Sunday, 7 May 2006

Mutant X

I saw the second season of this sci-fi TV action series (about plain-clothes superheroes) on ADV Films’ region 1 NTSC DVD boxset. There are 22 episodes sprawled over five double-sided discs. Flip-discs are horrid things, but at least this complete-season package works out a lot cheaper than the five separate DVD volumes on region 2 from Contender (which costs, roughly, up to four times more, per season!), even allowing for import taxes.

Produced by Tribune, Fireworks and Marvel, on a rather modest budget, Mutant X (2001-4) struggles hard to make the grade at times, even as a run-of-the-mill adventure series. With hackneyed plotlines - occasionally borrowing elements and themes from more popular genre movies (X-Men, obviously) and TV programmes (Angel, The X-Files, Alias, and Sliders in particular), the show lacks sufficient impact to distinguish it from a host of skiffy-action rivals, past and present.

Although this second batch of episodes for the super-team of four mutant-powered heroes is more enjoyable, overall, than season one, Mutant X nonetheless suffers from much the same overly serious tone as before. The regular characters (especially John Shea as that reckless scientist turned pompous do-gooder, Adam Kane) are frequently stuck with melodramatic dialogues, which often diffuse any credibility the show might aspire to, undermines its ‘thriller’ aspects, and reduces what could have been an engrossing drama to grimly humourless drivel. Usually, I think ‘bad’ sci-fi TV is definitely better than no SF television at all but, then again, the sheer barmy, offbeat cheesiness of Mutant X typically works against its success.

What the show has going for it, of course, is a few moments of unassuming fun. As when the main cast are all on good form, the guest star isn’t such an intrusive bore, a scriptwriter manages to sneak in one or more intriguing narrative developments, and the episode’s director simply makes everything fit together perfectly, if only for a moment. Time-travel, a werewolf, stolen weaponry, a body-swapping ghost, a corrupt prison warden, a pyromaniac, a humanoid dinosaur, mad psychic brainwashing, an isolated town of paranoids, lobotomised soldiers, and numerous seemingly-evil mutants (‘power’-of-the-week very soon becomes a tiresome cliché in Mutant X), are just a few of the throwaway basics visited for this bunch of stories.

Despite the presence of stalwart Shea (who played Lex Luthor in Lois & Clark: New Adventures Of Superman), and Victoria Pratt (Xena, Cleopatra 2525) as cat-woman Shalimar, the best performer in Mutant X is certainly Lauren Lee Smith, as psychic-babe Emma, so it’s rather disappointing that she quit the show after this season’s cliffhanger finale.

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