Gifted Post-Mortem

Yeah, it’s been several weeks since I made a new WordPress post. I’ve had plenty of thoughts over that time. None of them fit or required WordPress. Some of it’s been over on my Twitter account.

But that’s not why I’m posting now. This is a post-mortem for the show Gifted.

The show started out with a lot of promise. In season 1, the show had all the foundation it really needed for potential success. It started off rocky. Most first seasons do, including incredibly successful shows. Buffy the Vampire Slayer season 1 is much different from Buffy the Vampire Slayer at its height. It takes time for creatives to determine where they really want to go with characters and concepts.

Unfortunately, Gifted wasted what it had and from what I heard, got much worse in season 2.

The show put too much emphasis on the Struckers. I think that’s something a majority of people felt. As a lead-in to the show’s concept, the Struckers were bland (even with Amy Acker) but could’ve been tolerated til about halfway through season 1. At that point, they should’ve started slowly taking a back seat to the main focus of the show. The usage of the Struckers in the first place felt like someone involved thought white audiences needed a white family at the core demonstrating the show’s version of white guilt to get into it. That kind of concept works best sneakily working as a subplot. Making it the focus detracted from the potential of the show’s diverse cast, and for some came off preachy in the wrong way.

The show’s handling of character death was another big issue – which I was very loud and clear about when they killed off Dreamer. The problem wasn’t merely that characters were killed off. It’s how it was done. Other, better shows will have the episode focus on that character, or make that character’s death part of a HUGE event that people will talk about endlessly. Gifted killed characters for a mix of shock value and to push other characters’ stories along with no love or respect given to the departing character. Fans generally don’t like to get deeply attached to a character only to have them offed out of nowhere with no catharsis of any sort to deal with it. The show being based on comic books doesn’t mean it’s great to follow terrible comic book tropes that are part of the reason comic book sales are often so low.

This was especially a problem with Dreamer’s death. It became all the more apparent to me post-death that she was the secret heart of the show. Like most “secret heart” characters (e.g. Rosa in FF4), her importance was completely lost on most people who stuck with the show – especially the show’s writers and showrunner. In comedy terms, it’s like having an act that needs the “straight man” trope and you remove him cause you think he’s not adding any jokes. In reality, everything else loses its impact without him.

Resurrecting Dreamer or saying she wasn’t killed off would’ve been the best option. Second best would’ve been bringing in a new character to fill the role and keeping them. Gifted did neither.

Another obvious issue: the show wasted Polaris, Esme, the characters’ potential, and Emma Dumont and Skyler Samuels.

I didn’t watch season 2. In fact, I stopped watching Gifted with the episode that they killed Dreamer. But I did see some things. I heard Lorna was treated very poorly in season 2, in part to promote Reeva. I also saw Dumont talk about how she didn’t like what the show was doing with/to Lorna, but as a professional, she understood the need to have balancing among all the characters in an ensemble cast.

There were two huge problems here.

One, providing balance doesn’t mean “Let’s make this character look pathetic and stupid so the other characters can look great.” That’s another shitty comic book writing trope that needs to die in a fire. TV audiences hated that approach because TV audiences expect better writing. A lot of them likely abandoned ship when they saw the show was going to be terrible just cause comics like to be terrible.

Two, Polaris had rapidly become a huge fan favorite character in season 1. There was toooooons of enthusiasm for her. When you have a fan favorite character, you don’t tear them down to make another character – especially a newcomer – look good at their expense. You capitalize on that enthusiasm and raise the stakes. Gifted failed.

By comparison, when Negan arrived on Walking Dead, Rick and Daryl had low moments. But they weren’t written horribly out of character to make Negan look good. They were presented with terrible situations, they behaved as they normally would, they went through trials and emotions and eventually found their strength again in themselves.

In general, Emma Dumont and Skyler Samuels brought a lot more to the table than the show seemed willing to acknowledge and respect. Their enthusiasm was infectious. Doing things that made their enthusiasm suffer led to fans losing interest. Not doing things to spread that enthusiasm stifled momentum into getting new viewers. The show had a gold mine and blew it up looking for coal.

I even remember when Skyler Samuels joined the show, but before Dreamer’s death soured me to Gifted, I specifically told another fan in private that Skyler would be a much bigger boon than most people realized. She was amazing on Scream Queens. Apparently the showrunner and writers understood that only enough to add her as a regular, but not enough to make the most of her alongside Dumont.

Meanwhile, if the show had done things right, the other characters – Blink, Thunderbird, Eclipse, Dreamer, Sage – could’ve risen up to a much higher level of interest over time.

There’s still been some talk about the idea of the show landing on a streaming service like Hulu. If the show persisted in its current model, I think it would only last as long as one limited series, at absolute most one more season (though I’m really padding it when I say that). Probably just enough for the show to give a comfortable conclusion after the cliffhanger.

For a Gifted revival/continuation to actually be more than that, the showrunners and writers would need to make a LOT of changes to what they’ve been doing for the last season and a half. They’d have to basically reset to halfway through season 1. Or, the show would need an entirely different showrunner, and maybe different writers (depends on if the current showrunner steered the writers in the wrong direction from what they would’ve wanted).

What seems most likely to me right now is something more like what happened to the Batman Beyond cartoon. Where one episode of Justice League Unlimited acted as a backdoor conclusion to Batman Beyond.

That’s all I’ve got now. New thoughts could spring up in the future.

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