The vast universe of Marvel’s X-Men is about to spread to television thanks to two shows that are currently in development: Legion and Hellfire. These programs feel incredibly fresh since the X-Men haven’t had a strong presence on television in a while – the last animated series was Wolverine and the X-Men back in 2009.
But, the legacy of the X-Men’s small screen adventures could have been a much different story. Two other filmed pilots could have given us X-Men shows that would have shaped an entire generation.
Kids of a certain era (myself included) were introduced to the X-Men via the 1992 animated series that ran on Fox Kids. However, there was another X-Men cartoon that was planned only three years prior. A pilot was produced by Toei Animation, one of Japan’s most dominant animation houses responsible for such shows as The Transformers, G.I. Joe, and Dragon Ball Z. Simply called X-Men — though commonly called Pryde of the X-Men since that was the title of the only produced episode — the show falls in line with a lot of action/sci-fi cartoons of the ‘80s. The story is influenced primarily by issues #129-139 of The Uncanny X-Men which introduced fan-favorite character Kitty Pryde.
For a first episode, Pryde of the X-Men delivers on sheer scale and fun. We get some goofy Stan Lee narration, the cast of characters is enormous, and the majority of the episode is about showing off all of the mutants’ varied powers. There’s some oddball choices made (a misinterpretation of the script and a comic storyline that was eventually not followed led to Wolverine having an Australian accent) and the show is a little too campy for those fans who enjoy the social commentary that the X-Men stories are known for, but it’s a light bit of comic book fun that’s worth checking out. It would also serve as the basis for the immensely popular arcade fighting game released in 1992.
The X-Men universe wouldn’t get to see a live-action interpretation until 1996. Yes, there was a live-action attempt at Marvel’s mutants before the landmark Bryan Singer film in 2000. A pilot was ordered based on the comic series Generation X, a book that featured a younger team of mutants that reflected the more cynical and rebellious nature of its titular audience. Directed by Jack Sholder (A Nightmare on Elm Street 2 and the cult gem The Hidden), Generation X features Emma Frost and Banshee recruiting a bunch of miscreant teens — including Jubilee — in order to hone their abilities and fight crime. Yes, it’s pretty much the same setup as the X-Men but with smart-mouthed ‘90s kids.
The pilot (released as a TV movie) is pretty bad. The team of kids are mostly annoying and overly quippy, and way too much time is spent on their playful dislike of each other that eventually grows into genuine trust and camaraderie. There are some bright spots in the show; character actor Matt Frewer is the villain of the piece and his performance is like ‘90s Jim Carrey on a sugar rush. It’s also a little peculiar that Frewer’s character, Dr. Russel Tresh, is playing around with subliminal messages and brainwaves much like Carrey’s Riddler did a year earlier in Batman Forever. Tresh also introduces the wacky idea of the dream dimension, a concept that doesn’t often get a lot of play in Marvel adaptations and is pretty neat to see. There’s also a climactic moment where the mutant Skin uses his pliable powers to ensnare Tresh, and for a TV show pilot the effects aren’t terrible.
Generation X was made with the intention of running against another X-titled show, The X-Files, but the response to the pilot nixed such an idea. Fans were also displeased with Jubilee being portrayed as caucasian instead of Chinese American. It didn’t help that the show was garishly photographed and poorly acted (except on Frewer’s part, though is overacting is an acquired taste). Dumped as a TV event movie that garnered poor ratings and even poorer reviews, Generation X doomed another stab at bring Marvel’s mutants to the small screen.
Both shows are worth watching for curiosity’s sake (they’re easy enough to get a hold of online), but Pryde of the X-Men is much more enjoyable and shorter. In the long-run though, if it weren’t for Generation X, we may not have the treasure trove of X-Men related films and shows we have today.