There is a problem in Hollywood today. No, it’s not a problem that I previously pleaded for a change in in the movie industry. I mean, there is a genre problem in Hollywood’s television sphere.
Don’t believe me? Let’s look at the egregious snub of Legion as a whole in the Emmy nominations this year. Not only was the show not nominated for any of the acting categories, it was also snubbed in categories like Sound Editing, Cinematography, and Design Editing where it, honestly, thrived.
Legion found itself a corner in the widely lauded niche programming that is finding a resurgence in television thanks to Game of Thrones, Westworld, and others.
One difference separating Legion from shows like Game of Thrones and Westworld is that they have the benefit of being marketed by a big conglomerate.
Legion? Well, that’s a bit debatable.
I’m not really here to talk about marketing or spending, especially considering I am not the typical TV viewer. I watch my shows on demand. No, I’m here to talk about why Legion‘s snub, as a freshman cable television drama, is so horrible for the sci-fi/comic book fandom.
Noah Hawley, Legion‘s executive producer, spoke to Deadline about the snub and said, “It [is] a process to get that genre to that place where people consider it a real drama. There is a process to it. I never expected anything, I guess.”
The thing is, he should have expected at least one nomination. Fans expected it. Rolling Stone expected it. Even Entertainment Weekly expected it! Legion is not like any other TV show out there. In fact, it could be considered a trailblazer. If only it was given the Emmy nominations that it deserved.
First though, let’s talk about why the exclusion from the Outstanding Drama Series is so disappointing.
For those who don’t know, Legion is the story of a super powerful mutant David Haller (Dan Stevens). David has been diagnosed with schizophrenia his whole life. He hears voices. He sees things that aren’t there. But it’s more complex than that. Simply put: he’s telepathic. He’s also telekinetic, can transport people and himself across time and space, can manipulate time, and more. He’s also a generally cute and adorable marshmallow with a penchant for cherry pie.
Behind all that, however, behind the powers and the fact that this is a Marvel sanctioned TV series, Legion is a pioneering comic book show that deals candidly with mental illness.
A topic that only a few television programs on air today (Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, and Jessica Jones comes to mind) have touched on in recent years. It’s not to say that some people don’t have a problem with how David’s mental health is portrayed. Yes, it could be a trigger to a number of different people.
Hawley and Dan Stevens handle it with finesse and subtlety, a fact that Vulture couldn’t ignore.
Vulture is right.
There are many instances where Legion succeeds at presenting the dangers of a specific mindset health officials and family members often impose on their patients and loved ones. As seen above with Amy and David talking about a normal life.
It goes deeper than that. In the show’s sixth episode – when all the characters are in a mental hospital – it all comes to a head. In a brilliant and understated performance by Stevens who says “People always talk about the depression side [of bipolar]. But it’s the other side, that invulnerable feeling, that’s dangerous.”
Of course, David doesn’t have bipolar, but in the context of the sixth episode and where our heroes are at in the story, it makes perfect sense. David knows that mental health is a slippery slope of all sorts of things. Pills, sometimes addiction, the idea that one day things will be okay. Sometimes they are but sometimes they aren’t. Legion does a brilliantly understated job of portraying this.
Yes, The Handmaid’s Tale and Westworld tackle their own range of things happening in the world today, but Legion deserved Outstanding Drama recognition as well.
Aside from that poignant and pivotal look at mental health, another thing Legion has under its belt is a phenomenal range of acting talent, which the Emmys also snubbed.
The role of David Haller requires someone with range and depth. It requires someone who has a fantastic ability to tap into emotions most other actors on television shows don’t get the ability to explore. At least, they don’t get to really explore it in what is labeled a “comic book drama”.
Hawley and FX really scored a hit with Stevens, who has really been on fire lately. Fans thought the actor wouldn’t make much of himself on this side of the pond, even after his phenomenal turn on Downton Abbey as Matthew Crawley. He’s really blazing trails as David.
“Chapter Seven” alone should have secured Stevens the Outstanding Lead Actor nomination. In the episode, David is trapped in a mental coffin by Lenny Busker (Aubrey Plaza), the antagonist of the show.
