Thursday, 24 October 2013

MISFITS, 5.1 – episode one

Thursday, 24 October 2013

written by Howard Overman | directed by William McGregory

It's fair to say E4's Misfits has had mixed success following a slow hemorrhaging of its original cast between series 2 and 4. It coped surprisingly well in series 3 (replacing Robert Sheehan's foul-mouthed Irishman with Joe Gilgun's foul-mouthed northerner), but series 4 definitely suffered from the departure of too many characters. Howard Overman now admits series 4 was the show's weakest year to date, but pins some of the blame on matters beyond his control. I'm guessing that key amongst them was Lauren Socha leaving the show off-screen, forcing him to introduce so many newcomers that year there wasn't enough time for a decent underlying story. Misfits devolved into a string of episodes where its crudity and unruliness became too overbearing, and much of the imagination and faintly satirical insight into Britain's disaffected youth fell by the wayside.

It wasn't a surprise that E4 announced this will be the show's final series, and I was in two minds about what to expect from this premiere. On the plus side, there are zero casting dilemmas to write around (for the first time since series 2 aired); but on the other, Misfits can't help feeling a bit worn out after five years. The show never broadened its world-view beyond the grimy council estate and community centre, or made much of an effort to bring families and friends into the mix. The fast turnaround of principal actors has probably extended its lifespan by a year or two, let's be honest. However, quite naturally, age is a drain on vitality. Misfits isn't the refreshing, shocking, hilarious, exciting and invigorating show it started life as, simply because it's impossible to feel that initial rush of discovery and thrill of watching something special take shape forever.

The premiere of series 5 was an entertaining and occasionally excellent hour, even if it didn't really do anything that felt totally fresh. They even found a way to bring back a popular villain for a cameo (the man who sees the world as a video-game), but I'll excuse that because salutes to a show's past successes are what you do in the final days. I hope there are more celebrations and in-jokes like that to come; perhaps even a way to get some of the original actors back? I think the fans would go into meltdown if Nathan arrived back from doing time in a Vegas prison.

Anyway, this episode had some fun in ways you kind of expect from Misfits these days. Finn (Nathan McMullen) discovered the local Scout group are Satanists, who want to convert them to their devil-worshipping cause. More specifically, the Scoutmaster had a power to infect people with this belief, which is easily one of the less convincing uses of powers on Misfits. Much better was the decision to give barman Alex (Matt Stokoe) the power to "fuck other people's powers out of them", after he was given a lung transfusion from the boyfriend of a woman whose own power (or curse) is to attract accidents. This power was both a great way to extend Alex's personality as a ladies man (he spent last year searching for his cock, after all), and also caused some understandable friction with would-be girlfriend Jess (Karla Crome).

Both storylines weren't deep enough to fill the whole episode, so there was a sub-plot for Rudy's doppelgänger--who attended a Support Group for people with superpowers, and eventually walked away with a woollen jumper made by a woman who can knit the future (showing the team apparently saving a tower block from disaster like "proper superheroes") It appears to be a taste of their destiny, so worked as an appetiser for what the final episode has in store. Will they earn their stripes as heroes and come out to the wider world, leaving their delinquent histories behind? Probably not. My guess is the storm will return and take away all the powers and quickly as it bestowed them on the local population.

Overall, this was a good start for the final series and something to build on. Karla Crome and Joe Gilgun remain particularly good, even if their characters are pretty annoying at times; there was a brilliantly twisted moment when Alex had to sodomise Finn to save his soul that recalled the show's shocking glory years, and I'm pleased they've found a way to get Alex into an orange jumpsuit for the final year. He was pretty damn useless as the hunky barman and straight man to this bunch of problem kids, so maybe he'll work better on the inside.

  • The fun of the probation workers on the show ran out a long time ago, but I really liked Shaun Dooley's reaction to walking in and seeing Alex having sex with Finn, while Jess watched on in handcuffs and a gag.
  • The biggest problem in the episode was the criminally underused Natasha O'Keeffe as Abby. She had a few token scenes, but just seemed to sleepwalk through the whole episode as a face in the background. Please don't let this be a sign she's surplus to requirements, as I like O'Keeffe and think she deserves better. Hopefully an Abby-centric episode was ameliorate this premiere's mistakes.
  • I remain disappointed my portmanteau word "Twody" wasn't adopted by Misfits, and they still insist on calling him "Rudy 2". Where's the imagination and fun of that?
  • I wonder if the tortoise's true identity will be a big deal in a future episode. Or was it simply there for a bit of weirdness and confusion?
  • I have to remind myself this all came from the mind of Howard Overman, who's also responsible for the uninspiring Atlantis on BBC1. The two shows are very different and cater to opposing audiences at heart, but there's almost no trace of Misfits DNA in Atlantis. It just makes me sad the inventiveness of Misfits seems exclusive to this show, and for Atlantis it's just uninspired formula, genre clichés, and stock characters.
  • Any theories on the knitted premonition? Is the character knitted as just a wobbly black line indicating an "invisible man"? If so, does that hint that Simon could be returning? It would surely be a big disappointment if at least one of the show's original line-up didn't stage a comeback. I'd love to see everyone back as a big "super-team", but I know that isn't practical.
24 October 2013 | E4