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Scott D. Pierce: FX's 'Legion' requires your rapt attention

Published February 8, 2017 12:17 pm
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2017, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

If you've never heard of the comic-book character Legion, you're certainly not alone. Yes, he's part of the "X-Men" franchise, but he's not exactly well-known.

Introduced by Marvel Comics in 1985, David Haller — aka Legion — is young man with severe mental problems and astonishing mental powers. He's the son of Professor Charles Xavier (the leader of the X-Men) and Gabrielle Haller (a Holocaust survivor whom Xavier rescued from a catatonic state using his powers).

Almost none of that is in FX's "Legion," with the exception of David Haller (Dan Stevens, "Downton Abbey").

Diagnosed as schizophrenic, David was institutionalized. But what was diagnosed as mental illness was actually his powers manifesting.

He's the only character from the comics to appear in the eight-part TV series that debuts on FX on Wednesday (7 p.m. on Dish and DirecTV; 11 p.m. on Comcast).

Creator/executive producer Noah Hawley said his approach was, "If we remove the genre, is there a compelling show that you would want to watch there?"

Executive producer Jeph Loeb — the executive vice president of Marvel Television who oversees all the TV projects — said he thinks this show "redefines the genre."

And he's right. If you're expecting some superhero show in the vein of "The Flash" or "Supergirl" — if you're expecting something like the "X Men" movies — think again.

If you're expecting something that resembles the "Legion" comic books in any significant way, think again.

"I'm a fan of all the comics and the storylines in them," Hawley said. "But for my purposes, there was a story that I wanted to tell that I thought would be great using this template."

"Legion" is not a show you can watch casually. You've got to sit down and pay close attention to what's going on. But that doesn't mean you'll understand what's happening, because viewers often see what David sees.

Hawley is the guy who turned "Fargo" into a TV series that's true to the spirit of the movie on which it was based but is entirely different. He's trying to do the same with "Legion."

"One approach would be to, say, take Issues 113 through 120 and say, 'That's Season 1,' " Hawley said. "What was sort of more interesting to me was to take the concept of this character … and then use his sort of subjective reality to say, 'You know, let's create something that's a little more of a fable or a parable on some level' in order to try to create something unexpected."

If that's confusing, it's not just because I'm avoiding anything in the way of spoilers. The first episode of "Legion" is confusing; I've seen two more and I can't say that I altogether understand what's going on.

It's baffling by design. But Hawley promises that everything will eventually be explained.

"Even though in the first hour you may see some things that you don't necessarily understand what they are, by the end of the first season, you understand what everything is," he said. "So this isn't a show where we are trying to hide the truth from people. I'm just trying to make a subjective reality."

Will it be worth your time to watch all eight episodes of "Legion"? I have no idea.

The first three episodes are intriguing. Visually arresting. But if someone other than Hawley were running this show, I'd be a great deal more skeptical.

As it is, I'm cautiously optimistic. With the emphasis on "cautiously."

Scott D. Pierce covers TV for The Salt Lake Tribune. Email him at spierce@sltrib.com; follow him on Twitter @ScottDPierce.






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