Friday, March 17, 2017

I hate that I hate Legion

This blog is generally built on positivity.  When I first started it, I would occasionally write a negative piece, but I've gradually moved away from them, to the point that the only time I will write about a show I don't like is in the Pilot Talk series where I review the first episode of new shows.  For me, it's much easier to write from a place of enthusiasm than from one of hatred.  If you asked me to explain why I like a piece of art, I'd easily be able to rattle off multiple points to back up my argument.  My reasons for disliking something are a little tougher to nail down.  It's more of an ineffable feeling with dislike, in my opinion.  And ultimately it boils down to the fact that it takes me so much time to write that I'd rather devote my energy to the many things I actually enjoy.

Which brings us to Legion.  Everybody seems to love FX's new Noah Hawley drama about a lesser known corner of the X-Men universe.  The praise has been off the charts and it's only getting more effusive. I was fully ready to embrace this show -- I love FX, I love X-Men, I love shows that aren't afraid to be different.  I should love Legion.

But here's thing...I just don't.

In general, I'm not a huge fan of Noah Hawley's style.  I liked season one of Fargo and liked season two less but still well enough, but my goodwill towards both were despite Hawley's idiosyncrasies, not because of them.  Part of the reason why I liked the second season less than the first was because it felt like the show was marked with an increased of being pleased with itself.  Again, this is something that's hard to quantify, but there was a smugness to season two of Fargo that left a bad taste in my mouth.  Not to mention the fact that it was met with "this is movie-level quality" and "this is by far the best show on television" hosannas.  Because Fargo was such a critical success, and because FX practices placing alot of trust in its creators, it seems like Hawley was given carte blanche with Legion.  That's the only way to explain the way his tics have been amplified thousandfold here.  The quirky and wry tone, the winking references (there's a character who's literally named "Syd Barrett"...ha ha?), the haphazard structure to the story -- it all melds together for an experience that makes me want to rip my hair out in annoyance.  And what's worse is that I'm almost completely on an island with this opinion.

For its entire run so far, Legion has proven that it's all style and no substance.  I don't necessarily mind a show that favors style over substance.  I love style!  But what is irksome about Legion is that it has the false pretense of containing substance.  The show purports to be a deeply psychological show, arguing that its obnoxious exploratory memory sequences are just a lens through which it examines mental illness and trauma.  All it really does, however, is use mental illness as a shorthand for depth.  What is the show really saying about these issues?  Not much, once you dig past its wacky flourishes.

Maybe I'm just being a hypocrite.  After all, I'm usually a big fan of these go-for-broke seasons where it seems like the creator is just doing whatever they want with no care for how it's received: the final season of The Sopranos, season five of Mad Men, season two of Girls.  The closest relative to this season of Legion is Mr. Robot's divisive second season, which I loved.  But for all its stylistic ostentatiousness, season two of Mr. Robot was deeply character-centric.  Perhaps main character Elliot got less examination than one would expect, but the season really dug into supporting characters like Dom, Angela, and Darlene.  Its machinations gave the audience a much deeper understanding of what makes them tick, increasing our ability to be invested in their stories.  There are two more episodes left of Legion this year and I don't feel like we've been given much reason to care about David or his flat "romance" with Syd.  All of the characters on the show are dull ornaments lost in the brush of its trippy larks, which makes it hard to care about anything that happens in the story.

There's nothing about the show's gonzo, psychedelic style that feels honest either.  The fourth episode garnered advanced praise for how out there is was, with critic Alan Sepinwall tweeting that it was the weirdest episode of TV he had seen since Twin Peaks aired in the early 90s.  So I approached the episode with optimism, hoping it would be the one that finally turned me around on the show.  Instead, I came away disliking it more than ever and was completely vexed by the David Lynch comparison.  When I watch Lynch's work its strangeness seems genuine, like the product of someone who is truly a weirdo.  In contrast, Legion's oddball sensibility feels artificial, like Noah Hawley is constantly bludgeoning us over the head with how much of an auteur he is.

So everybody's favorite show on television right now is currently my least favorite show I'm watching, by a very large margin.  I take no joy in hating it though.  I truly do want to like it!  There's a fun genre show in there under all of the masturbatory flights of fancy.  The worst part of it all is that this is a show so unconventional and outre that disliking it leaves you vulnerable to being accused of "not getting it."  I can assure you that I get Legion.  I just don't get why everyone else is putting up with it.


  1. So I see what you're saying here but all I can say is that is has to be a matter of taste. I LIKE the memory sequences, the interesting quirks throughout and especially the entirety of Aubrey Plaza's career-making performance here.

    I am not a fan of the strange songs that are interwoven in certain scenes and the way that Cary/Kerry's character was playing at first, but I love the way that the lore is building in this world with things like The angry boy story and how the show decided to just take a time out last week (chapter 6) and do some character examination.

    This is by far the most visually interesting show on television right now and I can't wait for more.

    1. Yeah I think it's a matter of taste too because this show has "not for me" written all over it lol. But I will say that I agree with you when it comes to the visuals. I'll probably watch every single episode of this show until the day it ends just because it's so nice to look at.

  2. I don't like David. Admittedly, I've only seen the first episode, but I can't continue to watch him. I just find his behaviour awful, but that's my opinion.