There, he meets his rational mind who is British, like Stevens is in real life. Together, they discover Lenny’s origins and just how long David has been living with this malevolent force in his head. You can peep part of the sequence below which is amazing.
It was Steven’s idea to play with his accents. Even then, despite Rational Mind David being British, Steven’s accent is still different than his own accent. I know what you’re thinking. I’m freaking out over an Emmy snub that has to do with accents. I know actors change their accents all the time. What I was so enthralled with was the fact that the two Davids, though essentially the same character, were so starkly different from each other.
Rational Mind David acts exactly how you would imagine, being labeled a “rational mind” and all that. He is concise, to the point, and a force to help actual David not hinder him. Actual David is neurotic, unsure, frightened, and brilliantly emotional. The fact that Stevens played such polar opposites extremely well, without missing a beat, is a feat in itself. Coupled with the rest of his performance as the tortured mutant, you truly have a spectacular and Emmy winning potential.
Don’t believe me? See for yourself. This gif set below barely scratches the surface of Stevens’ dynamic range.
The Academy, however, failed to nominate him. Why? Because, unfortunately, Legion isn’t what the Academy considers as a typical “drama”. It’s comic book fodder.
If voters could’ve seen past the “comic book”-ness of the show, then they would’ve seen a fantastically nuanced performance by both Stevens and Aubrey Plaxa.
Plaza’s star is on the rise with Lenny Busker. She should’ve been nominated for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series. Her turn as the villain was a viewer’s wet dream. Not to mention the fact she pulled her best sequence in the series out of thin air. No, seriously.
According to Plaza, Hawley’s script for the much praised dance sequence to Nina Simone’s Feeling Good was basically written like this: “Lenny dances a dance of malevolent joy. She rubs her stink all over David’s memories.”
(You can watch the sequence below.)
In fact, a grand majority of Lenny Busker was left up to Plaza to create and build on her own.
She told Deadline that “[There’s] another example—in the script, it says, “Lenny kills The Eye.” But it doesn’t say how; it doesn’t say anything like that.”
“Chapter 7” was a smorgasbord of creative control for Plaza. Speaking of another critically lauded sequence, the silent film sequence, Plaza said: “[There] were things that we came up with that day. ‘I’m going to put a fake gun to my head and pull the trigger, and then you guys snap your heads.’ That was all playful stuff that we came up with together. That was again a really fun collaboration with the rest of the cast.”
I won’t rehash what I’ve said in my previous article, which you can find here. Just realize that Plaza’s nomination was the most egregious snub out of all of them. She deserved that nomination at least.
Of course, this article wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t talk about the technical aspects that were overlooked by the Academy. Legion should’ve easily captured Outstanding Cinematography, Outstanding Production Design, and Outstanding Visual Effects among others. It was snubbed there as well.
The cinematography is brilliant in Legion. Every shot is used to keep the viewers on their toes and questioning every little detail that this world provides us with. This goes hand in hand with production design. Boy, the design of this show is beautiful.
Michael Wylie has given us a world that is peppered with sixties influences, the macabre, and modern day things we are familiar with. All of it, however, is so seamlessly weaved together that he’s created something very colorfully unique and different. It deserved recognition.
Last, but certainly not least, the visual effects of Legion were spot on. They were mostly practical which is something that hardly ever happens any more.
Below is a little featurette that explains the process behind the special effects in the first episode. It shows just how much of it was practical and how much was CGI.
In conclusion, Hollywood, particularly television, has a genre problem.
Freshman drama Legion is just that, a drama. Not only that, it’s an expertly weaved drama that should never have been snubbed.
Had it not been billed a “comic book drama” and had it been promoted a little bit better, I have no doubt that it would’ve been nominated for what it deserved to be nominated for.
Hopefully, future seasons of the show will prove that comic book dramas are no different than The Americans, Homelands, or, yes, even Game of Thrones and Westworld.
Let’s hope that FX continues to take chances on it and allows its cast and crew to continue taking risks and being different.