After two years it's possible a show like Misfits will go stale. Series 3 wisely offers reinvention (through both circumstance and design), as the characters have been given fresh powers as a quirk of the story, and fan-favourite Robert Sheehan's left the show, replaced by This Is England's Joe Gilgun. This premiere is under more scrutiny than usual because of this big changes, but also because the show's had enough time to develop a following on DVD and overseas (the show's highly successful US debut on Hulu netted a remarkable 9 million streams). Has it managed to keep itself feeling fresh and relevant?
It's easiest to just run through all the changes that have occurred since we last saw the delinquents. After going to see mysterious "power dealer" Seth (Matthew McNulty) in the Christmas special, the gang have been dealt new powers that are revealed slowly over the hour. Simon (Iwan Rheon) has swapped invisibility for the ability to see into the near-future; time-traveller Curtis (Nathan Stewart-Jarrett) can now transform into a woman; Alisha's lost her ability to boost people's sex drive with a single touch, and can now see through other people's eyes; and Kelly (Lauren Socha) can't read minds now, but has become a rocket scientist (a strangely restrictive and specific "super power", making me wonder why creator Howard Overman didn't just make her an all-round genius).
To be honest, most of the new powers feel like a disappointment right now, and certainly aren't as cool as the old ones were. It was also great how the original powers reflected the personalities of the bearers (like shy Simon turning invisible), whereas the new ones don't seem bespoke. I suppose it might be argued that the new powers are what (most of) the characters secretly desire—Kelly wants to be clever, Alisha wants to be less selfish, Simon wants to move beyond his past... um, Curtis wants to be a girl—but I'm not wholly convinced. It made sense to alter the gang's powers, which had run their course, and in some cases disrupted the logic of most stories (why can't Curtis keep reversing time to save the day?), but the new ones just feel less exciting.
But the biggest change is the introduction of candid northerner Rudy (Gilgun), which this episode is primarily concerned with. Gilgun has big shoes to fill now Sheehan's gone, but I thought he did a good job and immediately felt like part of the furniture. It helps that Gilgun shares his predecessor's crude way of speaking and gregarious nature (albeit with a more laidback style), and while he lacks Sheehan's gift for stealing scenes, it can be argued that Gilgun is more of a "team player". Sheehan would sometimes dominate Misfits because he had a larger-than-life character and relished the chance to chew the scenery, and perhaps that was detrimental to the ensemble occasionally. Gilgun comes from an acting background of ensembles (the soap Emmerdale, the aforementioned This Is England movie and TV series), so he'll likely be better at not upstaging his fellow actors. Would I prefer it if Sheehan was still around as cocky Nathan? Oh yes, definitely, because he was an unforgettable presence and a huge amount of fun to watch, but I see no reason why the show can't work with the quietly engaging Gilgun in his place.
It's also promising that Rudy's own superpower is one of the best the show's given us, as he literally splits into two people whenever he's confronted by a moment of self-doubt. It's not a Jekyll and Hyde-style case of two opposing personalities sharing the same body, it's more a physical way of showing the character's internal conflict. (Incidentally, I'm going to nickname Rudy's doppelganger "Twody", unless I hear of an official term for his twin, or something funnier.) Anyway, Rudy's power is very interesting and the episode did a brilliant job with the special effects required to show Gilgun acting with "himself". There were even a few shots that must have taken skill to put together, such as when the focus on the camera changed from Rudy standing in the background to Twody sitting in the foreground.
The premiere's actual story was undemanding and nothing we haven't seen before, in various guises, but this was probably for the best because there was a lot to cover with the power changes and Rudy's debut. We basically followed Rudy doing his community service; trying to keep his power a secret while wooing two fellow offenders, Charlie (Nathalie Emmanuel) and Tanya (Katie Moore). This resulted in misunderstandings whenever his duplicate self popped into existence, making Tanya think Rudy's a two-faced love rat and deciding to teach him a lesson using her own power (the ability to turn people motionless), and the ensuing tricks caught the attention of the other misfits. Plus there was a later surprise when it became clear Rudy and Alisha have history together (she took his virginity, then broke his heart by ignoring him afterwards), so I'm guessing there's a chance Rudy may want to rekindle that relationship with Alisha, which would make him a love rival for Simon.
Overall, I was pleased this premiere continued to deliver the things we've come to love about Misfits, despite so many big changes. There's a chance Nathan's absence will be felt more strongly the further into the series we get, but we could just as easily forget about him entirely. I'm more than prepared to see what Rudy brings to the show, and willing to see if these new powers have hidden qualities that drive some stories forward in clever ways.
What did you make of Misfits' return? Is it just not the same without Sheehan around? Is Gilgun a good replacement? Do you like the new powers? Does the show still feel innovative, or does the decline start here?
- This episode marks the debuts of directorial double-act Wayne Yip and Alex Garcia on the show, who recently worked together on Secret Diary Of A Call Girl.
- Like most people, I thought Simon would be given Curtis's old power of time-travel, which would explain how "Future Simon" travels back in time to interact with the characters in series 2 as "Superhoodie", but apparently not. So how will he manage to go back? And will Alisha let him, knowing he dies?
- A bit of trivia: Joe Gilgun co-starred with Lauren Socha's brother Michael Socha on This Is England '85—and Michael Socha now appears in BBC Three's Being Human.
- Kelly's going to be given a better power than the ability to design rockets soon, right? It makes for a nice joke, but it feels like a massive waste of time if she doesn't get a more practical power soon.
- Why didn't E4 air the online special "Vegas Baby!" to explain Nathan's absence? I know a 10-minute piece is hard to schedule, and it's true most fans will have seen it anyway, but I bet a sizeable chunk of the audience didn't know Sheehan had left and found it odd how they explained it here.