Relevant, not Reactionary: Misfits Series One

Misfits (TV)
Series One (2009)
Creator: Howard Overman
Cast: Iwan Rheon, Robert Sheehan, Lauren Socha, Nathan Stewart-Jarrett, Antonia Thomas.

When Misfits first aired on E4 in November 2009, I’ll admit to missing the first episode. Then I caught that scene from episode two (those who’ve seen it will know what I’m talking about) and my interest—and gag reflex—was sparked. With the first episode of Series Two airing at 10PM tonight, it seems like the perfect time for a retrospective look at what made Series One so good.

Labelled as a cross between Skins and Heroes at its debut, Misfits can be summed up with the sentence young offenders hit by lightning, develop unexplained superpowers. And it works, impossibly enough. Our ASBO-teen protagonists are interrupted on their first day of community service by a freak storm, in a beautifully shot and directed sequence that recalls the imagery of graphic artists like Frank Miller, and within ten minutes we’ve been plunged into the story as the first superpower drives by to say hello.

The pre-credits sequence doesn’t hold back on introducing us to the characters. Alisha (Antonia Thomas) bares skin, adjusts her cleavage, sexually confidant; Kelly (Lauren Socha) scrapes her hair back into a facelift pony-tail, hooped earrings swinging. Curtis (Nathan Stewart-Jarrett) is all athlete’s build and sombre movements, crucifix on display whilst Simon (Iwan Rheon) pats down his hair and adjusts his collar, OCD. Nathan (Robert Sheehan), huge eyes assessing everyone else, has the swagger and the cigarette, the universal signs for trouble.

These are all people we know, which is the beauty of starting off with stereotypes. We have emotional responses to them within seconds because we think we know who they are, followed by the joy of watching those stereotypes get alternately built up and stripped away. There’s truth in each of them, of course—Nathan is a first class cheeky bastard (with all the best lines) and Kelly’s DNA probably spells out the word attitude, whilst quiet Simon is just a bit strange—but there’s an undertone to Iwan Rheon’s acting that recalls a frightened animal, and it’s layered performances from all of the cast, mixed with spectacular writing from creator Howard Overman, that gives these characters life. Each of them is distinct and, more importantly, memorable, revealed through dialogue that doesn’t shy away from giving each of them an individual voice; they develop constantly throughout the series, so well-rounded it’s a surprise that they’re not played by spherical shapes.

It’s the show’s attitude that hits in the first ten minutes, too. Like the characters themselves it’s unapologetic, in-your-face honest about what it is. People out there, they think you’re scum, the probation worker monologues. You have the opportunity to show them they’re wrong. It’s Nathan’s counter-argument—yeah, but what if they’re right?—that gives it away; punchy, cheeky, helped along by Robert Sheehan’s amusingly expressive face, it’s the first climb on a fast-paced roller-coaster, the kind that makes your stomach knot with excitement because you know that something big and bold and entertaining is waiting on the other side.

The tone is firmly set and never wavers, threading through all six episode. Misfits has the energy and the confidence of the young, pushing past boundaries that would have made Mary Whitehouse have a heart attack (including a sex scene with an 82-year-old woman). What’s important, though, is that whilst it doesn’t shy away from doing outlandish or outrageous things it never does them for the sake of it. We’re made to feel uncomfortable with decisions that our characters make, with the situations that they find themselves in, but each remains crucial to our understanding of who they are. Shocks are relevant, not reactionary, and that’s where Misfits transcends the label of just another teen drama; what made it deserves its Best Drama award at the BAFTAs.

Series One ended with one of the best cliffhangers in recent television memory (and if you haven’t seen it, don’t watch Series Two until you’ve 4OD’d every episode. Trust me, it will be worth it), the kind that makes you wish for a rainy month like November to hurry up and get here. Trailers for Series Two not only promise the same but hint at something more and, with new characters and new plots, tonight a year of waiting will finally be over.