“You call me ‘chav’ one more time I’ll kick you so hard in the cunt your mum’ll feel it” – Kelly, Misfits, Episode One.
So I went out tonight to the Channel 4 building in London to see a bloggers screening of the new comedy/drama/superheroics series Misfits. I was expecting some kind of Skins meets Heroes affair. Something silly, possibly camp, low budget, reeking of desperation and a bit rubbish.
This is so not Skins meets Heroes. It’s Trainspotting meets X-Men. Something very British, very grounded, and the empowering of a disenfranchised underclass. Five young people on anti-social community service orders are hit by lightning in a freak weather storm and develop remarkable and very personal powers. Then end up wearing orange jumpsuits.
And it’s bloody great.
A world away from Westchester Shool for Gifted Mutants and their yellow and black costumes, yet bearing certain similarities, themes and concepts, juxtaposed with a background of poverty, crime, and low self-expectations. And the creator and writer, Howard Overman (even his name sounds like a superhero) has only read three or so comic books in his life.
Misfits has been a long time coming. Originally pitched before Heroes went to air, Howard Overman has a history in a number of genre shows such as Spooks, Merlin and Demons with differing levels of success. But this is a real breakout, something new and fresh on British television and it’s outperformed my expectations on every level.
This is a drama about an abandoned underclass, with their fears, their hopes and their dreams turned from subtext into text, exaggerated into superpowers. So we have a introvert turned invisible man, a man with regrets able to turn back time, one concerned with how everyone sees her able to read thoughts, a hyper-sexualised extrovert giving out orgasms at a touch and an overconfident spiv with…. nothing. So far. Oh and their community officer is seriously on their case.
Like Dead Set before it, Misfits is funny, scary, full of emotion and character and a witty line in banter that would drop Joss Whedon from a hundred paces. But it’s a much more layered experience. And certainly this has the potential to be another Buffy. A novel twist on an old genre that brings in a new audience, matched with very smart writing, dialogue and character conflict. And plenty of excellent creative swearing, that may well give The Thick Of It a run for its money.
In fact Howard Overman cops to cribbing the line that opens this review from a teenager he heard talking to a friend eight years ago and has waited that long to find somewhere to use it. Well it wasn’t going to be in Merlin was it? Oh, and applause for “I’m so hard for you, I want to rip off your clothes and piss on your tits” which is followed by a marvellous riposte.
And heads up for the production guys here – this drama was made on a small budget, hence the limited use and appearance of superheroics – no one can fly or burst into flames. But by using the strobing non-blur filming technique popularised by Saving Private Ryan and 28 Days Later this gives the action scenes a real sense of urgency and conviction, and both the hailing and the lightning scenes look far more convincing and stylish than anything they’ve ever tried on Heroes. It looks glossy, it looks solid, it looks the business.
So. Who do we have?
Kelly is a chav. A ned. A redneck. Poor of background, financially and culturally, she defines herself with certain bling, and aggressive attitude and a Croydon facelift, hair pulled back so tight it takes the bags under the eyes with it. As a telepath, she thinks she’s hallucinating, still tripping on something as she can hear her fellow Misfits, boyfriend, even her dog’s thoughts. A remarkable and original twist on the gift. And so it takes her a long time to put things together. No nosebleeds, no head full of everyone speaking, external thoughts come rarely, but when they do come, she can’t help but acting as if they were spoken to her. Hence fight scenes.
Alisha is an empowered young lady not afraid to use her body and sexuality to impress, tease and entertain, Basically, she’s a slut. Sorry, but she is. And her power to make any man attracted to her to the point of rape scares her silly, confronting her about the dangers in the world and her effect on those around her in a way she’s clearly never cared about before.
There’s a sensational juxtaposition of Alisha blowing her water bottle for the entertainment of the other male cast, while Kelly is being pursued by one trying to kill her. The back and forth contrasts the world that was with the world that is to come.
Curtis the failed sports star done for drugs possession has had the farthest to fall. And with an ability to turn back time, but not far enough, his frustrations can only continue. His life experience probably makes him the most sane and mature of the lot of them. But then that’s not saying too much.
It’s also worth pointing out that Overman tells us there are many more superpowered indivuals to come, but many with very poor powers that reflect their emotional state when the lightning hit. However he rejects the labels of hero and villain here, seeing only people and their very human desires, albeit exaggerated ones.
Simon, Mr Invisible, the shy awkward nerd with a history of arson and some strange fetishes that come to the fore when Alisha touches him. He’s clearly scared that he’s mad, and the teasing of the group only convinced him further. This is a far more realistic reaction to receiving superpowers than is usually granted to them. The most unknown of the group, the second episode sees the inevitable locker room scene, but on the form of the first episode, it’s most likely to go off at a very different angle.
As for that lightning, Overman says he’s not interested in the mythology of the powers. This is not a Lost or a Flash Forward, the origin of the mysterious heavy hail storm cloud won’t be looked into, and there are no plans in the second season currently being put together if the show gets recommissioned. Instead he’s going for a Groundhog Day solution, y0u don’t explain, you just accept, and get on with the good stuff.
Nathan, the man without powers but with a mouth to make up for it. Reminiscent of Dexter Fletcher’s Spike Thompson in Press Gang, we get to see more of his scared, lonely side, that hides behind a brash exterior, a family who have rejected him and friends who abandon him, never affecting his exterior of cool cohesion. Sexually confident, and probably with every right to be.
And they all gel together through common experience, even if their personalities drive them away. This is your ultimate dysfunctional superhero team, hell, they have no idea if they even want to be superheroes. There are so many other options out there.
And so here we are, those unsocial criminals with an uncertain future. Britain loves its heroes to be bad guys, from Robin Hood to Dick Turpin to Guy Fawkes. Nothing’s really changed. Aside from the marketing.
During the airing of the show, Kelly will Twitter her comments in line with the broadcast. Simon will also be twittering around the show. And one character not seen until a much later episode will start twittering from the beginning. Oh and there’s a comic book to be used for sampling which basically summarises the first issue. And online games, character profiles, all sorts of things to keep the conversations going. But based on that first episode? I don’t think they’ll need much help.
Misfits airs on 12th November on E4.
I managed to grab a Misfits comic, episode one DVD and orange jump suit T-shirt on the way out of the preview showing tonight. The set to the person who can give their personal best sweary line of all time. Post on the thread below. Alisha, can you say goodbye to the nice ladies and gentlemen?
Thank you, Alisha.
And from the second episode… it’s No Heroics‘ The Hotness! Crossover already? No, sadly not…