Legion Season 1 Review

Legion is the best show I’ve seen in a long time. Incredibly creative, fascinating to look at, and tremendously fun. Here’s a non-spoilery look at the first season.

Legion is a superhero TV show unlike the glut of superhero shows currently saturating the airwaves (or more accurately, the Internet’s tubes). You’re forgiven if you’ve never heard of Legion or the comic it’s based on. I sure hadn’t. Like any good television show, previous knowledge of the source material isn’t required.

And in some ways, the less you know, the better. Letting the show let you in on its secrets is part of its charm.

The core story of Legion is interesting, of course, but that’s not why the show is interesting. After all, superhero origin stories are seemingly half the creative content of the world at the moment. It’s how you tell that story that makes or breaks a show.

“Cinematic” is the word that comes to mind when it comes to the show’s visuals and production values. Gorgeous, visually creative sets and lighting are radically unlike most TV shows, and even most movies. Watching the 90 minute pilot of Legion will make you wonder why the hell Fox needs nearly $200 million to make a snorefest like X-Men: Apocalypse. Many shots are downright Kubrickian (and the show knows it, even naming one location “Clockworks”). I mean take a look at this trailer.

You’d need a movie-sized budget to make every shot of a TV show look like that, but most do. Through creative re-use of sets, the budget feels that big. Other scenes make use of the near-ubiquitous-for-sci-fi Western-Canadian forests. Thankfully these are few and usually just serve to get you to one of the amazing sets.

Visual appeal is great, but won’t save a show. The cast is just as fantastic. There’s a mix of knowns and unknowns. The always watchable Aubrey Plaza is perhaps the biggest name here, or if you’re a different demographic, Dan Stevens, formerly of Downton Abbey (I know I didn’t recognize him either). He bounces between serious, charming, and nutbag with ease. Matthew Crawley he is not. Rachel Keller plays Syd, and their dynamic is one of the reasons I enjoy this show. Bill Irwin and Amber Midthunder have an adorable relationship. Jemaine Clement (from Flight of the Conchords) is delightful.

Then there’s the writing. This is the biggest thing that makes me stop following a show. Heroes, Stargate Universe, Man in the High Castle, and so many others just completely missed on the writing. Legion creates interesting and likable characters. Just as important, the plot is intriguing, and regularly goes where you don’t expect. Every time the show would go somewhere predictable, it would veer off to something drastically more interesting and unexpected. I can count on one hand the numbers of recent shows that can do that, and well.

And lastly, there’s the music. Jeff Russo’s synth-and-orchestral score is so good I bought the CD. There’s also excellent use of classic rock songs throughout.

Legion is on the FX channel, though the second season won’t air there until next year. To watch the 8-episode first season you can find it on Hulu, on FX’s website (if you pay for cable), or buy it on Amazon or iTunes. Highly recommended.