If you could have a superpower, what would it be? Personally, I can’t decide between invisibility (for purely wholesome reasons, of course) or teleportation, due to my extreme laziness. It’d definitely be something from the A-list, anyway. But the stars of E4’s new comedy-drama, Misfits, have no choice over the powers they get after being hit by lightning while performing community service. The idea of series about teenagers with ASBOs developing superpowers might sound, frankly, terrible but thanks to some great writing, direction and a fantastic cast it looks like being the best new series of 2009.
At the very start of the first episode, we’re introduced to six teenagers putting on their orange jumpsuits as they prepare to do some “community payback”, painting benches to atone for their anti-social behaviour, under the supervision of their scary probation officer. There’s Curtis, the Olympic hopeful who rues the day he was caught with some drugs. Alisha is a spoilt princess with no respect for authority who thinks her looks can get her anywhere. Kelly comes across as a stereotypical chav with a volatile temper, although there’s more to her than that. Simon seems to be a very creepy nerd, but again as the episode goes on you’ll grow to like him. And then there’s Nathan, the loud mouthed smart-ass with a wisecrack for every occasion.
The sixth young offender gets away just in time, before a massive hail storm erupts over the city causing the others to be stuck by lightning. At first, this seems to have no effect on them, but soon they start to find that they’ve developed strange powers. The first to discover this is Kelly, who finds that she can hear the thoughts of people around her, after always being judged for how she looks. Simon, who spends most of his time being ignored, discovers he sometimes literally turns invisible. You probably get the idea, the powers our unlikely heroes reluctantly receive are closely related to their personalities and emotions at the time of the storm. All except for one of them who, to their frustration, doesn’t seem to have any power at all.
The storm has affected their probation officer, though. If he looked grumpy before the lightning struck, wait until you see what kind of mood he’s in after…
A series about people getting superhuman powers doesn’t sound incredibly original after a certain American show, but writer Howard Overman started developing the series long before Heroes hit our screens. Misfits is a very British take on the superhero genre, much in the same way that Shaun of the Dead authentically placed zombies in suburban London. Indeed, there are couple of moments in the first episode which echo the Simon Pegg film, including a character being laughed at for suggesting they are superheroes, just as Shaun banned all use of “the Z word”.
The two young directors, Tom Green and Tom Harper, have created a world which at once seems real but also incredibly stylish, with it’s desaturated colours, shallow depth of field and filmic effect bringing in mind the visual style of last year’s Dead Set. You’ve probably already seen the glossy trailer shown on Channel Four and E4, and for a change the programme itself lives up to the look of the trailer. The cast, too, are terrific, all five of them perfectly suited to their roles.
So, based on the first episode, Misfits is very good indeed. It’s a well-written, well-directed bit of British drama with massive crossover appeal. Comedy fans will love the dialogue and comic performances, with some deliciously profane lines that can only compete with The Thick of It. People who enjoy comic books (sorry, graphic novels) or cult TV series will be interested and won’t be disappointed, although there’s no intention to explore the reason for the storm in future episodes, there’s enough interest around the superpowers (including other people across town who might also have been affected) to satisfy. And people who enjoy E4’s other teen shows like Skins and The Inbetweeners will also enjoy Misfits, the characters are so well written and performed that I could quite happily watch them in a show without any reference to superpowers.
Today young people are among the most feared and maligned people in the country, sometimes for good reason, but often not. To have people at the very bottom of society become heroes is a masterstroke, the themes that could be explored with these characters mean that the possibilities for future episodes are endless.
As with quite a few new shows, there are all sorts of interactive cross-media things to play with online, including some very original ideas. The characters are introduced for the first time in the online game Misfits do a Runner, some of the characters such as Simon and Kelly will be tweeting during the episodes and will have Facebook, YouTube and Flickr accounts. Exclusive scenes will appear on the Misfits website where you’ll be able to collect objects and play games in order to view bonus scenes (when you’re on the site, click “Play” to get started). Perhaps most interestingly of all, a character will be introduced quite early in the interactive experience who won’t appear until the last episode of the series.
If the rest of the series lives up to the excellent first episode, this will undoubtedly become a huge hit for E4 and I’m sure will move across to Channel Four. Easily the best new British show of the year, make sure you watch when it starts on November 12th.
meet the cast
Click the pictures for more info…
Misfits, Thursday 12th November at 10pm, E4