Monday, 29 October 2012

Review: MISFITS, 4.1 – episode one

Monday, 29 October 2012

written by Howard Overman / directed by Nirpal Bhogal

It's not uncommon for British drama to recast from time to time, and this is something popular shows must try to turn into an advantage. Famously, Doctor Who latched onto the idea of having its time-travelling hero "regenerate" into different actors whenever the incumbent Doctor wanted to leave, or BBC chiefs felt a change was necessary. Other shows, like E4's Misfits, just have to find a way to plausibly explain the losses while introducing new blood and hoping audiences find them as appealing as the originals.

In some ways this can help keep a show fresh and stimulating because there's less chance of characters going stale, but it depends on how much a show's success hinged on its concept versus its characters. Misfits was first dealt a blow when Robert Sheehan (who played its most popular character Nathan) wanted to leave after just two years, and his replacement Joe Gilgun split opinion as coarse Rudy. Series 3 then climaxed with two more actors leaving (Iwan Rheon and Antonia Thomas) as part of a concluding storyline, before a third (Lauren Socha) was dropped while Misfits was off-air—allegedly by mutual agreement, although it still feels likely producers ditched Socha over her conviction of racism. So that brings us to series 4, which has been forced to introduce two new faces (Karla Crome and Nathan McMullen) and now only has one original cast member left (Nathan Jarrett-Stewart). But with such vast changes in a relatively short span of time, can Misfits maintain its popularity now it's practically a remake of itself?

The signs weren't great with this convoluted and muddled premiere, which confused a straightforward and weird storyline by telling it using flashbacks—mainly triggered by self-confessed "unreliable narrator" Rudy. I'm not against Misfits being creative with its narrative, but this idea just seemed to get in the way of things—particularly as the show was simultaneously having to introduce newcomers Jess (Crome), an irritable girl with x-ray vision, and Finn (McMullen), a Scouser with feeble telekinesis. For large chunks of this hour, both characters were reduced to standing around looking puzzled—as Rudy pretended to be their probation worker and lied to explain their discovery of a black man in a freezer, or else found themselves trapped in that same freezer together and peeing themselves. (If you haven't seen this episode yet, don't ask—it was one of many examples of Misfits now trying to get laughs from simply being gross all the time.)

I wish I could say the episode worked better in retrospect, once all the pieces came together, but it unfortunately rested on the stupid idea of the black man having the "super power" of infecting people with a profound desire to look inside his briefcase (which contained thousands of pounds). The entire episode just felt worryingly unpleasant, too—with the aforementioned freezer urination scene, and the fact Seth (Matthew McNulty) and Rudy spent much of the hour torturing someone to near-death. While their actions were later explained as the symptoms of a super-infection, that somehow didn't excuse it in my mind—perhaps because, frankly, it wouldn't surprise me if Rudy really did want to saw someone's hand off in this situation. And while part of Misfits' appeal has always been how raw and uncompromising the characters are, there's a line this episode crossed. I found myself realising I don't actually like any of the existing characters (even Curtis, mostly because he's dull), and this episode gave us little reason to believe Jess and Finn are going to reverse that opinion—particularly when the denouement revealed Finn has a girl tied to a bed in his flat.

Overall, series 4's premiere was a massive disappointment and did a poor job on all counts. I was excited to see Karla Crome on the show, as she was so great in Sky Atlantic's Hit & Miss earlier this summer, but there wasn't much reason to like her character. The only bright note was Shaun Dooley's introduction as their new probation worker; a half-psychopathic bad-ass who's going to make the gang's life a living hell. This makes a refreshing change to his predecessors, who've either been ineffectual do-gooders or apathetic irritants.

There's still a very real chance Misfits can turn things around, simply by delivering a more conventional episode that gives us solid reasons to like Jess and Finn, but I'm concerned this show is now approaching its natural end. There comes a time when incremental changes become so overwhelming you take a step back and realise... well, this isn't the show you fell in love with.

28 October 2012 / E4