We all know that “with great power comes great responsibility,” but what if the great power is given to delinquents? It might take a bit longer to get to the responsibility. This is the general idea behind Britain’s Misfits, a show that we at Nerdist really adore. It’s a Hulu exclusive here in the States, meaning we get the new episodes that air in the UK directly to Hulu. Now in its fourth series, Misfits is a raunchy, profane, very dark comedy with a surprising amount of heart and pathos surrounding young offenders who are given powers after a freak lightning storm on their housing estate. They aren’t the only ones to get powers, mind; pretty much everyone seems to have one, which can get pretty hairy.
The show began in 2009, as five young people forced into court-mandated community service are struck by lightning and obtain new abilities. They’re all, shall we say, troubled in some way, and their powers seemed to be a heightening of some aspect of their life. For instance, there was Alisha, the spoiled rich girl who used her sexuality to her advantage, gets the power (curse, really) to make anyone ravenously attracted to her just by touching her skin. Kinda sucks, yeah? Then there’s Curtis, a star athlete who was disgraced by a drug possession charge, whose power is to turn back time, though he can’t really control it. And Nathan, the mouthy, disgusting kid who everybody would like to see dead, is immortal. Over the course of the series, the characters begin to use their powers for good, though it takes quite a long time and results in a lot of death, usually of their probation workers. Seriously, probation workers on this show have about as high a casualty rate as red shirts.
Being ostensibly a superhero show, there’s a fair amount of super villains, who are just as messed-up as the good guys. My favorite is the guy with the ability to manipulate dairy products, which he calls “Lacto-Kenesis.” He’s the first power-haver to come forward, and, as such, becomes quite famous, until our main characters come forward as well. Since they all have way better powers than he does, they steal the spotlight, causing him to seek revenge. How does a guy who can manipulate dairy products get revenge? Why, by clogging people’s arteries after they’ve eaten cheese or had a glass of milk, of course. This power is surprisingly effective for this purpose, though still pretty dumb if you think about it.
One of the more interesting arcs during the first three series is the character Simon, who was the cripplingly shy, friendless outcast who gained the power of invisibility. Some very dark story lines were explored with Simon, especially in the first series, and he seemed to be the most homicidal of the bunch. However, by the third series, he had embraced his quirkiness and become a full-fledged, rooftop-jumping hero guy. It’s this kind of rich character development, coupled with the outrageously dark but hilarious subject matter, that makes the show so endlessly watchable.
Series 3 saw a change in the show in a number of ways. First, it allowed the Misfits to change powers, or remove their powers altogether, through the work of Seth, a character whose power is that he can take and give people’s powers, but can never use them himself. This leads to everybody switching to a different ability to enliven the story lines a bit. It also saw the departure of Robert Sheehan as Nathan, who was more or less the comedic center of the show. He was replaced by Joseph Gilgun as new character Rudy, who is just as crass as Nathan but a lot less mean-spirited about it. His power is that his different personality traits manifest in a different separate physical form. So basically, whenever his conscience should kick in, he splits into two, the second being sort of a simpering wimp.
Now, with the fourth series, a major cast change has left Nathan Stewart-Jarrett, who plays Curtis, as the only remaining original Misfit. “It’s weird. I feel sort of like a grandfather,” said Stewart-Jarrett when we spoke to him last week. “But it’s been really nice to infuse the show with new energy, which is really, really good for the show, or any show, to have that opportunity.”
The show strikes a very fine balance between lighthearted humor and gut-punching drama, which is all fun for the show’s longest-serving actor. “That’s one of the wonderful things; you can have these huge dramatic moments and they can be kind of undercut by comedic bits and that’s been challenging at times, but also very good, and the directors knew how to deal with that, and push that.”
Curtis has had several disparate powers through the show’s running, starting with time travel, followed by being able to switch sexes, like a Dr. Jekyll & Ms. Hyde situation, and finally ending up with the ability to bring people back from the dead, albeit as bloodthirsty cannibals. On getting the new scripts each week, Stewart-Jarrett says, “That’s the most exciting thing. When we first read the scripts we just sort of laugh out loud. A lot. We are shocked at just the level of imagination and also where they push things and go a bit darker. The situations are so extreme.”
And, because we’ve always wondered, we asked what it was like to have half of his role played by a female actress during Series 3: “It was really great for my character. People ask if I got along with [Kahinde Fadipe, the actress who played female Curtis] and, yeah we got on great, but we never got to be in the same scene, obviously. It’s quite complicated and strange watching someone else do something and have it register within the character and not get to play it myself. It’s quite unusual to have a character you have to share with someone else.”
It’s a hard life having superpowers, but it sure is fun watching. Misfits airs in the UK on E4 and in the US exclusively on Hulu, which posts new episodes every Monday. You can also watch series 1-3 on Hulu and the Series 1 DVD box set is available through BBC Home Entertainment.