There’s something to be said for average folks discovering their special abilities, especially when they’re entirely uncertain of where the powers came from, why they’ve been awarded them, and even how they work. Back in the 1980’s, THE GREATEST AMERICAN HERO made great mileage out of aliens giving Ralph Hinkley (or Hanley, after history tarnished that name) a suit that endowed him with superhuman abilities; the running joke for the program was that Ralph lost the instruction booklet, so he had to find out what he could do all on his own. More recently, NBC’s popular HEROES launched strong (and faded fast), telling the story of a group of ‘everymen’ using their unique powers to make their respective worlds better places for all involved. When it stuck to character, HEROES soared, but, as the show progressed, it grew more dependent on criss-crossing storylines, elevating the absurd at the sacrifice of quality narratives. Not wanting to get lost in the shuffle, the BBC had Howard Overman create MISFITS, and an all-new group of champions was born … but, this time, the kids kept their baggage.
Emotional baggage, that is.
The group of misfits – each one in trouble with the law – are serving out their community service at a slightly run down center in London when a freak lightning storm produces a “white event” that gives each of them his or her own superpower. Kelly (played by Lauren Socha) can read minds. Simon (Iwan Rheon) can turn invisible. Alisha (Antonia Thomas) can make men desire her. Curtis (Nathan Stewart-Jarrett) can turn back time. And Nathan (Robert Sheehan)? Well, to be fair (and not spoil the fun), Nathan doesn’t know what he can do until the final moments of the first season, and even he has a hard time believing it! Curiously, all of their respective powers seem to be tied to personalities – be it a strength or a weakness – and that’s the greatest charm of the series.
This first season has some great stories – the only anchor to the piece is the fact that, due to circumstances beyond their control, the kids had to murder their parole officer (relax, people, it was self defense!) – that provide ample opportunity for each of the regulars to contribute something to the program. Whether they’re exploring the upside or downside to these abilities, the crew begrudgingly discover that there’s strength in numbers, and the overwhelming moral here is that, together, they can do far more good than they appear to be able to accomplish individually.
And I’d be seriously remiss if I didn’t underscore how well cast the show is. MISFITS works – excels, in fact – because of the strength of the young stars. Socha is a delight as the bitchy skank who wants to know what everyone’s thinking. Thomas exudes sexuality in everything she does, so it would only stand to reason that she’d be endowed with the gift to make men desire her. Rheon’s Simon has constantly been struggling to fit in, so he uses his invisibility in ways to better understand those around him. But the two strongest centerpieces to MISFITS has to be Stewart-Jarrett’s Curtis – a former Olympic prospect with the newfound conviction to only do what’s right – and Sheehan’s Nathan – a duplicitous conniver fast with an excuse to cheat life (and death!). Each of these young talents embodies their character, and MISFITS finds solid footing right out of the box.
As the series progresses, the audience discovers that the central cast are not the only characters given powers as a result of the storm. Indeed, each episode explores yet some other way that Mother Nature has placed an adversary before them, and, together, the misfits best yet another foe. What’s impressed is that not every adversary is necessarily an enemy; however, surmounting the obstacle will always teach one of the crew some important lesson, whether it be about respecting others or maybe something as simple as listening to your gut instinct.
Out of the six episodes available here, there are five winners. The serie’s finale – an episode that deals with a new threat of collective brainwashing to mankind – honestly felt a bit out of place, a bit less than what was capable. I don’t know if production was rushed or what, but it didn’t feel nearly as strong as the previous five installments. Plus, it ends on just an off note for a program – sure, it underscores Nathan’s central problem as a character (his cynicism) – but I just didn’t feel it was all that satisfying as what came before. That’s a small gripe, though, as the story clearly gives Sheehan the best chance to showcase his comic chops. Like his partners, he’s a stellar find for the program, and he’ll undoubtedly have a great future in entertainment.
MISFITS: SEASON ONE is a production of Clerkenwell Films. DVD distribution is being handled (stateside) through BBC America. The discs look and sound terrific. The collections boasts a handful of special features, including a making-of short, some brief cast & crew interviews, and an assortment of Simon’s films (one of the show’s characters insists on videotaping everything). It’s an impressive package, maybe not as complete as I would’ve wanted, but, given this is its first release, one can hold out hold that there will be more in future outings.
HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. MISFITS: SEASON ONE is a bit of a delight. It’s equal parts coming-of-age stories, superhero comedy, teen angst drama, and character comedy. For better or worse, these ‘misfits’ are thrown together out of curious circumstance, and they learn that, together, they’re stronger than they are individually. Don’t look for a lot of special effects, though, as the bulk of these abilities rely on narrative trickery and less on flash, pop, and sizzle. There’s plenty of smart dialogue, all wrapped up in a central story premise that reminds viewers just because you have a special power doesn’t make you any more ‘special’ than the next person.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the good people at BBC America provided me with a DVD screener copy of MISFITS: SEASON ONE for the expressed purposes of completing this review.