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Will ‘Legion’ Leave a Mark This Emmy Season?

Variety logo Variety 2/9/2017 Kristopher Tapley
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FX is set to premiere “Legion” Wednesday night, a new series from the mind of showrunner Noah Hawley (“Fargo”) that could make a splash in Emmy season where countless comic book shows have previously failed.

While “Game of Thrones” has certainly found its stride, genre bias has nevertheless done its part over the years to hold programs like this back when it comes to awards. But on rare occasions, a comic book title has sparked in a major category: “Batman” landed a comedy series nomination and a mention for supporting actor Frank Gorshin in 1966. “Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman” was singled out for direction in 1994. Mariette Hartley even won the drama actress prize for “The Incredible Hulk” in 1979, beating out the likes of Rita Moreno (“The Rockford Files”) and Barbara Bel Geddes (“Dallas”).

The only superhero show to truly hit with the Television Academy was “Heroes,” but that was an original concept, not an adaptation of a pre-existing property. The NBC program landed a drama series nomination among others in 2007. Meanwhile, shows like “The Walking Dead,” “Gotham” and “Daredevil” have been relegated to below-the-line categories.

“Legion” represents a new breed, however. It’s a psychedelic subversion of the genre that puts viewers inside the troubled head of David Haller, a mental patient who discovers the mania he thought was only in his mind is actually the manifestation of latent mutant superpowers. It’s also a big risk for Hawley, tackling a character peripherally associated with the X-Men universe while not depending on that association to drive interest. But he’s used to taking risks, having unflinchingly faced the challenge of turning a beloved Coen brothers film into a critically acclaimed, wildly successful anthology series.

Moreover, “Legion” is already acclaimed in its own right. “Those who are pulled into the surreal, jagged orbit of this distinctive drama are likely to stay there for the full eight-episode run,” Variety‘s Maureen Ryan wrote in her review. “It is, literally and figuratively, a trip — and it’s often an exhilarating one.”

Star Dan Stevens might be the best bet for an adventurous “Legion” nomination, if there is indeed one in the offing. He has the unenviable task of conveying a tormented persona while maintaining an affability that makes the character quite unique in the landscape.

Anything more beyond that could be a tall order but to be fair, there’s something of a new drama drought this year, as the hot programs everyone is talking about for awards tend to be limited series like “Big Little Lies,” “Feud,” “The Night Of” and “The Young Pope.” Shows like “This Is Us” and “Westworld” will probably be in the mix, and “The Crown” is no doubt the one to beat, but “Legion” stands out from that fray.

Otherwise, it’s hard not to consider it a strong player in categories like art direction, editing and special effects. The visual design of the show is eye-popping and detailed, while Hawley’s overall vision provides a rich opportunity to play with form in truly exciting ways.

So, can “Legion” make an Emmy dent on behalf of its comic book brethren? The season is right around the corner. We’ll see if it sticks for viewers over the next two months.

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