“I just came here to do community service and now I’m going to die locked in a freezer.”
The end of Misfits’ third season felt like a proper ending for the story – at least as far as the characters we’d come to care about go. Alisha was dead, Simon was off back in time to die saving her previously, Kelly was together with Seth, and all the rest of the gang could do was get on with the rest of their lives.
Given all of that, I was actually a bit surprised to see that it was coming back for a fourth series. But it’s a popular show, and the central premise – that the mysterious storm gave lots of people in the area strange powers – has never been resolved, and leaves plenty of room to introduce new characters.
The trouble is, with Nathan, Simon, Alisha and now (we discover) Kelly all gone, it feels like the human core of the show we’d come to love has been somewhat eviscerated. New characters can come in, but we won’t have the level of emotional investment in them we did with the previous set. This episode faces a high hurdle in accomplishing that. Like the recent series of Being Human (to which it’s often compared), it effectively has to reboot itself, and give us a new set of characters in the hope that we’ll come to like them as much as we did the old ones.
This was helped by the way that we’d already come to like Rudy, who’d stepped in last series to replace Nathan. Joe Gilgun was as great as ever, with perfect comic timing as Rudy got up to his usual un-PC antics. Seth was back too, explaining that Kelly had chosen to stay in Uganda and user her ‘rocket scientist’ power to defuse landmines. He said that he was only back to “pick up their things”, but the fact that he’s there at all makes it seem likely that he’ll be a permanent fixture this series.
For me, though, Seth never felt like a proper part of ‘the gang’ last year, and (through no fault of actor Matthew McNulty) it’s going to take a bit of work before I give much of a damn about what happens to him. For some continuity, original gang member Curtis (the only one left) is still around, but he’d been sidelined so much last year (despite an interesting subplot about his gender-swap power), that he felt like a bit of a loose end. Again, Nathan Stewart-Jarrett has always been great in the part, but since his ‘origin story’, it’s always felt like the writers have struggled to come up with much for him to do, preoccupied as they were with the bigger sturm und drang of the Simon/Alisha epic love story.
So, it’s not all change. We still have Rudy (terrifically funny, but usually incidental to the main action), Seth (broodingly good-looking but with only one previous storyline which is now concluded) and Curtis (whose usual function last year was to sit sulkily on the sidelines and make snarky remarks). Perhaps some entirely new characters will help?
The jury’s still out on that one. Two new characters popped up; seemingly genial, soft-spoken Scouse lad Finn (Nathan McMullen), and piercing-eyed Jess (Karla Crome). They’ve turned up to do community service, as usual. Yes, that aspect of the show could have been dropped; it’s getting increasingly contrived for the old characters to still be stuck doing community service. But then it wouldn’t be Misfits. It’s a central plank of the show that it’s about young offenders forced into comic book situations when they’d rather be out getting pissed, shagging and breaking stuff – the very misfits of the title. Move it into the wider realm of the outside world being affected by superpowers, and you just turn it into Heroes – and we all know how that ended up.
Unfortunately, the new characters didn’t make that much of an impression. Jess seems… well, nice is about the best you can say so far. No idea what crime she committed, but her power appears to be the ability to see through walls. Other than that, the script for this first episode gives us very little of a handle on who she is, and what she’s like, which you’d think would be rather important.
Finn gets a little more depth, and a hint of mystery. He seems a likeable, enough ordinary bloke; his power is an extremely crap variety of telekinesis, which so far has enabled him to shake a plant pot and singularly fail to mind-throw it at Rudy. But we’ve established that he has a tendency to make things up about himself that are often singularly inappropriate – such as telling Jess that he was raped by his uncle to “lighten the mood” when they’re locked into a freezer to die.
And we later discovered that his ‘dog’ Sadie, who he was so concerned about looking after, is actually a bound and gagged young lady strapped to his bed. Interesting idea there – that one of the main characters might actually be a bit of a baddie. Or a nutter, at least. Of course, we still don’t know the full story here, but certainly Finn gets a better shake of the dice in the character depth stakes than Jess, which seemed a little unfair.
With all this weight on the episode to reboot the show, the story (such as it was) felt pretty inconsequential. Rudy, Curtis and Seth had been ‘infected’ by the power of a greedy thief who’d stumbled into the community centre with a briefcase full of money cuffed to his wrist. The effect of his power was to make anyone he touched as fanatically covetous of the money as he was, thus pitting the regulars against each other in an increasingly homicidal, paranoid escalation of mistrust.
It’s basically the ‘standard’ Misfits plot – the gang meet someone else affected by the storm who’s misusing their powers, become affected themselves, find a way to break the spell, and effectively, punish the power-abuser by killing him/her and/or removing the power concerned. True, it was told in an interesting, non-linear way, opening on the rooftop with the gang literally at each other’s throats, weapons drawn, fighting for possession of the case full of money. The story then unfolded with flashback within flashback, with a self-aware Rudy acknowledging that, “I’m what’s known as an ‘unreliable narrator’”. Nice to see he was paying attention in English Literature GCSE.
Along the way, there was a fair bit of fun. Rudy pretending to be the new probation worker (while caught wanking over internet porn) was a laugh, and the script actually had you wondering for a (fairly short) while if he was telling the truth. There was the business of him trying to drug everyone’s drinks left, right and centre, which was played well for laughs (though where did he get these ‘drugs’?), and Seth being somewhat discomfited by Rudy and Curtis wanking themselves to sleep next to him (“it’s a sedative, isn’t it?”).
I said last year that the show was in danger of collapsing under the weight of its complex, massively self-referential time paradox plot arc, so it’s probably a good idea that it’s going back to the episodic, self-contained nature of its first series. The trouble is, not only did it feel inconsequential by comparison, it also felt very much like we’d been here before. It didn’t help that, in a bit of presumably amusingly-intended lampshade-hanging, Rudy kept commenting on the show’s established tropes – “oh, the storm. Yeah, it’s always the storm”, and, of the new, hardass probation worker (an excellent Shaun Dooley), “don’t worry, he’ll probably be dead within a week”.
That last actually points to an increasing credibility gap (insofar as it’s fair to complain about that in a show which features superpowers). The death of the gang’s first two probation workers, back in the first series, led to all kinds of worry about police investigations. But last series they managed to kill off two, one of them in the middle of a major zombie outbreak, and the Thamesmead police don’t seem to have concerned themselves with it at all.
Still, new probation worker Greg is a breath of fresh air, since the show got rid of the lovable, lackadaisical Shaun last year. Given a great establishing scene – “if you cross me, I will fuck you. And it’ll feel like being fucked by a train. Choo choo.” – he’s presumably going to be around for a while, resetting the balance the show lost with no authority figure to hate.
I have to say, as a longstanding fan of the show, I actually didn’t enjoy this very much. It didn’t help that the plot required the regulars to be acting very out of character, and that at least one of the new characters seemed to have very little depth at all. To be fair, if you’ve never seen the show before, this could be an ideal jumping in point, without the heavy burden of all the old characters’ backstories. But on the basis of this first episode, I’m still unconvinced that it was a good idea for the show to carry on after the finality of the third series’ ending. I’ll stick with it, to see if it pulls off the trick Being Human managed of making me like the new characters as much as the old. So far, though, there’s little evidence of that.