Misfits season 1: it's been dubbed "Skins meets Heroes"... but is it?
Feb 15, 2010
While US television might be able to provide international viewers with big budget, flashy genry series like Lost, Heroes, Flashforward, True Blood and the like, some impressive genre television has been emerging from the UK the past few years.
While Doctor Who and its spin-off Torchwood have provided plenty of viewing pleasure, the poster boy for a more modest strand of new UK genre TV is the magnificent Being Human. With Misfits coming a close second. To date (early 2010), there's only been one season of Misfits, and even that consisted of only six episodes. But it a worthy contender for a healthy run.
The premise is simple - five young offenders doing mandatory community service are caught in a weird storm. So is their probation officer. When they awake, they begin to realise they've all been changed. Yep, they've all acquired supernatural powers. Or sort of. As Misfits doesn't go the straight superhero route and have them donning tights and capes to fight crime. They're a bunch of delinquents; they're more interested in moaning, joking, bitching, slacking and hanging out (oh, and swearing - it's quite a sweary show, so look away if you're offended by ripe language). As the hilarious, irritating, load-mouthed Nathan (Robert Sheehan) speechifies in the final episodes, they're young and he plans to milk the hedonistic irresponsibility until he's at least 30. Plus, well, their "powers" aren't exactly useful. Indeed, where Peter Parker struggled with great power and great responsibility, these guys all have awkward powers.
Like Being Human - which arguably has a slightly older demographic, but good drama is good drama right? - it has a dark streak. Though it's probably more angsty compared to Being Human's melancholy. The closest contemporaneous comparisons are other teen dramas (or comedy dramas) like the acclaimed Skins and the hilarious Inbetweeners, both of which touch on classic John Hughes territory, but with well-observed, British twist. Indeed, international viewers may be a little baffled by some of the cultural references in Misfits... has "chav" become international slang yet? If not, a chav is, well... it's a kinda UK version of "white trash" but not exactly. Urban Dictionary can fill you in a bit more. It's exemplified in the series by Kelly (Lauren Socha), who has a baffling accent, terrible dress-sense and a Croydon facelift (again, I direct you to Urban Dictionary).
The rest of the fivesome so well written by creator Howard Overman are Alisha (Antonia Thomas), who's a babe and knows it; Curtis (Nathan Stewart-Jarrett), a promising athlete who was caught buying drugs; and Simon (Iwan Rheon), who's a quiet Ian Curtis-lookalike. All the powers the kids acquire reflect their personas: Kelly's paranoid people are judging her, and finds she can read minds; Alisha puts me into a sexual frenzy just from her touch; Curtis can control time; and Simon, who's lonely, bullied and frequently ignored, turns invisible - or more precisely becomes completely intangible, as people can't even hear him. As for the cocky Nathan, his power isn't revealed till the end so I won't spoil it.
Of course, over the years X-Men has looked at the travails of adolescence through the metaphor of supernatural abilities, but generally junior X-Men become heroes. Not this lot. Not only are they not interested in altruism, their powers are more bane than boon. Alisha's is appalling - it basically means she can't touch her lover (like X-Men's Rogue), instead turning him, or any other man, into a potential rapist. Curtis, meanwhile, discovers that as much as he tries to use his power to make things right, altering with the timeline always complicates things. The probation officer, meanwhile, has a short temper - and his ensuing "power" is a kind of The Crazis aggression. He tries to kill the kids. They fight back. They have to contend with corpses, and secrets, and guilt.
Overman packs the first, short season with heaps of great ideas. There's a single mum whose baby has been given a power - to telepathically snare itself a dad. There's a decent young girl who acquires the ability to control minds, influence personalities - so she sets about creating a "Virtue" movement. But as she's basically making everyone into drab, Body Snatchers-type zombies, she's more villain that hero.
Calling Misfits Skins meets Heroes, or "Heroes with ASBOs" (anti-social behaviour orders) might be a good soundbite, but it's a show that's got such a distinctive voice, thanks to Overman and the two directors Tom Green and Tom Harper, so it deserves recognition in its own right.
Oh - part of what makes the show distinct is its excellent choice of locations. The main exterior location is in Thamesmead, a weird 1960s development in southeast London that sharp-eyed viewers may recognise as a key location in Stanley Kubrick's own notorious drama about delinquent teens: A Clockwork Orange.