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TV: Misfits

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I’ve been catching up on the comic books and trade paperbacks I bought and the films I saw last year, but I’ve neglected the television shows I watched and liked last year. Talking about Heroes and FlashForward the other day got me thinking that I should mention programmes that deserve a mention. First up, Misfits.

I can imagine that the pitch meeting for Misfits involved the phrase ‘Skins meets Heroes’ at some point, but that description doesn’t do it justice. Yes, it’s about Asbo teenagers who get super powers but the programme (created and written by Howard Overman), which is well written, well produced and extremely funny while having some dark moments, is so good that it becomes its own descriptor, instead of a mash-up concept.

In a community centre in south-east London, some young offenders are reluctantly doing their community service when a strange electrical storm passes overhead and they are hit with lightning. They soon learn that the storm has given them powers, with the exception of mouthy Nathan: Alisha, a very pretty girl who knows it, discovers that her touch causes sexual frenzy in people; Curtis, a once Olympic-hopeful athlete who got caught with cocaine, can turn back time; Simon, a quiet loner who is ignored by people, can become invisible; Kelly, a chav with the Dagenham Facelift hairstyle, can hear people’s thoughts (and her dog’s thoughts, which was hilarious). Their probation worker also gains powers, but it turns him into a strong, crazed killer – he murders a young offender who wasn’t hit by the storm, and tries to kill the rest of them, but they survive and accidentally kill him. Realising that the situation looks bad, they dispose of the bodies and promise to keep it a secret, thus cementing the bond between them.

This is a classic superhero origin story, but done with a subversive approach. The group even have superhero costumes, of a sort, as they are all wearing orange jumpsuits as part when doing their community service. They have a reason to stick together; however, instead of a noble goal, they are hiding a justified manslaughter. Fortunately, they don’t have a super-powered arch-nemesis, but there are other problems: the girlfriend of the probation worker wants to know why he’s disappeared; other people seem to be developing superpowers (did they get them from the storm, or interacting with the misfits?); what is Nathan’s super power, apart from mouthiness?

The programme looks and sounds really good – it’s shot well and has a great soundtrack, and the choice of superpowers means they don’t have to worry about CGI: apart from a bit of speeded-up film for Simon turning invisible, none of the powers requires camera trickery in the way Heroes did. On the issue of powers, the way they reflect aspects of the characters is a really nice touch, further enriching the characters, who might be mistaken for one-dimensional at first (which is perhaps the point – the stereotyping of Asbo teens is something this programme rails against). The powers are hinted at in the excellent animated opening credit sequence – lines emanating from Kelly’s mind, Simon losing his shadow as he walks, Curtis’s shadow runs backwards – which shows the attention to detail in every aspect of the programme.

There are six episodes in the first season – a second series has been commissioned by Channel 4 (although I think it’s only been shown on E4 so far) – with each having an emphasis on one of the characters but still including them all. The episode where Curtis uses his time powers to alter his past, so that his girlfriend doesn’t go to jail for cocaine possession, is a particular stand out, and Nathan is the stand-out character because he gets the best lines of dialogue (Probation worker: “If you’ve got any questions, just ask.” Nathan, instantly: “If a bear and a shark had a fight – who would win?”). There are also moments of darkness and depth in the shows, refusing to ignore all the aspects of life and death and how people interact in society. The characters develop over the course of the six episodes – Kelly softens from her more aggressive early self, Alisha develops a non-physical relationship with Curtis, Simon discovers that these people are his friends, and even Nathan calms down a bit and thinks of other people. And there’s a mystery for the next series: who is the mysterious ‘superhoodie’ on the bike who saves Nathan in the sixth episode?

Another aspect to the show was the new media inclusion – apart from the very good official site, nearly all the main characters have Twitter accounts, Alisha has a Tumblr blog [EDIT: had a Tumblr], and Simon has Facebook [EDIT: had Facebook] and YouTube pages – which is another example of the level of dedication to a great show. Looking forward to the second series.

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