TV review: Legion, FOX (4 stars)

TV review: Legion, FOX

Dan Stevens stars in this quirky X-Men spin-off from Fargo creator Noah Hawley

Fox bought the rights to the X-Men and all the related characters back in 1994. In the intervening years Marvel has set the benchmark in creating interlinked fictional worlds, producing movies (Avengers, Captain America, Thor, etc) and TV (Agents of SHIELD, Daredevil, Jessica Jones, etc). Fox must have looked at the MCU and drooled as each interconnected property helps promote and sell the others. However, Legion doesn't feel like a callous money-grabbing exercise. In fact, Legion hardly feels like a superhero show at all.

We start with a slow-mo fast forward though David Haller's life (if that makes sense). His childhood blighted by fires, fights and failed suicide attempts. Now an adult (played by Dan Stevens) labelled as a paranoid schizophrenic and locked in an asylum. He instantly falls in love with new inmate Sydney Barrett (Rachel Keller), who fears physical contact, and her pro-insanity agenda. Then his world is literally turned upside down. Does Haller possess earth shattering psychic abilities or is he simply a madman trapped in his own psychosis?

Loosely based on a character created by Chris Claremont and Bill Sienkiewicz in the comics where he's Charles 'Professor X' Xavier's son, it seems highly unlikely Legion will directly link to the X-Men movies (apparently it exists in a 'parallel' universe to the films). Showrunner Noah Hawley (Fargo) has created something utterly unique within the superhero genre. It takes the concept of mutants in a completely new direction. The Clockworks Psychiatric Hospital looks like a 70s airport populated by weird twisted characters, including Aubrey Plaza at her sardonic, sarcastic best. Boasting a quirky soundtrack, dance routines, retro styling and big blocks of colour, Legion has more in common with a Wes Anderson movie than spandex clad blockbusters.

Who would have guessed Stevens would be the break out star of Downton Abbey? After a revelatory turn in The Guest he continues his hot streak in Legion. David Haller is a spiky difficult character but Stevens manages to make his madness relatable.

Legion operates between reality and insanity. Reflecting David's damaged mind it's deliberately disjointed. Layers of conspiracy, paranoia and madness all rolled into one confusing mess just waiting to be untangled. There's something monstrous – 'the devil with yellow eyes' – lurking in the dark recesses of Haller's psyche while sinister government agents plot to exploit his powers.

By the end of the first episode the entire set up has been ripped up and torn apart. An edgy, otherworldly drama, Legion looks like it's going to be a crazy, queasy ride.

Legion, FOX (UK), Thu 9 Feb, 9pm.

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