The Stylish FX Series 'Legion' Suffers From A Split Personality Noah Hawley, writer-director of the FX series Fargo, has created a promising and visually striking series set in the X-Men universe that seems oddly reluctant to embrace its pulpy, superheroic roots.
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The Stylish FX Series 'Legion' Suffers From A Split Personality

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The Stylish FX Series 'Legion' Suffers From A Split Personality

The Stylish FX Series 'Legion' Suffers From A Split Personality

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Tonight on FX is the debut of a TV show called "Legion." It's about a super-powered man who may or may not be mentally ill. NPR TV critic Eric Deggans says it has the feel of a superhero show for people who don't really like superhero shows.

ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: "Legion" is set in the Marvel universe inhabited by the X-Men, but there are no capes, no costumes and the mutants we see in the first few episodes use their powers sparingly. It's a superhero show that resists admitting it is one. And that's both the most satisfying and frustrating thing about it.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "LEGION")

DEGGANS: Here's the setup - David Haller hears voices in his head. It's driven him to drugs and a suicide attempt. David is plagued with a twitchy earnestness by Dan Stevens, who TV fans might recognize as Matthew Crawley from "Downton Abbey." But after years in an institution, David says he's feeling restless during a birthday visit from his sister.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "LEGION")

KATIE ASELTON: (As Amy Haller) So do they let you throw a little party here, or?

DAN STEVENS: (As David Haller) Yeah. They rent the furniture. We get a DJ.

ASELTON: (As Amy Haller) Really?

STEVENS: (As David Haller) No. We do get better drugs, though.

ASELTON: (As Amy Haller) Really?

STEVENS: (As David Haller) No. It's just like - 260th Thursday as a passenger on the cruise ship Mental Health.

DEGGANS: It turns out David is actually telling the story about his sister to a man he doesn't know is an evil government henchman. And when that henchmen reports to his boss, he reveals that the voices in David's head just might be the thoughts of other people.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "LEGION")

HAMISH LINKLATER: (As The Interrogator) Well, he believes he's mentally ill. But at the the same time, part of him knows that the power is real.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) And are we clear on the scope and nature of this power?

LINKLATER: (As The Interrogator) No. But if the readings are right, he may be the most powerful mutant that we have ever encountered.

DEGGANS: It's a story we've seen many times before - an innocent with amazing abilities flees a brutal institution - from movies like "E.T." to Netflix's surprise hit "Stranger Things." Hopefully David won't escape in a flying bicycle, but "Legion" the TV show is created by Noah Hawley, the mind behind FX's amazing adaptation of the movie "Fargo." So it's got some surprises up its sleeve.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "LEGION")

STEVENS: (As David Haller) Oh.

(SOUNBITE OF DISHES SHATTERING)

DEGGANS: That's a scene where David destroys a kitchen with his mind, flinging utensils, food and appliances around in a detailed slow motion shower the viewer walks through like a 3-D display. It's a stunning sequence similar to visuals in movies like "The Matrix," but given a unique bold spin here. It's also a memory. Like David, viewers are sometimes not quite sure what's happening to him now, what is a memory or what he's sensing that may actually be happening elsewhere.

It's the same kind of is-it-real-or-isn't-it storytelling used in shows like "Mr. Robot" and "Westworld," and it can be confusing. "Legion" walks a careful balance. David must sort through dark secrets locked in his mind to control his powers, which sounds like a classic superhero story. But a lot of it is about David's interior struggles with mental illness and his love for a fellow mutant who he can't touch.

This program wants it both ways - to draw comic book fans with a story set in the X-Men world while avoiding some of the classic elements of the genre for people who don't usually watch superhero movies or TV shows. So far "Legion" is very good, but not quite great. It's a visually impressive program with a narrative style that just might revolutionize the superhero series on TV, that's if it can elevate its core story above the kind of plots we've already seen so many times before. I'm Eric Deggans.

(SOUNDBITE OF KIASMOS SONG, "DRAWN")

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