Regardless of how predictably successful Marvel projects are on the big screen, the company's attempts to rule television have produced a mixed bag of efforts, with fan favorites like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Daredevil balanced by less-beloved shows like Inhumans and Iron Fist. Thankfully, Fox's The Gifted is a crowd-pleaser, providing all of the high-stakes action, social drama and humorous fun of an X-Men movie -- not to mention powerful abilities -- but without needing to rely on the multimedia franchise's mutants to win viewers over.
One reason The Gifted is immediately successful is that it's a story that's focused on family, both in a traditional parents-and-kids way, and in a brotherhood kind of way. (Though not in a Brotherhood of Mutants way, since that group isn't around for this story.) Some may want to roll eyes at the thought of a mutant-filled comic book story being a family drama first and foremost, but solid casting and clever plotting makes the Strucker clan both instantly watchable and relatable (in a sense).
True Blood vet Stephen Moyer stars as Reed Strucker, a devoted father and husband whose job as a district attorney means he's one of the people furthering efforts to force ability-laden mutants to be officially recognized and corralled. Person of Interest's Amy Acker plays Caitlin, the Strucker family matriarch, whose open mind and pragmatism aren't mutant powers, but are important all the same. Everything is going seemingly fine for the Struckers when their bullied son Andy (Percy Hynes White) very publicly discovers that his angst and aggression can cause him to become highly destructive to everything around him, which is coupled with daughter Lauren (Natalie Alyn Lind) revealing that she also has mutant powers. As one might imagine, this turns life upside down for the family, and they're forced to go on the run from the very people that Reed was working with to take mutants down.
And as the old saying goes, when you can't beat a secret underground network of persecuted mutants, you join a secret underground network of persecuted mutants. Enter the other half of this cast, introduced in the series premiere's tense early minutes, when Jamie Chung's transporting Clarice "Blink" Fong is in danger of being apprehended by authorities. It's here we meet Sean Teale's photon-manipulating Marcos "Eclipse" Diaz and his significant other Lorna "Polaris" Dane, the magnetism-controlling mutant played by Emma Dumont. As well, we get to see the powerful tracking abilities of the group's leader, John "Thunderbird" Proudstar (Blair Redford.).
Discernible differences are immediately obvious when it comes to the Strucker family and the mutant community, and it will be interesting to see how well the factions mesh once everyone is working together on a regular basis. After all, Reed and Caitlin are clearly more focused on keeping the family unit safe in any way possible, but they aren't necessarily deserving of everyone's trust from the get-go, considering Reed was one of the people working to bring mutants into custody. After all, it wouldn't be out of the question to assume that Reed's contacts could cause his intentions to shift at some point when it comes to the fate of non-family mutants.
Something that makes The Gifted stand out is how all of the main characters are technically protagonists of their respective stories, with "everyone else" serving as the antagonists, from abusive high school jerks to actual authorities tasked with taking any and all mutants into custody. The main face of that effort is Sentinel Service agent Jace Turner, played by Burn Notice's Coby Bell. Turner seems like the kind of hardcore badass who would take down mutants without a second's hesitation, but this is a job that weighs heavily on him. Plus, let's not forget that Lorna Dane is actually Magneto's daughter, and the character's story advances in such a way that she's forced to confront the reality of that lineage situation and what it means for her future.
The Gifted was created by Matt Nix, best known for crafting Burn Notice and Complications, among other projects, and the tone imbued early in the series is exactly what fans expect from quality Marvel projects. The characters face serious situations, and they indeed take things seriously, but not without many other various shades of humanity on display. The Gifted is definitely amusing at times, too, and much of the humor comes from situations, as opposed to characters delivering hackneyed joke dialogue. And even though this wasn't a project created with IMAX screenings in mind (like Inhumans was), The Gifted offers up some solid stunts and special effects, giving the characters' abilities purpose, rather than just making craziness happen for craziness' sake.
While some in the audience may be woeful about the lack of proper X-Men characters at the center of the action, that might just be The Gifted's greatest strength. Because even though characters like Blink and Polaris are familiar to comic book fans, there are far fewer expectations attached to their presence here, making the plot itself somewhat difficult to predict. Plus, we're still able to get a story that embodies the societal poignance of the Mutant Registration Act, as well as one that shows how mutant capabilities affect a close family unit, an angle that hasn't come up much in any Marvel's TV universe. (That said, Hulu's upcoming Runaways adaptation should expand that point nicely.)
If you only have time to watch one Marvel super-series this fall -- at least while waiting for The Punisher to come out -- make sure it's The Gifted. Even if you happen to know someone with the special ability to stretch time out so that you can watch whatever you want, make sure The Gifted is one of those shows.