20th Century Fox makes use of its long-held rights to X-Men — and the very term “mutant” — with the tepid new drama “The Gifted,” a show about a family with two mutant children trying to escape the clutches of evil government forces. It’s nice to see the X-Men back on screen in some capacity — and Bryan Singer, the director behind the sturdy, successful films “X-Men” and “X2,” directs the pilot for “The Gifted” — but the new drama generally fails to impress.
The cold open to the whole series is a disorienting action sequence between several characters who are given very little individual personality; then the plot shifts to a high school melodrama where one sibling kisses a boy and another is bullied at a high school dance. Ultimately, there’s a point — both siblings are about to reveal themselves as mutants, in a world hostile to them — but the character-based stakes of the show are rushed and cliché, making it hard to invest much in what is by this point just another superhero or two learning about their abilities.
On the whole, both Lauren Strucker (Natalie Alyn Lind) and Andy Strucker (Percy Hynes White) taking having superhuman powers in stride; it’s their parents, Reed (Stephen Moyer) and Caitlin (Amy Acker) who struggle to keep up. Reed, ironically, is a lawyer specializing in prosecuting mutants. But — in quite a departure from the transporting and often provocative Singer films — the rich subtext of mutants integrating with society is basically unexplored in “The Gifted”; instead Moyer and Acker are called upon to perform the broadest of predictable emotional responses. In what is quite a disservice to Acker, Caitlin is mostly relegated to the role of freaked-out suburban mom, ready to ignore her kids’ weird mutations if that means they can coast by unnoticed. And though Reed should have a lot of opportunities to examine his own prejudices about mutation, “The Gifted” essentially isolates his response to making a few pained expressions.
It is interesting to see how “The Gifted” interprets a couple of the comics’ mutants who didn’t make it into the films: John Proudstar or Thunderbird (Blair Redford), Clarice Fong or Blink (Jamie Chung), and Lorna Dane or Polaris (Emma Dumont). They’re joined by non-comics mutant Eclipse/Marcos Diaz (Sean Teale, playing an apparent re-interpretation of comics’ mutant Sunspot), who is the ringleader of their semi-fugitive cell. But oddly, “The Gifted” struggles to find any of the wonder in their gifts. In what seems to be a misguided attempt to look “serious,” “The Gifted” is a gray, humorless hour oriented towards cheap-looking action sequences. It could have withstood a bit of mutation of its own.