FX's 'Legion' Is the Kind of Show "Marvel Has Never Done Before"

The Noah Hawley 'X-Men' drama is not going to be the kind of superhero show like DC Comics' CW universe or even Marvel's 'Defenders' franchise on Netflix, producers say.
Chris Large/FX

FX's X-Men drama Legion is going to change the way fanboys look at comic book TV shows.

Producers, including showrunner Noah Hawley, and Marvel head of television Jeph Loeb told reporters Thursday at the Television Critics Association's winter press tour that the FX drama starring Dan Stevens, Rachel Keller and Aubrey Plaza will not be similar to the kind of comic book TV universes seen on the small screen.

Legion introduces the story of David Haller (Downton Abbey's Dan Stevens), a man who may be more than human and who has struggled with mental illness since his teenage years. Diagnosed as schizophrenic, David has been in and out of psychiatric hospitals for years. But after a strange encounter with a fellow patient, he is confronted with the possibility that the voices he hears and the visions he sees might be real.

Asked specifically if Marvel's Legion is setting up a universe similar to what The CW has done with DC Comics' The Flash, Arrow, Supergirl and Legends of Tomorrow as well as Marvel's own Netflix roster of heroes in The Defenders Jessica Jones, Iron Fist, Daredevil and Luke Cage — Loeb, Marvel's head of TV, said that wasn't the case. 

"Legion redefines the genre in a new way. We get asked a lot: 'Are there too many superhero shows? Have we reached the saturation point?' We have two responses to that: 'Do we ask those about cop, medical and legal shows? No.' Secondly, the other idea is Marvel doesn't start out from a place [where] a person is defined by their powers. This is about what's happening to David in that world."

In the comics, David is the son of X-Men founder Charles Xavier (aka Professor X) and Israeli Holocaust survivor Gabrielle Haller. The character first appeared in New Mutants No. 25 in March 1985.

"You can really bend the rules," Loeb said of the X-Men universe, stressing the "quiet issues" of the comics and Marvel's lesser-known hero. "Noah came in and asked about mental health and exploring the perception of people. [These are] stories of people in the real world. We don't know that anyone is going to come to this show because they like The Defenders. We think they'll come because of Noah, the cast and FX merged together for a kind of show Marvel has never done before."

Hawley, the mastermind behind FX's awards and critical darling Fargo anthology, was interested in exploring the world that exists if you remove the superhero genre.

"The first thought I had in looking at the genre is if we remove the genre, is there a compelling show you want to watch there? The underlying show, no matter the genre, has to be a compelling character story," he said, singling out the relationship between David and co-star Rachel Keller's character (whose "power" is the inability to touch people). "Finding David's storyline and introducing Rachel's storyline and this idea of this epic love story and then putting the genre back into it and saying, 'If we have a character who isn't sure what's real, could we make a show that's subjective?'"

Hawley stressed that the characters' powers are metaphorical to what their issues are. So Keller's character, because she can't touch anyone, is diagnosed with an antisocial anxiety disorder. "It's where things manifest," he said.

As for Hawley's approach to adapting in the Marvel universe, the showrunner said he felt it was more interesting to explore the subjective than to simply adapt issues of the comics.

"I felt what was more interesting was to take the concept of this character on some level and use his subjective reality to create something that is more of a fable or parable on some level in order to create something unexpected," he said. "I'm a fan of all the comics and stories … and thought the story I wanted to tell would be great using this template."

Legion premieres Wednesday, Feb. 8 at 10 p.m. on FX.

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