The Underrated: Misfits

Own up- who actually watched this when it was on? I didn’t, and still wouldn’t have if I hadn’t accidentally blundered into a repeat of it the other night, but am I ever glad I did. Misfits is one of the most amusing new series that I’ve seen in a long time, a raucous referential take on comic books and the problems of having powers.

Basically, Misfits ran over 6 episodes and this is the gist of it. 5 scrotes on Community Service for various petty crimes (smart-arsed prick Nathan, uber-chav Kelly, slutty Alisha, introverted and bullied Simon and star athlete who’s fucked things badly Curtis) are struck  by lightning and notice that something funny has happened to them. It isn’t just them, however, their Probation worker (amongst others who are noticing effects of the storm) has also been transformed into a raging maniac. While fending him off they happen to kill him, and the series deals with them coming to terms with their powers, and the consequences of the murder.

So far so humdrum, this could be any origin story made for TV or film of the last 10 over-saturated years. However what Misfits really is, is a superbly written and darkly funny comedy-drama. The second episode in particular was 45 minutes of the funniest TV produced by Britain in a hell of a long time. It’s gross, irreverent, cheeky, and downright side-splitting on occasion. I don’t want to go into it for fear of spoiling it, because it really has to be seen to be believed, but take my word for it, I was howling with laughter. 

The writing by Howard Overman, particularly the dialogue he gives to Nathan, is simply superb. Take, for example, when Nathan smashes Sally’s (their new Probation worker) windscreen. She’s somewhat irate (and believe it or not, he has got a legitimate reason for smashing it) and screams at him “are you fucking retarded?” to which he replies, brilliantly, “No, if I was mentally deficient, I’d have missed.” Or alternatively his big final speech “We’ve fucked up more than any generation in history, and I intend to keep fucking up until my late twenties, maybe even early thirties”. This isn’t as funny out of context, but when you see it (and he’s trying to foil the Supervillain of the series in his own inimitably inept fashion) you’ll laugh out loud.

It isn’t just the dialogue that’s superb- the powers are also extremely well thought out, with each being an enhancement of abilities that the characters already had. Simon, for example, feels invisible and is endlessly bullied so his power is actual invisibility. With the possible exception of Simon, all the actual powers are almost completely useless- and the fun of the series is watching them coming to terms with their abilities. Aside from Nathan, actually, who is convinced he must have a power (despite all appearances to the contrary) so hilariously keeps trying to find out what it is- the jedi mind sequence in particular is sheer genius. The empowered minor characters in the series have equally crappy powers (one of them has the power of Alopecia), but each power usually has comic consequences- the exception being the villain in the finale.

All this would be for nought, however, were the acting not up to scratch- and it’s good. Robert Sheehan is fucking superb as Nathan, Iwan Rheon is chilling and kind of pathetic as Simon, Newton Stewart-Jarret (also seen in Money) is smooth and assured as Curtis. The two main female characters Lauren Socha and Antonia Thomas are also first rate- watching the latter, in particular, simulating oral sex on a bottle (demonstrating why she was arrested) is positively boner inducing stuff.

It is also, as I briefly mentioned, superbly referential. Curtis quotes Spiderman (by accident, because Nathan set him up), there’s a bowling scene straight out of the Big Lebowski, the body in the Freezer is straight from Rabid and so forth. It’s great fun spotting these references and there are so many of them that it must have been deliberate.

I’m going to be unfair now and compare it to Heroes. Misfits, without any qualification at all, pisses all over the bloated American mess. The characters are believable and don’t act stupidly to drive the narrative, the writing is tight- being on occasion tense as well as highly amusing, the acting is so far superior to Heroes it isn’t even funny, but the big difference is that Misfits understands that for an Origin to work successfully the scope has to be small. Heroes attempted this ludicrous global apocalypse story (in the fucking first series) and played with big themes such as causality (Misfits handles causality far better) and botched both storylines. Misfits keeps the story small- it’s about the murder and even when introducing a major villain (this is brilliantly subversive- Mrs. Jarv kept commenting that perhaps the world would be a better place if the villain was successful)kept the storyline personal as opposed to global.

Overall, I have to say that I haven’t enjoyed a “new” British series as much as Misfits in a long time. It’s worth tracking down and when the new series starts in November it is going to be required watching at Casa del Jarv. Sometimes British telly can do things well- more of this please, Channel 4, and less buying any old American pish like How I Met Your Mother.

Until next time,

Jarv

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About Jarv

Workshy cynic, given to posting reams of nonsense on the internet and watching films that have inexplicably got a piss poor reputation.

