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By Noah Hawley (Showrunner)
FX (streaming on Amazon and Hulu)
Reviewed by Karl Wolff
Among the numerous TV shows based on comic book franchises, Legion reigns supreme. Simply put, the show is awesome. It is one of those shows like The Wire, Orphan Black, and Trailer Park Boys, because I can easily turn into a blabbing fanboy about it. I heard many people gush over The Wire and how they said things like, "This is the best show on television!" Yet when I saw it, it lived up to the hype. Legion lives up to the hype. The first season isn't over yet, but do yourself a favor and watch it.
But what makes Legion so good? For me I had zero background about the comic. I knew nothing about the character and its place within the Marvel Universe. Guardians of the Galaxy was the same thing. No knowledge of the comic can be a good thing, since I'm not burdened by issues like whether this or that is considered canon. Most of my opinions about comics come from movie adaptations. I am very opinionated about which Batman or Superman is the best. (I lean more towards Christopher Reeve and Michael Keaton. Terrence Stamp played a great Zod in Superman 2 and few can top Jack Nicholson's Joker. Those are my cultural touchstones and my personal biases.)
Legion is incredibly good TV for a cocktail of reasons. First, the pilot could be mistaken for a feature film. Everything was top notch. After I saw the pilot, my first question was: "Can they pull this off for the whole season?" Of the episodes I've seen, the answer is a definitive yes. The premise of Legion requires unpacking, because it circles back into how good the show is. The show centers on David, a mental patient. In the pilot he is a patient at the Clockworks Mental Institute. Played by Dan Stevens, David has a friend, fellow mental patient and junkie Lenny (Aubrey Plaza). He also meets another patient named Syd Barrett (Rachel Keller). David may or may not have multiple personality disorder and/or schizophrenia. He may also be the most powerful mutant in the world. Syd is also a mutant and her power involves switching bodies.
The series aesthetic is Seventies-but-not. Bold colors, post-Midcentury design cues, and period appropriate music choices. It looks like the Seventies, but everyone has touchpads and other modern electronic devices. Is this a hallucination? Is this real? Because of David's precarious mental state, he is the perfect unreliable narrator. Two adversaries confront him: the Devil with the Yellow Eyes and Division 3. The Devil with the Yellow Eyes is pure nightmare fuel, a character genuinely scary. (I've seen several years worth of Supernatural. Sam and Dean have fought countless monsters, demons, devils, ghouls, etc., but only a couple episodes count as truly scary.) The Devil with the Yellow Eyes will give you nightmares.
The other adversary is Division 3. They want to recapture David and use him for their own purposes. But Division 3 of what? Thus far, that question hasn't been answered.
I haven't scratched the surface in terms of characters and story arcs, but this is a TV series worth watching. Legion is so good because Noah Hawley, the showrunner, has figured out how to maximize the show's potential. Both the comic and the TV show excel at long-form visual storytelling. If a novelization ever comes out, I guarantee it won't be as good as either the TV show or comic. There are some things TV can do that literature cannot.