Sitting down to watch the first episode of Noah Hawley and FX’s version of Legion, I wasn’t sure how big the overlap between fans of the X-Men movies (me), the Fargo tv series (Jed) and dubious 70s haircuts (um…?) would be but, despite being more than a little put off by the trailers, I thought I’d give the show a chance. After enduring 60-odd minutes of this supremely confident, over-stylised and incredibly mannered bash at a superhero origin story, however, I can exclusively reveal that my initial instinct was right, and the intersection in that particular Venn diagram definitely doesn’t include me.
In fairness, this is not because Hawley or the show are short on ideas. Legion is ALL ideas, from the basic premise that the institutionalised hero might actually have superpowers as opposed (or in addition) to mental health problems and that locking him up is a way for the authorities to control him and keep him from realising that, to the non-linear, hyper-real, and very confusing narrative mixing dream sequences, dance sequences, violence and shouting, and the trippy, self-consciously, lovingly artificial look and feel of the whole thing. I’ve never read the Legion comics, but this tv series is clearly meant to look like one; the scene where the contents of David’s kitchen swirl around him in a sort of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Colander fashion, for instance, or the stop-start escape sequence towards the end with the heroes (?) avoiding a barrage of bullets as they run, pause, run, pause along a clifftop, love interest Syd’s red ribbon and ponytail bobbing as they go – all this could have, and might have, for all I know, come straight out of the pages of whatever Marvel publication you like.
The trouble with all this determined focus on artificiality and style, however, is the whole thing feels incredibly arch. Most of the cast is “acting” like they’re either in a spoof or in one of those Red Room scenes from Twin Peaks – I wouldn’t have been remotely surprised if they all suddenly started talking backwards. I presume the deliberately unreal, almost parodic performances are meant to illustrate the effect of a constant regimen of prescribed psychiatric medication on drugs David and co’s perception of everything and everyone around them, but whatever the reason, I found them really, really irritating. Instead of caring what happened to David or Sydney or the exceptionally annoying Lenny, I just wanted everyone to bloody get on with it and stop being so pleased with themselves and their artiness, which means Legion, despite the undoubted imagination and originality on show, really isn’t for me. I wouldn’t say I hated it, exactly (I mean, it’s no MacGyver) but watching it is definitely not an experience I’m keen to repeat.