Wednesday, 8 February 2017

MISFITS Season One

After a bit of a break, The Midnight Ramble is back with some more rants about TV.

Misfits is a great example of genre framed through the prism of UK TV. Lacking the budgets and special effects of their American cousins, the emphasis on a limited number of characters in a single location and their conflicts pays dividends that more expansive shows like Heroes could only dream of.

Simon (Iwan Rheon), Nathan (Robert Sheehan), Kelly (Lauren Socha), Alisha (Antonia Thomas) and Curtis (Nathan Stewart-Jarrett) are teen delinquents who have to do community service. On their first day, they get struck by lightening during a freak storm and wake up with powers: Kelly can read minds, Simon can turn invisible, Curtis can see the future, Alisha can bring out a person's baser impulses just by being touched, and Nathan, uh, is super annoying.

On the downside, their probation officer is turned into a psychotic monster by the accident and our gang end up killing him. Forced to hide the body, the group have to stick together and learn how to deal with the effects of the storm on themselves and the people around them.

Robert Sheehan was the breakout star of the first two series, and I can see why. He's crazy and charming and obnoxious and Irish and has those dreamy eyes that makes teen girls swoon and everyone else want to punch him. He's clearly the 'wildcard' of the cast, and Sheehan provides a gonzo energy that leads to some of the series' more surreal moments. I found him a little OTT for the first couple episodes, but eventually he won me over.

The rest of the cast are really good, although character development is somewhat uneven. Kelly and Curtis are the least well-served, and their episodes, while good fun, are a case of interesting bottle concepts rather than catalysts for major character revelations. It's a minor flaw here, but with hindsight it is more glaring. Both characters would get more interesting character moments later on, but in looking back, it comes off a little 'too little too late'.

Episode Two begins with our heroes on sanitation duty. They discover a naked man, who turns out to be Nathan's mum's boyfriend. Our heroes have to spend time with the elderly -- Nathan has a brief tryst with a beautiful woman. It turns out she was affected by the lightning storm and is really an 82 year old woman. At the end we learn that their mysterious tormentor is Sally (Alex Reid), the new probation officer.

Episode Three shifts the focus to Antonia Thomas' party girl Alisha. It is this episode where I started to realise how clever the central conceit is: all of the characters' powers are an extension of their deepest, darkest desires. Alisha's sexual allure is already her power, and the storm has merely augmented it to the most ridiculous extreme. After she forces herself on Curtis, Alisha realises that her power is incredibly isolating. She can never have a genuine intimate connection with anyone.

The other It is revealed that Sally is Simon's online crush. it is great that the show has managed to construct an antagonist who has a genuine, understandable motivation. She is not a villain per se, but she is the perfect example of how creator Howard Overman is able to create a believable antagonist, without superpowers or out-sized motivations. Her arc is an extension of the show's desire to be messy and complicated.

Speaking of messy and complicated...

In Episode Four, Curtis is visited by his former girlfriend. This triggers one of Curtis' recurring time jumps as he travels back to the day he was caught buying cocaine. Finally given a chance to save his Olympic dreams, Curtis repeatedly tries to correct the timeline, However,  this leads to unexpected repercussions. In a nice twist, while he is able to bring the events back into relative order, Overman throws in a curveball (he did not break up with his girlfriend) that brings a new wrinkle to his already weird relationship with Alisha.

Heading into the home stretch, in Episode Five the focus shifts to Simon. After Sally finds her boyfriend's credit card in his locker, events take a turn for the worse. She tries to seduce him so she can find more evidence that the misfits were involved in her boyfriend's death. The episode ends with Simon killing Sally. At the time, it comes off as a brave character choice -- Simon has walked the line between creepy and sympathetic to this point, and the episode finale, with the invisible teen stalking the woman through the darkened community centre, manages to juggle between the two readings without turning him into an outright villain.

Coming so soon (in Netflix time) after that ending, Episode Six comes across as a somewhat incongruous finale, in which Nathan is forced to become a hero, and finally discovers what his superpower is. Guest-starring Downtown Abbey's Jessica Brown-Findlay as a super-persuasive super-moral girl, our heroes have to deal with her zombified cult of devoted conformist followers. Meanwhile, Simon is descending into dementia, as he sends time with Sally's frozen corpse.

Anyway, the episode ends with order restored, the tease of a new mystery and a major character death/resurrection.

All in all, the first season of Misfits is a tight, but rather scrappy introduction to our oddball heroes. Neither realistic nor particularly fantastical, it is a great example of lo-fi genre fare.

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