It used to be — back when the easiest superhero joke was to make fun of Adam West's Batman — that everyone fretted over making more realistic superheroes. OK, I say "used to", but we all know that the fear of making something campy has never, ever left most studios' psyches. FX's Legion, however, isn't interested in avoiding capes and camp. It's interested in avoiding violence as the only ending.
Image: Legion, Chris Large/FX
Speaking to Entertainment Weekly, Legion writer and executive producer Noah Hawley (Fargo) talked about the world they have created for this show, including the nebulous setting:
When I wrote the script I assumed it was set in present day and in our world, and I think the network assumed that too. Then when it came time to make it I thought about it more as a fable on some level and I realised I wanted to make something subjective. Which is to say this whole show is not the world, it's David's experience of the world. He's piecing his world together from nostalgia and memory and the world becomes that. I found myself watching A Clockwork Orange and Quadrophenia and a lot of '60s British films. Yet there are elements that are futuristic too. You'll notice there's only one car in the whole first hour, and not many in the whole season, because cars really date something. Costume wise Clockwork had a specific look to it that I wanted to play with. I wanted to create a world that had its own rules, and that was about putting you into David's head and seeing things that are there or aren't there. You wonder: Who is this guy if everything he's thought about himself is wrong?
That's one way of trying to create something timeless. Another is Gotham's "old cars but with mobile phones" aesthetic. I actually think they both work for confusing the senses enough that you give up trying to place something.
Hawley also explained that he had no hard and fast bans on cliched genre tropes. But he did have a story beat he was determined to avoid:
Are there any tropes of the genre you specifically want to avoid? Like, "There will be no capes"?
No, I don't care. There may be capes. There might not be flying capes. There might be like a count or Visigoth with a cape … I did want to be very careful about sending a message that all conflict can only be resolved through battle. There is a sense in a lot of these stories that everything always builds to a big fight. And certainly, if you're doing a story about outsiders and empathy, I didn't want to be drawn into the gravitational pull of that white hat vs black hat. I wanted to find a story that was just as exciting and interesting but doesn't send the message that in the end that "might makes right." That was very much on my mind while making this who. [sic]
I'm sure the people who control the budget at FX are happy. And he is right that there is an assumption that in both movies or television, a giant battle is the pre-destined climax of comic book stories. Legion is trying really hard to succeed while being different than all the other comic book offerings on TV. It looks great, so please let this succeed in being a proof-of-concept for variety.