In a TV landscape that has become oversaturated with superheroes, Fox's new Marvel series The Gifted ran a real risk of getting lost in the shuffle. Between Iron Fist, Legion, The Defenders, Inhumans and the upcoming Hulu series Runaways, Marvel TV has had a pretty huge 2017, both for good and for bad.
The Gifted, however, carved out a niche for itself with the perfect blend of watchability and complexity that isn't a mind-meld like Legion or tone deaf like Iron Fist. Other superhero shows should pay attention and learn a few lessons from The Gifted's solid pilot.
Lesson 1: Start with a car chase (or at least something interesting)
C'mon, who doesn't love a good chase scene? Especially when one party is pursuing in actual cars and the other is, well... teleporting. For real though, this fast-paced opening scene allowed us to meet multiple main characters while also establishing their mutant powers in a believable and easy to understand manner. It also launched the "save Lorna" (Emma Dumont) storyline that will surely dominate the first few episodes.
Lesson 2: Keep family at the center
Heroes with tragic backstories that include their family already dead leaving them to brood in their sexy isolation that define their characters is always fun to watch (eh, Batman?), but family dynamics never fail to entertain. The Gifted doubled down on that principle.
The Strucker family gives us a sense of normalcy to relate to. They're the perfect, average American family, suddenly uprooted and thrown into this struggle at the exact same time we, the audience have been thrown in. What a coincidence, huh? As the kids figure out how to be mutants in a world that hunts down anyone different, Kate (Amy Acker) and Reed Strucker (Stephen Moyer) strive to keep their family together after leaving pretty much everything and everyone else behind. The fact that daddy used to work for the bad guys? Even better.
Lesson 3: Show, don't tell
From the jump, The Gifted does something that all pilots attempt, but very few succeed at; it managed to effortlessly drop viewers into the middle of a story, and then trusted they were smart enough to hit the ground running.
There were no scenes that felt like an exposition dump in order to clue the audience into the how's, where's and why's of this world. Instead, we're given some seriously scary Sentinel chase scenes to depict the extremes of the mutant struggle, while still getting a bit of an origin story via the Strucker family. Every conversation's first priority is keeping up with the breakneck pace of the plot while still dedicating some time and effort to answering questions an impatient audience member might have. You know how critics always say, "Show, don't tell?" This is what they're talking about.
Lesson 4: Moral absolutes are so last season
Sometimes it's nice to have an outright villain who attacks New York City with a hoard of aliens at his back, while the beacon of light and justice that is Captain America tirelessly fights him off. But mostly? It gets boring. The Gifted hasn't turned anyone into the villain — besides the American government apparently, but that's a whole other topic — and you could even argue that the people in the resistance aren't really the heroes.
Lorna, as we'll eventually find out, is the daughter of Magneto — aka one of the biggest, baddest villains of the X-Men franchise. And despite her chaotic and violent nature, she's helping save mutants in need. We're not sure whether she falls on the right wrong side of morality, just like we're not sure Agent Jace Turner (Coby Bell) is an out-and-out bad guy despite his terrible job.
Lesson 5: Don't lean into the film franchise
While some shows manage to pay homage to the Big Boy Superheros from the blockbuster film franchises (note: the male pronoun was purposefully used to remind everyone how despicable it is that there's only been one female superhero blockbuster in the past decade), The Gifted premiere pretty much tosses the X-Men concept in the garbage. The X-Men and the Brotherhood have disappeared. Why? Who cares, we're dying down here, and we don't have time to worry about why Hugh Jackman and Ryan Reynolds aren't dropping in to say hello.
Obviously, this tactic might change as the series progresses, but for now, it's refreshing to know that these characters are the sole priority, not just an avenue through which we get a sneak peek at Deadpool 2.
The Gifted airs Monday nights at 9/8c on Fox.