It’s no huge surprise that on its first airing Legion didn’t bring in particularly impressive ratings, but when factoring in Live+3 ratings, the viewing figures shot up with a 101% increase in audience size – the highest ever increase for an FX premiere.
The reason, of course, is very simple. When confronted with yet another superhero show, most people couldn’t be bothered to watch it. Then when word of mouth conveyed what Legion really is, their attention was caught. Legion is far more than yet another superhero show.
Legion’s first episode is, to put it lightly, a masterpiece. Noah Hawley provides an intricately written yet deeply poignant script; it begins with an unreliable narrator but peels back the layers of perception to reveal a touching love story between the two leads, David (Dan Stevens) and Syd (Rachel Keller). Both actors give nuanced, powerful performances, elevating the already fantastic script ever higher as a result. It’s an engaging realisation of a complex script, making the spine of the character drama universal, despite how surreal everything surrounding it is.
Visually speaking, too, the show is a real departure from the norm. It’s beautifully directed, with very high production values and some stunning design work. In many ways, Legion feels like a work of art. There’s a gorgeous aesthetic carried throughout, from the cinematography to the colour palette, which makes just the sheer look of the show quite memorable in and of itself. Further, though, it feels like Legion’s aesthetic grows from its themes; the programme is grounded in uncertainty, and every visual detail contributes to this, creating a sense of holistic unity that sets Legion apart from the homogeneity of other superhero shows.
It’s worth taking a second to compare Legion’s debut with the trailer for Iron Fist, the upcoming Marvel/Netflix drama that will round off their Defenders series. There’s a stark difference emerging between Legion and Iron Fist; where Legion was quite unlike anything we’ve ever seen before, it feels as though the best Iron Fist can offer is the competent execution of a series of tropes and conventions we’re already intimately familiar with. We’ve seen the lost billionaire returning to reclaim his family company after many years before, in both Batman Begins and Arrow; further, Iron Fist himself isn’t even the only martial artist in The Defenders, bringing neither unique skill set nor particularly engaging powers. Iron Fist essentially offers little we haven’t seen before; while that’s not to say it won’t be an entertaining programme, it does suggest that we’re starting to reach the limits of the genre, and a point when any further instalments are always going to be inherently repetitive to some extent.
However, the existence of Legion disproves that wholeheartedly – the breath of fresh air that the superhero genre needed, it proves that you can bring something new to the table. Because Legion does just that, and it does it in spades.
Part of the reason for this, perhaps, is because Legion doesn’t approach its subject matter as a straightforward superhero show would; the break with the format is a conscious one. This sort of decision has been successful before, of course – Jessica Jones, the best of the Marvel Netflix shows, did much the same thing – but Legion is the first to commit so wholeheartedly.
Thus, Legion is exactly what the superhero genre needs right now, because it shows how you can bring something new to the table – by growing beyond the format, and not remaining beholden to the conventions we’re so familiar with.
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