18 responses to “The Underrated: Misfits”

  1. redfishybluefishy says :

    Yeah, I watched this when it first ran (long live the internet). I enjoyed it a lot, and I thought it did one thing a little differently than most… it really explored the utter uselessness of most ‘super powers’.

    That, combined with snappy and entertaining dialogue and a great cast made it good fun to watch. And you hit it right on the mark, it blossoms while keeping its world small. WAY better than Heroes and much more fun than Being Human (although I enjoy that one, as well).

    Nathan is a treat. I think him and Kelly are my faves, although they are an entertaining group as a whole.

  2. Droid says :

    Never heard of it (as I don’t really watch normal tv, especially since my brief half-hearted effort of trying to syphon through the utter garbage of godawful soaps and reality shows that is UK TV) but sounds decent.

    Also, I really enjoyed season one of Heroes. It was a well constructed single series show. They spoiled it by doing more than one series. And you can’t really compare a six episode season to one that goes for 22 episodes. If Heroes was only about a single murder and lasted for 22 episodes it wouldn’t have worked.

    • Jarv says :

      I did say it wasn’t a fair comparison, but I lost interest in Heroes half way through that series. I perservered until the end (which was hugely anticlimactic).

      The problem I had is that it isn’t actually on that much of a larger scale than Misfits- there was an awful lot of filler then, and I hate baby Balboa.

      It was just so overly earnest.

  3. Tom_Bando says :

    Ha this actually looks fun.

    • Jarv says :

      It’s great fun. There’s a hilarious bit where Simon tries to demonstrate his invisibility, so Nathan stands in front of him and says “where is he, he’s disappeared” then out of the blue bounces a coke can of simon’s head.

      Seriously though- episode 2: Funniest fucking thing I’ve seen in ages.

  4. Jarv says :

    Oh, and the boob count is fucking huge in episode 2. You may not like what you see though.

  5. Continentalop says :

    This sounds like how X-Men First Class should almost be done.

    • Continentalop says :

      Although this show completely fucks up my idea of a group of internet film aficionados getting powers by all watching Anthropophagus simultaneously and banding together to stop Don Murphy.

  6. redfishybluefishy says :

    “Overly earnest” truer words were never spoken about Heroes. And, yes, I watched most of that too up until it’s abysmal end.

    I think that’s what’s so funny about Misfits. They are such a fucked up and pathetic bunch it’s almost painful sometimes. And they are not tragic or noble flaws, just mainly young and stupid ones. They’re not trying to save the world; saving their asses is more than enough work.

    Episode 2 is the one where Nathan meets the cute gal, I suspect? oh, yes, that was pretty priceless.

    I’m curious to see where they go with series 2.

  7. ThereWolf says :

    Sounds good.

    Sadly, I’ll probably never see it – I’d have to switch the telly on to do that. Trying to find a sliver of gold amongst 24 hours of drivel is soul destroying.

    I made it through season 1 of Heroes (only coz I was talked into it – “If you don’t watch anything else, watch this, you’ll be surprised…”). One or two episodes threatened to be good but by the end I wanted it over and done. Then to see the last episode set up another series… No way, I thought, not wading through more of that claptrap.

  8. spud mcspud says :

    Hmmmm…. Not often I disagree with the Jarv – BUT…

    Mrs Spud-To-Be loves the hell out of this. I thought it was merely okay – yes, Nathan gets all the funniest lines, but he’s such a fucking annoying prick I just wanted something bad to happen to him! And no, what happens in one of the early eps doesn’t hit him as hard as the writer clearly wanted it to – Nathan’s back to being a lovable fuck-up by the next ep. Simon is trying so hard to be the shy invisible guy, he goes from being realistic to being a cypher – he has no character bar acting EXTREMELY creepily and being shy. Lauren Socha plays a Derby chav, which is sublime acting given that she’s (a) from Derby and (b) recently admitted in an SFX interview that “four pints of Stella and a kebab is an ideal night out for me”. Yes, I’m being ironic. It’s not even acting if you’re a Derby chav playing a Derby chav!!!

    Alisha and Curtis actually bring some pathos and some characterisation to these by-the-rote characters, and yes, Alisha is very cute. These two actually have a story I’d like to follow. But my main problem with MISFITS is this – at the end of the 6 episodes, they’re still the bunch of selfish fuck-ups they were at the beginning – obviously the writer doesn’t think so, but the way the series has been produced, the performances aren’t selling the writing. We’re supposed to believe that Nathan has a major shift in how he sees women based on an early episode – yet he’s still the motormouth twat tormenting Kelly in the next episode. The only one who wants to do something altruistic with these powers is Simon, who’s such a one-note character to begin with he makes Tobey Maguire’s Spiderman look like de Niro in TAXI DRIVER.

