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Legion wants to focus on the human drama of its characters, not just superheroes

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Can it stand on its own without Marvel’s help?

Chris Large/FX

When Legion showrunner Noah Hawley set out to make a show with Marvel based on a character in the X-Men universe, he didn’t want to just make a superhero show.

Hawley, best known for his work on FX’s Fargo series, told a group of reporters during the Television Critics Association conference today his biggest question was whether or not the show could stand on its own when the supernatural elements were removed. Hawley said Legion needed to focus on David Haller (Dan Stevens) as a character before anything else. Especially, Hawley added, after being categorized as someone different from the rest of society for so long.

“If we remove the genre, is there a compelling show you want to watch there?,” Hawley asked.

Hawley added one of the themes he wanted to explore in-depth was the way Haller saw himself and the way he was seen by those around him. Legion follows Haller, a man who believes he suffers from paranoid schizophrenia, and who later discovers the voices he thought he was hearing may not be auditory hallucinations. As he learns more about his powers and who he really is, his perception of himself changes. It’s that internal drama, Hawley added, that makes Legion different from most other Netflix shows and what he believes will appeal to audiences.

“The underlying thing with the X-Men, as a franchise, is that it’s about a group of people who have been defined one way by society — as outsiders or mentally ill or different in a way that ostracizes them,” Hawley said, as reported by Entertainment Weekly. “So if you have these characters who have all been defined one way by society, then it felt interesting to me to make this show about that transition, to see Dan in the context of believing that he has a mental illness and then to take him someplace where they say, ‘No, you don’t have a mental illness, you have these abilities and we’re going to be able to take you back into your past and what you thought was your illness was you coming into your powers.”

His attitude toward the show was echoed by Jeph Loeb, Marvel’s head of television, who reiterated that Legion wasn’t a traditional superhero show. Loeb said Marvel was interested in telling smart, thoughtful stories and while other series may carry a more traditional superhero tone, Legion didn’t have to. Loeb also wasn’t worried that people would show up to watch Legion and expect it to have a similar feel to what Marvel and Netflix have been producing on other networks like ABC and Netflix.

“For Marvel, we’re just interested in telling really good stories,” Loeb said. “Legion, in particular, redefines the genre in a new way. We don’t know anyone’s going to come to the show because they think it’s going to be ‘like The Defenders.

“We think [of] Noah Hawley and the cast and the writing and FX … have merged together to tell a kind of show that Marvel’s never made before.”

Polygon saw the first episode of Legion back in October at New York Comic Con and said it was a, “biting, fast-paced, unforgettable pilot, and none of these stylistic conventions should surprise fans of Fargo, two seasons deep into the award-winning FX series. But they seem atypical for a superhero show, which Legion nominally is.”

Legion will premiere on Feb. 8 at 10 p.m. ET on FX.