So, I haven’t blogged for a bit because last weekend I started a mahoosive post on cover art, and realised I had issues with one of my previously favourite pieces that I wasn’t sure how to resolve. I am, however, unreserved in my love for Misfits, which has just started its new season, so I say: bring on a whole different post!Most people missed Misfits the first time round because the trailers didn’t make it look fun. I’m not sure how they could have made it look better, which is odd, because it’s masses of fun – probably more fun in one TV show than most other TV shows of 2009 combined – but there’s something about it that doesn’t translate well into a trailer. I have an instinct to say: ‘More Nathan. More Nathan would have got across how fun it was.’ But it’s entirely possible that if you just showed clips of Nathan you’d come away with the impression that the show was highly offensive, and never tune in because of that.
Nathan is highly offensive. Highly. And yet, we love him.
I think maybe the trailers didn’t work the first time round because it looks like a very British, very Channel 4 take on something that’s usually colourful and fun. By which I mean to say, it’s all grey, washed out colours (except for the bright orange of the community service jumpsuits), and about people being down and out and depressing. Gritty, is how it looked. It both is and isn’t those things. Here’s the premise:
Five people get thrown together doing community service for a variety of relatively low-level crimes. On their first day there’s some kind of weird storm, a bright flash of light, and afterwards they slowly come to realise that they’ve all been given superpowers. They’re not the only ones. The writers make the very wise decision of not going into detail about their ‘weird storm’, but it seems to have affected a fair few people in widely varying ways (usually connected to what they were thinking about at the time of the ‘phenomenon’). One of these is the probation worker, who’s pretty pissed off with them when it happens, and ends up turning into a sort of evil, murderous Hulk. He’s not a bad guy, the effects of the storm just work on the fact that he has a frustrating job, and his charges had been being pretty annoying at the time of impact. In the course of defending themselves, some of our ‘heroes’ discover their powers… and accidentally kill their probation worker. Dealing with the consequences of this, their new abilities, and other freaky shit that goes down as a consequence of the storm, forms the plot for the first season.
It does have that sort of hieghtened, grey-coloured realism that we’ve come to expect from various quirky, British twists on X. But it’s thrown into stark relief by some excellently written and acted characters, and a script that’s a master of that sort of comedy that never detracts from the dramatic elements, yet equally never loses its bite. Curtis, Kelly, Alisha, and Simon (aka: BARRY!) are well-drawn, entertaining, realistic, and funny. But the real star is Nathan.
Various people have told me recently that they regard Sheldon of The Big Bang Theory as the shining comedy character of the last ten years, but I think Nathan gives him a solid run for his money*. He has a mouth that stops for no man. He has literally no censor between thought and word, and the thoughts are usually crude, prejudicial, and offensive. And yet he’s so full of light and life and good humour, and somehow the fact that he crosses the line, runs happily past the line, and then just keeps on going to new levels of ‘OMG – what did he just say?’… Somehow you can’t help laughing at him, liking him, and even feeling sorry for him.
His life is pretty screwed at the start of the series. He may only have been done for ‘stealing from the Pick ‘n’ Mix’ (as he puts it), but it’s the last straw on what one suspects may have been a very patient mother’s back. She kicks him out, and no one he knows will take him in because, well, he’s just so offensive – he’s pissed them all off. And yet, as Kelly points out, with insight that is both surprising and unsurprising, part of what’s at the root of his behaviour is that he doesn’t care what other people think of him, and so he doesn’t really expect other people to mind what he says about them either.
Kelly is also an awesome character. Much credit should go to actor Lauren Socha. Kelly is so close to the worst caricature of a chav – scraped back hair, too much mascara, strong accent, tendency towards confrontational behaviour… And yet she’s also one of the more sympathetic characters. Even without her telepathy, she shows remarkable, yet believable, insight into those around her. Just little touches, here and there, lightly drawn, but it’s enough.
So, this was a six episode mini-series run in late 2009 that I, like most people didn’t catch on to until it was over. I ate it up on 4oD on cold winter nights in early January, then flailed about the Internet looking for someone to squee with, and finding no one. But I guess those of us who watched it both loved it and spread the word, because as season 2 loomed it got much more interest, despite the colossally poorly thought-through promo that spoiled Nathan’s superpower (just about the massive spoiler for the plot of the first season) for everyone who missed the first series the first time around – which was nearly everybody. The number of people on my Twitter feed or in person who said something to the effect of ‘FFS! They spoiled Nathan’s superpower – I wasn’t caught up on the first season yet!’ says something both about the ineptitude of whoever made the advert, and for the word-of-mouth popularity of the thing.
Anyway, I’m not going to link you to the trailer. If you haven’t seen it already and don’t give two tosses about spoilers, I’m sure you can find it. I say: just go watch the first season. It’s all on 4oD, if you’re in the UK, and if you’re not, you can get it on Amazon for pittance – it’s only 6 episodes long.
Season two started this week, and without giving too much away, I gotta say that they’ve still got it. Script, acting, everything is right up to par. I LOVE the new probation worker, and the mysterious masked fellow who comes to their aid has me all intrigued!
This is a great little series – dark, funny, has superpowers – and includes some really intelligent exploration of some truly modern themes. You know I’m the first one to complain about under-representation of race and gender, and they’re not doing too badly on that front, not just amongst the stars, but in the supporting cast as well. It even casts an interesting new light on chav culture, without ignoring or disguising the identifying tropes. Granted, one can raise an eyebrow at the pretty girl (Alisha) getting the power of ‘filling people with lust’ when they touch her, but I can’t deny I enjoyed Planet Story, by Harry Harrison, the classic illustrated book in which a man ‘suffers’ from a very similar condition. Of course, men aren’t traditionally regarded as sex objects in quite the same way as women are, but as TV Shows go, this is still leagues ahead of most others for female representation, so I’m not inclined to complain too much.
Go catch up on 4oD!
*I have half a feeling that I’m repeating someone else’s thought, here – possibly Alasdair Stuart‘s – but I can’t remember clearly enough.