Kelly: “What if there’s loads of people like us all over town?”
Nathan: “No, that kind of thing only happens in America.”
The first season of the BBC’s Misfits focuses on a group of teenage juvenile offenders forced to complete community service together. With little in common apart from some level of rebelliousness or being socially outcast, the group is quickly connected through a freak lightning storm that leaves each with a strange power. It’s a premise that works because the characters are absorbing enough that they easily draw the viewer into their bizarre circumstances.
As the series begins, the comparisons to Heroes are obvious, at least on the surface. But where Heroes’ first season had a full 20 plus episodes to delve into a large cast of characters and huge corporate conspiracy, Misfits’ shorter six episode season makes for a more insulated and interior series, at least as far as first seasons go, and the show is better served by the abbreviated episode count.
The focus of the series is on the five main offenders, Simon (Iwan Rheon), who gains the ability to turn invisible; Kelly (Lauren Socha), who becomes telepathic; Alisha (Antonia Thomas), who acquires a kind of sexual touch; Curtis (Nathan Stewart-Jarrett), who can go back in time; and Nathan (Robert Sheehan), whose power isn’t revealed until the end of the final episode. While their powers are made known through the course of the season, it’s also discovered that they are not the only ones experiencing strange effects from the storm.
The main characters all have big powers; abilities that land somewhere in the realm of the superhero, yet others affected don’t necessarily have powers at the same level. For example, one minor character is revealed to possess the ability to cause baldness in those she dislikes. It’s a humorous take on the superhero trope and one that serves to highlight the series’ comedic side. Although Misfits certainly does not shy away from gruesome or disturbing side effects that come at the cost of their new abilities, the series does have fun with its leads. These are teenage delinquents being forced into community service – they’re not necessarily responsible or mature enough to handle what has happened to them, and their actions frequently reflect that fact.
In balancing the very real danger of their situation – the first episode has the group involved in a killing – with their repeated attempts to make light of their powers, they often shift back and forth from light to dark in each episode. The series handles these tonal shifts well and in turn, creates depth and adds realism to the characters. Simon and Nathan are perfect counterpoints of both sides in that Simon is awkward and socially inept, in other words he is a true misfit, while Nathan is cocky and charming. Their interactions often have them at odds, particularly as Nathan constantly picks on Simon and his tendency to constantly record everything on his cell phone, but they are, in essence, a manifestation of the two sides of the series.
Misfits is especially engaging and ultimately successful because of its talented young cast. Sheehan is a standout as the confident Nathan. His comic timing is wonderful and he’s extremely likable. Socha is also very good as Kelly, specifically in showcasing her horror at other people’s thoughts, as well as in her interactions with Nathan. Rheon plays Simon with just the right blend of loneliness and intensity. Stewart-Jarrett does a nice job as the most ‘normal’ of the group. He’s a teenager who made a wrong choice and has to pay the consequences, but not someone with a propensity for trouble.
Thomas has perhaps the most challenging role in playing a young woman whose overt sexuality is linked to a power that takes her sexuality to an extreme. However, she’s able to give Alisha more depth than just ‘promiscuous teenage girl’ in showing more vulnerability.
Misfits succeeds largely because of its cast and its premise. The series is set up to reject the standard superhero story by making the newly acquired abilities range from the truly powerful to the decidedly weird and unexpected. By running the gamut not only in presenting the characters’ actual powers, but also in tenor and atmosphere, Misfits sets itself apart to tell a more original story. It also does a nice job in keeping Nathan’s ability a mystery until the end of the season, invariably establishing an arc for the following season and leaving the audience wanting more.
The DVD release contains several bonus features, including several behind-the-scenes featurettes, interviews with cast and crew, and an extra entitled “Simon’s Films” that are some of the videos taken by Simon on his cell phone. The extras are okay, but some commentary tracks would have been a more welcome addition in adding more insight into the series.