What an X-Men TV Show Means for Mutants Everywhere

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Whether it’s Jennifer Lawrence in an uncomfortable blue bodysuit, Wolverine with mutton-chops and claws, or Storm rocking her 80s punk pixie (and mad weather-control skills), the X-Men have inspired several generations to cooperate and accept each others’ differences. They’ve also become a mass media fixture, lighting up the silver screen for 16 years with minimal signs of decline (aside from a touch of fan burnout).

The next X-Men cinematic offering, Logan, returns classic mutant Wolverine, played by Hugh Jackman (who’ll supposedly hang up his adamatium skeleton for good afterwards), to the silver screen. Promising to be the darkest films in franchise history, it follows a brow-beaten Old Man Logan and world-weary Charles Xavier as they struggle for mutant-kind’s survival, young X-23.

A month before the silver screen lights up with X-Men once again, the X-gene enabled are finally headed to television with their first live-action show (discounting the godawful Generation X TV movie), as Legion prepares to confound FX viewers on February 8th.

Legion | FX
Legion | FX

Featuring Professor X’s son, David Haller (played by Dan Stevens of Downton Abbey), the show promises to be a head-trip, as Fargo showrunner Noah Hawley engineers a haunting dissection of schizophrenia and theoretical mutant abilities. For X-fans in search of larger ties, the show skirts the issue, with Hawley stating that Legion needs to “prove” itself as a series before establishing any deeper connections to the overall universe.

Legion isn’t the sole X-Men live action series in the works, though. An untitled X-program promises a different aspect of mutant activity than its psychedelic broadcast-mate – one which is acutely aware of 20th Century Fox’s overall cinematic universe.

Legion | FX

The proposed saga, which was just ordered to pilot – with X-Men franchise mainstay Bryan Singer to direct the pilot – will follow a family with two mutant children that joins an underground resistance cell after anti-mutant laws are enacted and occur during an unspecified time in Marvel Universe history. Series producer and scripter Matt Nix (Burn Notice) recently discussed his plans for the series at the Television Critics Association winter press event, including its continuity within the X-Men realm, saying:

“A fan of the movies – particularly the comic books – would not be disoriented as to where this fits in the mythology…it’s not like I’m slavishly fitting myself into a particular slot [but]…there are definite nods to it, it definitely exists in the same general universe.”

While the main characters are brand new, Nix did tease that pre-existing characters could show up. Also, rather than blatantly explaining away the whereabouts of Wolverine or Storm, there will be subtle moments of fan service which hint at overarching connectivity. Legion and X-Men film producer Lauren Shuler Donner recently added a few more details about the forthcoming show, including the appearance “Sentinels,” classic anti-mutant robots, although she claims they might take a slightly “different” format than fans are used to.

X-Men (2000)

Naturally, maintaining closer ties to the films could be problematic, as well as constrictive. One of the key complaints from the so-called “Singerverse” (named for producer and director Singer – who kicked off the ebb of our current superhero boon with X-Men in 2000) is that the shared realm was a total mess, filled with a confusing array of alternative characters and actors, as well as a timeline so convoluted it would take a physics professor (or comic book scripter) to diagram it – at least until X-Men: Days of Future Past wiped the slate clean.

A loose-fitting puzzle piece like Legion could actually benefit in multiple ways from untethering itself from the greater cinematic universe. A hazy continuity allows Hawley and company to plot out their stories and content in a realm unconstrained by super-fans with magnifying glasses.

At the same time, the show is isolated from their TV and film siblings. This leaves dangling in the breeze, supported solely by the show’s tenuous connections and premise – which is admittedly very intriguing.

Much like Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. the mutant pilot-to-be will give Fox the freedom to explore historic moments from the source material and play with minor characters and our expectations, teasing a rich tapestry of X-history. Keeping tabs on its cinematic counterparts would also allow Fox to expand their X-universe in ways the movies simply can’t service. With more features on the way like X-Men: The New Mutants and X-Men: Supernova, the mutantkind can establish itself in the TV realm first as a testing ground for new concepts – assuming the show makes it to pilot and beyond.

Fleshing out lesser-known heroes and villains (at least to general audiences) like Bishop or Dust or the Nasty Boys on television would afford larger ensemble films like X-Men: Days of Future Past more breathing room. Characters could be introduced as plots or subplots on the series, prepping them for larger roles in the franchise without dramatically impacting the tightly constrained run time.

X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)
X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)

Nonetheless, the show still has a dangerous line to walk between fan service and plot relevance: If a reference is too obscure, it won’t affect anyone aside from X-maniacs, and if it’s too integral to the overall continuity, an audience craving a simple popcorn flick will be lost without a theater seating map.

…the show still has a dangerous line to walk between fan service and plot relevance

The real key to merging X-Men TV with its film branch is, of course, making them interchangeable in subtle ways. If Fox can successfully integrate their new mutant underground show with its cinematic timeline, even in a shallow fashion, they stand to gain a lot of potential crossover fans.

Interweaving their mutant worlds also means the possibilities of spin-off television and streaming properties that could, if well-handled, replicate the success Marvel has enjoyed with its own comics for years, as well as loosely interconnected Netflix, ABC, and film sagas. Most of all, it would probably sustain interest in the X-Men universe for years to come.

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