find themselves in adjoining Sentinel Services cells. It’s a grim start, but when people have nothing but the clothes on their backs, they have one other thing: hope. If “The Gifted” brings some hope to the fore, it could turn into not only an important message series, but also an enjoyable one.

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