In the US: Wednesdays, 10pm ET/PT, FX
In the UK: Thursdays, 9pm, Fox UK
Legion, FX’s new superhero show based on a Marvel X-Men comic of the same name, has one big problem: it’s a superhero show based on a Marvel X-Men comic of the same name. Were it not for that singular problem, the show would be able to avoid some of the now colossally well worn tropes of that ‘universe’ and be able to plough its own wonderful furrow unfettered. Instead, despite its majestic wildness, psychedelic directorial vision, and focus on the psychological and just plain old insane, and despite also foregoing much of the original source material, Legion still has to have mutants at war with the government, exploring their abilities, feeling oppressed, yadda, yadda, yadda.
Other than that, though, Legion is really a joy to behold, although the degree of joy depends on how much show creator Noah Hawley (Fargo) is involved in it. Episode one, which was both written by and directed by Hawley, is absolutely amazing, a mind-bending, reality warping piece of 70s-style trippiness. Since then, Hawley has been less involved, only writing the second episode and neither writing nor directing the third, all of which has resulting in slightly diminished returns that rely considerably on what Hawley set up in the first episode, but without innovating too much themselves.
Nevertheless, while considerably less visually inventive – although all credit to whomever thought having a little boy with a Frank Sidebottom-style paper head would be scary – and not having as strong a sense of plotting as before, Legion has remained quality viewing, effectively becoming a mystery story of the mind, as we try to work out what’s been going on in Dan Stevens’ head – and everyone hopes that if they do find out, it won’t cause him to accidentally destroy reality in some way with his amazing mental powers. Characterisation for everyone except Stevens is weak, with the show revolving almost exclusively around its titular character and his issues, and the show effectively only has two real locations, in which people mostly sit and chat a lot each week. But somehow it doesn’t really seem to matter, since the show manages to remain almost constantly fascinating, never truly revealing what’s real and what’s imagination or distortion. It’s also frequently quite frightening, as we deal with Stevens’ various internal nightmares.
I do hope that the show manages to avoid the pitfalls being part of the X-Men universe brings. But even with its superheroic problems, it’s still a great piece of weekly viewing.