Legion: The Perfect Superhero Series

SUPERHEROES ARE SILLY. There I said it. I get that films like Logan Captain America(s): Winter Soldier/Civil War have attempted to reach some form of higher art form out of the spandex-ed titans punching each other, admittedly Logan attempted to do so mostly by removing the spandex and having more in common with the writings of Ernest Hemingway than Stan Lee but there is still an essential element that it is hard to take seriously the plight of men and women who run around in skin-tight outfits pulling of ridiculous feats beyond that of us normals (and I say that as someone who watches wrestling). Comic Books (you can call them Graphic Novels if you want but let’s face it, that’s an argument no-one needs to have) have always tried to make sense of the world while also providing an escape to a different one but they always have one fault for me, trying to take themselves too seriously. It can be oddly impressive to see something like The Flash take a trip to a city of hyper-intelligent gorillas and make that dull and uninspired, especially as all they had to do was literally wholesale rip-off Planet of the Apes and they couldn’t… I digress, my point is, when did it stop becoming possible to both have a point and have fun?

Dan Stevens & Aubrey Plaza in Legion (Credit: FX)

And so, my dear reader, I bring you FX‘s Legion, from the mind of Noah Hawley, the man who did the impossible and brought us a TV series of Fargo as good as the film. Legion is a story in the X-Men universe, I could explain the links but spoilers. It revolves around David Haller (Downton Abbey‘s Dan Stevens), a powerful telepath who’sbeen convinced he’s actually schizophrenic, of course after he starts to discover the ‘truth’ about his powers, no one seems to consider for a while that it could be both. He is kept in Clockworks Psychiatric Hospital after an attempted suicide where his life is turned upside-down, inside-out and then all-around by the arrival in the facility of Sydney Barrett (Fargo‘s Rachel Keller). A lot more happens but then once again, spoilers (don’t try clicking that one, it’s just a word).

So to put it simply, Legion is a goddamn head-trip, it seems to exist in some kind of Kubrick meets Wes Anderson meets an Archer level of anachronism. It’s probably set in the modern day but I dare anyone to explain how and/or why it matters it exists outside of standard time or in a parallel universe. I’d say I’m overthinking it but I don’t know if that’s possible with this show. You see, Legion is one of the few shows like no other that’s like no other. Imagine if One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest were directed by Charlie Kaufman but with superheroes and musical numbers and parts of it took place on the astral plane. I’m really not even coming close to describing the show. Perhaps it’s simpler to describe how the show tells its story than what it does. Perhaps one of the smartest moves the show has is that it doesn’t take jumps between episodes, pretty much always they begin just where the previous episode ended, it creates a consistency to the show’s universe, making it clear that it’s one extended story being told instead of the mild overaching story with villain-of-the-week antics of a lot of the others. My favourite thing about this series is that it doesn’t feel like a comic book show so much as a ‘prestige’ TV show, it requires very little, if any, knowledge of the X-Men movies and comics to enjoy it. Obviously comics fans may work out some of the twists earlier than others but it manages to not alienate from non-hardcore fans in a way no show has done for an adapted universe since Hannibal (another show that could be critiqued, and more accurately, for satisfying visually but being thematically pretentious).

Dan Stevens & Rachel Keller in Legion (Credit: FX)

It helps that the show’s writing has an incredibly strong grasp of characters, matched by the unique performance styles of its cast. Stevens is a fantastic lead being as convincing as ‘mad’ as he is as romantic lead, action hero and with a convincing (and consistent) American accent, Keller as Syd gets her fair share of good moments and her occasionally flat sounding speaking voice works marvelously for the idea of her character. It gets some fantastic work out of a cast including Fargo’s Jean Smart, Jermaine Clement, Katie Aselton & even manages to provide emotionally involving mini-arcs for supporting characters, the most affecting of which is that of Cary Loudermilk (Bill Irwin) & Kerry Loudermilk (Amber Midthunder). Of course all the focus and praise seems to, and quite rightly, be directed at Aubrey Plaza. While, once again, I won’t be providing details of her role because spoilers, to say it’s a role of a lifetime might not be an exaggeration. For an actress who made her name off giving sarcastic, apathetic, deadpan a new life of its own, she manages to take to the manic, exaggerated qualities better than anyone could have expected and for a series that can delve into horrific imagery, is still somehow the scariest thing on-screen. I could keep raving about pretty much every element of the show from the production design through the fantastic musical choices but suffice to say, I pretty much loved it. All of it. It’s just… it’s really good.

Ultimately Legion is not perfect television, it’s messy, sometimes it gets lost in its own imagery so much it takes style over substance and it’s first episode definitely did not need to be a full hour instead of the forty-five minutes that every other episode is but it is still perfect superhero television. You see, the story it tells is one bigger than reality, stuff happens that could never happen to normal people, the actions are bigger, the emotions more operatic, the colours better defined and the people more attractive. It has breathtaking action sequences that are visually as stunning as they are inventive, it has big villains with motivations that actually make sense, it knows when to monologue and it knows when to act and most importantly, it’s really enjoyable. I could start to examine the psychological theory that could be applied to the show but honestly, I don’t think I’m clever enough to do so, luckily the writers do seem to be. It’s got big ideas at play but it’s also has a specific kind of goofy nature to it. It takes itself seriously but not too seriously which is essential because as I said, superheroes are silly, and they’re weird and they’re probably all insane. So yeah, pretty much perfect.

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