In the past several weeks, I’ve been talking about British science fiction television programs I enjoy. Just for the sake of reiteration, I don’t claim these to be the BEST series ever made, nor the ONLY good series ever made; simply shows and people I like and would recommend to people. Kay? So far, I’ve done The Prisoner, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Sapphire & Steel, the work of Gerry Anderson (including shows like Thunderbirds and UFO and Space: 1999), Life on Mars, and Ashes to Ashes. This will be the final one of these for a while, just so’s you know. I’m sure I’ll come back and do more at some point. Though they won’t be branded “Summer” anymore, of course.
This week, I’m going to look at the most recent show on the list. In fact, it just aired its fifth series finale, and finale of the whole show, in December of 2013. This is a show born out of the enormous upsurge of superhero movies and television shows that sprang up in the mid-to-late 2000s. But, unlike those other programs, this one dealt with the ramifications of what would happen if people who absolutely should NOT have superpowers were in fact given superpowers. People who are petty and vulgar and kind of insane and certainly not outwardly heroic, but who have to eventually step up and become the good guys. That’s a lot more interesting, I think. And if it also happens to be incredibly funny, then that’s just a nice added bonus. This show is, of course, Misfits.
Created by Howard Overman and originally broadcast on Britain’s E4, the pay-TV offshoot of Channel 4, Misfits told the story, initially, of five young people put on community service at a housing estate’s rec center for various reasons who are suddenly and without warning struck by a freak storm overhead. Each of them then develops a power that seems to be based on their own insecurities and/or failings as people. Oh, and jeepers creepers are they ever fallible. The unfortunate thing is that our main characters aren’t the only ones affected by the storm; an exceedingly high percentage of people on or around the estate are bestowed with powers of their own, often (let’s be honest, always) leading to life-or-death situations. Lots of death.
The five initial characters came from completely different walks of life and wouldn’t be around each other at all if it weren’t court-mandated. They didn’t (and often continue not to) like each other very much but forge a kind of weird war-bunker friendship with all the crazy shiz going on around them. As the series progressed, characters left or died and new Misfits came in to take their place, each with their own powers and personalities and weirdnesses. By the final series, none of the original characters were left because (spoilers) all but two of them had died.
To begin with, our main people were: Simon (Iwan Rheon, who you might recognize from Game of Thrones), a painfully shy and repressed kid who develops the power to turn invisible; Kelly (Lauren Socha), a bit of a clueless trashy girl who gets the ability to hear people’s (often horribly mean) thoughts; Curtis (Nathan Stewart-Jarrett) the disgraced athletic star who gets the power to turn back time, ostensibly to fix problems; Alisha (Antonia Thomas), a promiscuous girl who is cursed with the power to make anyone who physically touches her turn into snarling sex maniacs with no memory of it; and Nathan (Robert Sheehan), the mouthiest person alive who at first doesn’t seem to have a power at all, but eventually learns (the hard way) that he has the power to come back to life. Like a perverted Irish Solomon Grundy he is.
In the pilot, after the storm, their probation worker, Tony, is also affected by the storm and becomes a murderous rage monster. I guess having to deal with shitty young offenders every day will do that to you. After initially killing everyone, Curtis is able to roll back time and convince the others of the oncoming threat and they eventually work together to kill him. Except, now they’ve just killed a person and have to bury him under a bridge. Things immediately get tense when their new probation worker Sally (Alex Reid) turns out to be Tony’s fiance, and she 100% suspects the kids have something to do with it. Bad news.
This begins a rather funny and morbid running joke wherein every one of the probation workers assigned to the kids gets killed, usually horribly, and they are forced then to bury them somewhere. Actually, they end up killing quite a lot of people who aren’t probation workers too, and they also get buried under the bridge. Seriously, if anybody ever decided to put in new pipes under that bridge, they’d find more bodies than Dexter dumped in the water.
That’s rather what I liked about this show; it’s not afraid to just kill people, either for the sake of heart-punching drama, or for the sake of just intensely black humor. Again, the main characters aren’t the best people in the world and they don’t care as much about accidental deaths as perhaps they should. And they certainly don’t want to involve the authorities if they don’t have to, so pretty much they’re the only ones who ever know about any of the murder-death-killing going on, but they also never go to jail for it. So, you know, even trade. And they’re still on probation.
Some of the super-powered foes they have to contend with during the course of the show include a girl who uses mind powers to make people become religiously devout, a guy who can control lactose (yes, really), a guy who believes himself to be the main character in a hyper-violent video game and plays it out on people in real life, a girl who can freeze everything, and even Nazis and zombies and all sorts of craziness. The show really does go anywhere.
As the show progressed, the types of stories being told began to change. A character, Seth (Matthew McNulty), appears at the end of the second series. His power is that he can remove powers from people, hold them in his body, then deal them out again to people who pay for them. He used to be drug dealer, you know. This allowed the characters to change powers, or just not have them anymore, when the plot called for it. He and Kelly eventually have a relationship and when Socha left the show after the third series, McNulty stuck around a bit to clear up plot stuff before Seth leaves to be with Kelly elsewhere.
From Series 3 forward, a character named Rudy Wade (Joe Gilgun) joined the cast and would remain for the rest of the series. Rudy is a crass, kind of dumb, emotionally-stunted goon who eventually becomes the heart of the whole show. His power is a weird one: he has another version of himself, another personality, that is physically released from his body and walks around living his own life, like he’s a twin but not. In Series 5, this Rudy, who calls himself Rudy Two, is a separate character for almost every episode, getting his own girlfriend and attempting to recruit a group of people to become actual superheroes. No matter what else happens in the show (and the writing did tend to get a little less punchy the further we went), Rudy was still the funniest and best character and made it well worth watching.
I could talk about some of the other characters and situations but I should leave something for you to watch. It’s only 37 episodes long, after all. It’s a lot of fun and probably one of the more imaginative (and foul-mouthed) series to come along in a good long while. Well worth the watch. Plus, the theme tune will be stuck in your head forever.