FX’s “Legion” is a superhero show about living with a mental illness

A different kind of hero.
A different kind of hero.
Image: FX Networks/Chris Large
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Pasadena, California

First there were legal dramas, then there were police procedurals, and today, there are superhero shows. The burgeoning genre is now one of TV’s most popular, with shows on virtually every major network or streaming service—but FX is trying to do something different with its upcoming series, Legion.

Legion redefines the genre in a new way,” executive producer and Marvel TV boss Jeph Loeb told TV reporters today at the Television Critics Association winter press tour in Pasadena. “[It’s the] kind of show Marvel has never made before.”

Based on the Marvel character, Legion tells the story of schizophrenic mutant with bizarre, incredible abilities. Figuring out what’s part of his illness and what’s his superpower—and might they be one in the same?—drives much of the story.

FX made the pilot episode of Legion available to critics in advance of TCA, and it certainly backs up the producer’s claims. It’s refreshingly weird, challenging, and contemplative, in a way that the superhero genre—which has mostly played it safe since becoming popular a few years ago—has yet to be.

The show’s creator Noah Hawley aimed to make a series that could be “subjective,” putting the audience into the mind of its mentally ill protagonist. We see and hear things as he sees and hear things: It’s not always clear what’s happening, but that’s the point.

“The best Marvel stories are the ones that take issues that are out there in the real world and put them through a prism,” Loeb added. Legion is technically a superhero series, sure, but it’s told via the experience of a character who is a lot more nuanced and real than the average crime fighter.

That subjectivity is why the Legion producers are not worried about genre saturation. Many current superhero shows exist in the same universe as one another, with similar characters, themes, and plot lines. Netflix has its wide-ranging series of Marvel shows (with more on the way), while the CW has several shows based on DC comic book characters already on the air.

It’s only a matter of time before every superhero has his or her own show, but it’s a good bet they won’t be anything like Legion. It premieres on FX on Feb. 8.