Remember the X-Men animated series from the '90s, with its relatable characters who had cool mutant powers and its important messages of tolerance and unity? Wouldn't it be neat if there was a modern, live-action version of that?
There is, and it's called The Gifted. Now in its second season, Fox and Marvel's mutant family drama manages to tell classic X-Men stories (and deliver some half-decent action) without having big-ticket characters like Wolverine and Professor X at its disposal.
Is it a little corny? Sure. But at its best, The Gifted is some of the strongest live-action X-Men we've gotten in years.
The Gifted takes place in a universe where both the X-Men and the Brotherhood of Mutants have vanished, leaving what's left of the mutant race scattered and on the run from a government agency called Sentinel Services (see what they did there?) looking to lock them up.
At the heart of the show is the Strucker family (sound familiar, X-Men fans?). Reed Strucker (Stephen Moyer), who prosecutes mutants for a living, lives a fairly normal life with his wife Caitlin (Amy Acker) until the two discover that their kids Andy (Percy Hines White) and Lauren (Natalie Alyn Lind) are incredibly powerful mutants. You can see where this might get complicated.
This revelation eventually causes the Struckers to join forces with the Mutant Underground, the totally-not-X-Men who hide away in a run-down mansion to stay out of Sentinel Services' grasp. The Underground's key members include such deep-cut comic characters as Thunderbird (Blair Redford), Blink (Jamie Chung) and Polaris (Emma Dumont) as well as an original character named Eclipse (Sean Teale) who can shoot light out of his hands.
Despite not having Marvel's A-list mutants to play with, Season 1 feels like an authentic piece of X-Men canon. It's a classic tale of mutants surviving in a world that hates and fears them, and like any great X-Men story, its allegories with the real world are painfully clear -- especially in 2018.
Things get even juicier in the still-running Season 2, as mutants have to pick sides between the pacifist Underground and the ruthless Inner Circle, which is trying to build a safe haven for mutantkind, no matter how violent the means. It's the same debate that has made the relationship between the X-Men and the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants so compelling in other media, and it's just as gripping here.
The real-world parallels get even more disturbingly clear in Season 2, as we meet the Purifiers, a group of hate-mongering "human rights" activists whose message of "they will not replace us" sounds like something you'd hear on the nightly news.
Both seasons are filled with exciting plot twists and obscure comic-book callbacks (everyone from the Stepford Cuckoos to the Morlocks show up here) that will have hardcore X-Men fans cheering. While the action won't win any awards -- this is network TV after all -- it's still fun to see Blink portal her way from room to room, or watch Polaris manipulate metal like her far-more-famous father.
The performances can be hit-or-miss, but Chung's quippy Blink is a constant highlight, and the evolution of Moyer and Acker from normal suburban parents to fearless runaways has been a treat to watch.
Where to watch The Gifted
The Gifted airs on Fox. You can catch the most recent episodes for free on Fox's website, or watch live or on-demand on streaming services such as Sling TV, PlayStation Vue and YouTube TV. If you have Fox in your area, you can also watch live via an HD antenna.
New episodes of The Gifted come to Hulu a day after they air, and you can buy seasons and episodes a la carte on services such as Amazon, Google Play and iTunes.
The X-Men have had a turbulent time in the live-action realm. For every movie with the quality of Logan and First Class, there's a stinker like X-Men: Apocalypse or X-Men Origins: Wolverine. While The Gifted doesn't reach the highs of Fox's best mutant movies (or FX's transcendent, psychedelic Legion), there's something comforting about watching an X-Men TV series that feels true to the source material. It's certainly helped by the fact that tales of unity in the face of hate feel more essential than ever.
Now that Disney owns Fox and seems to be cleaning house for its upcoming Disney+ streaming service, it's unclear what the future holds for The Gifted or any of Fox's other Marvel-based properties. That's all the more reason to watch this excellent take on Marvel's mutants right now.
Credit: Annette Brown/Fox