    And the angry SFX used on the case worker in episode 1?? I just like to think of them as a sly nod to DEAD SET – as if MISFITS takes place at the beginning of the zombie apocalypse. Seriously underwhelming way to denote anger…

    To make a long story short (TOO LATE!) – Long, self-absorbed, poorly characterised cliche-ridden “yoof” television masquerading as an innovative look at the way young offenders would deal with superpowers. What’s the point in watching six hours of drama at the end of which we learn that if you give five selfish and stupid scrotes superpowers, at the end of those six episodes the characters remain five selfish and stupid scrotes with superpowers?? Hardly a profound look at how extraordinary circumstances would affect ordinary people. Yes, it’s sporadically funny – in episode 2, SCREAMINGLY funny, I found myself several times doubled up in pain laughing so much – but in the end? As empty and pointless as HEROES.

    Maybe it’s just that I’d like to think at least ONE of these arseholes would want to do something good with these powers. And as for Nathan? looks like my wish for that major character to be wiped from the face of the earth ain’t gonna be granted any time soon…

    Sorry, Jarv. Great review, as always – but I really thought this was shit. Half arsed characterisation, cliched situations, sitting alongside occasionally hilarious dialogue and at least one truly hysterical episode (ep 2). But at least Mrs Spud-To-Be agrees with you whole-heartedly…

    • Jarv says :

      A woman of taste, clearly.

      Also Spud, it isn’t true to say that none of them tried to do good- Nathan doesn’t know what his power is, Alisha’s power is useless, Simon and Kelly should have done something admittedly, but they’ve both got enough problems.

      Curtis on the other hand, did turn back time multiple times to get the optimal result for all concerned.

      There are two other problems with your argument. The first is that each episode is structured round one character. I, personally, think they got the order wrong. Episode 2 should be episode 5, as Episode 6 is about the Villain. The difference between Nathan in episode one and episode 6 is huge- he’s still a prick, but there’s clear character growth: he fights hard to try to “save” Kelly. Having said that, though, the structure of the episodes don’t allow him to show that his attitude towards women has shifted- in Curtis’ episode it’s all set pre-episode 2, so he comes across as a complete cock-end (which he is). Don’t forget also that he takes the fall for the whole group in Simon’s episode.

      Simon, on the other hand, is more problematic than Nathan. He’s fucked up, and the probation worker was clearly fucking him up more, but he just comes across as sad and pathetic. He also comes across as a borderline rapist (and I’m certain that was unintentional).

      Kelly also does use her powers for good- the baby. It’s only 6 40 minute episodes long, and in that time, I think they did a great job of the origin of the characters. The last episode was brilliantly done.

      The SFX (particularly on the probation worker who I thought was 28 Days Later) is shit- but it had no budget and was on British TV.

      All in all- a pity it was missed by so many as it’s so far superior than anything else Channel 4 have done in years (including Dead Set), and I give them to the end of series two to learn from their mistakes here.

      • spud mcspud says :

        I’m glad you cleared up the episodes feeling like they were in the wrong order – it does ruin the flow of Nathan’s arc, such as it is. I do think the Curtis and Alisha story could actually develop, but while I agree Simon’s story is desperately sad, until he goes postal or Michael-Myers doolally on someone, we’re just going to be stuck with a creepy dude staring at people. But awesome ending for episode 6 aside, I’m really hoping they do SOMETHING with Nathan’s character in series 2. S1 feels (to me)e writer is so impressed with the fact his series has been made that he’s concentrating on the clever-clever dialogue – particularly with Nathan – and has taken his eye off the narrative arc ball, so to speak.

        Clearly, I need to give this a proper watch again – I didn’t actually realise there WAS a villain (I tended to catch the last half of the episode as I got back from work, and didn’t pay huge amounts of attention (apart from episode 2, which I had to watch On Demand because it was that fucking funny). It is good to see Channel 4 finally taking some REAL risks though – at times, this feels like the show SKINS wants to be but isn’t quite yet…

  9. spud mcspud says :

    I should clarify – I don’t actually think Lauren Socha’s playing a chav from Derby as such (I don’t think the series clarifies where Kelly is from, though that’s unmistakeably a Derby working-class chav accent, but I think they’re all meant to be in Bristol??) but that character is unmistakeably a Derby chav. Played by a Derby chav. In other words, the exact opposite of ACTING.

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