“My father used to say to me, women are very much like tractors. Which I’ve never understood.” – Rudy
OK, I’ll admit it – I didn’t actually know Misfits was back. That’s what comes of letting your Tivo pick your viewing and then not checking it regularly. Fortunately, said Tivo had faithfully captured all the episodes so far; and in the spirit of catching up, here’s a brief recap of the series so far before I plunge back into my usual episode-by-episode reviews.
Series 5 is the first one to start with absolutely none of the original cast, which may have something to do with my apathy at finding out when the show was coming back. You may remember from my reviews of last year that I never really warmed to the new characters (with the exception of Rudy), who seemed a bit cardboard compared to the originals. Being Human had much the same problem for a lot of viewers (though I liked those new characters, funnily enough).
But this is still Misfits, and the concept and writing make it as fun – and as scatological – as ever, courtesy of creator and showrunner Howard Overman, who wrote all these first three episodes. How scatological? Well, episode one revealed to us hunky barman Alex’s new power – he can remove the powers from others. By having sex with them.
Well, this is Misfits after all. As a young lady cursed with the power to make terrible accidents befall herself commented, “this is your chance to use your cock for good.” I’m pretty sure that’s a line you’d never have heard in Heroes.
I have to say though, it feels a bit like we’ve been here before. Alex (Matt Stokoe), now promoted to main cast member, gained his power as a result of organ donation from a deceased victim of the “weird, freaky storm” (as it’s now obligatory to refer to it). Fair enough, but the show already did that with Curtis’ girlfriend Nikki way back in series 2. And the idea of removing powers is at least partly reminiscent of Seth’s “trading ability” – though using your cock rather than your hand is a new twist…
I’m not usually a one to complain about being obsessed with cocks, but given Alex’s main plot last year – his cock having been stolen by a power-enhanced transgender person – and now this, I am a little surprised that so much of his character’s plot revolves around his penis. In a far more direct way than any lust-obsessed boy in a romcom.
The romcom aspect is present though; last year new girl Jess (Karla Crome) fell hard for the beefy Alex, only to discover that he was a promiscuous cheat once he’d got his cock back. It was an amusing metaphor – without a cock, a man can be easier to love – if not an entirely convincing one.
Jess was reconsidering her opinion of him, despite Finn’s not entirely disinterested advice – “he may have a new lung. But you can’t replace his cheating heart”. However, the romcom (or is it farce?) possibilities of his new power instantly interfered, as she walked in on a girl begging him to “fuck the power out of her”.
And it got even more bizarre, as he was called on to use this ability on another man. In this case Finn, who’d been possessed by some sort of evil influence from the leader of a scout troop who were “agents of Satan”.
That was a fun plot (I’ve always found scouts rather sinister), which also allowed Rudy to reveal more of his smirkworthy backstory – “I love the scouts. That was the first time I saw another boy’s penis. The first time I touched another boy’s penis. The first time another boy touched my penis…” It also had amusing similarities to Invasion of the Body Snatchers, as one main character after another was converted to an “agent of Satan” by Finn’s new diabolical power.
It was pretty obvious that this was leading to Alex having to “fuck the power out of him”, too, leading to an amusing moment as he grudgingly did the deed when surprised probation worker Greg walked in on them: “oh… excuse me. Sorry.” But I was a little uncomfortable at the fact that, however necessary the plot made the act, Alex had just, basically, raped Finn. The fact that the characters later took it so lightly (including Finn himself) was in keeping with what we know about them, but even in a show as deliberately offensive as Misfits, it was a plot point that made liberal old me a trifle uneasy.
The ep ended with Alex added to the gang properly – he got put on community service after being discovered breaking and entering (in more than one way) by ruthless probation worker Greg. I must say, the show’s apparent need to retain its formula of being about young offenders on community service is making this start to seem more than a little contrived. Last year, new girl Abbey was conveniently put on community service for… pretending to be on community service. Mildly amusing, yes. But another one? Does Thamesmead ever dish out any other kind of punishment to lawbreakers?
Be that as it may, we now have another such gang – for this final series at least. And they’re not as dislikeable as last year, I have to admit. Finn in particular has grown on me, particularly with Nathan McMullen’s willingness to shed his clothes at the drop of a hat. OK, he’s not as gorgeous as the much-missed Simon, but he makes up for it with an increasing tendency for cute snarkiness, lampshading his status as a “short, monkey-like Scouser”.
Rudy too is reliably likeable, thanks to the excellent Joseph Gilgun. Ep2 saw us delve a little more into his backstory, and showed once again that there’s more depth to him than just the comic relief (though he’s reliably the funniest thing in every episode). It seemed that his dad was having an affair ad betraying his beloved mum. Except he wasn’t. In a “like father, like son” twist, Rudy’s dad had actually split into two people. But unlike Rudy, they couldn’t join together again. And dad’s nasty side was really nasty – much like last year’s unexpected reveal of “Rudy 3”.
It was a slight episode plotwise, focusing more on the characters as Rudy teamed up with Jess to investigate and sort it out. There seems to be a growing bond between the two, which makes the previously rather dull Jess somewhat more likeable and interesting. It was also a chance for the excellent Phil Cornwell to give us a convincing dual role as both versions of Rudy’s dad.
Otherwise though, ep2 was fairly forgettable; ep 3 was far better, concentrating on eccentric amnesiac Abbey (Natasha O’Keeffe), the only new character last year that I took to instantly. I always thought that losing your memory wasn’t much of a power; this ep revealed what her power really was. Or rather, not hers – her creator’s. Because Abbey wasn’t real. As she discovered, meeting and starting to sleep with the inexplicably alluring Laura, she was actually someone else’s childhood friend brought to life by the “weird, freaky storm”.
That’s a bit of a mindfucking concept, discovering that you’re not real, and one that appeals to me in other stories that play with the idea – John Carpenter’s In the Mouth of Madness, for example. Misfits handled it surprisingly sensitively, Abbey’s romance with her ‘creator’ turning to mystified awe from both sides. A bit of horror was added with the realisation that Laura’s childhood bogeyman under the bed had also become real; and that allowed for the two to team up, defeat him and go their separate ways, but happily. It was a well-done ep with some genuine emotion, and Natasha O’Keeffe played it excellently.
Elsewhere, Finn had a bit of a problem when it turned out that the frankly terrifying Greg had fallen for him. Last year, Greg (the marvellous Shaun Dooley), despite being a near-psychotic bundle of barely-suppressed fury, revealed that he had a tender side, with his unexpected fondness for singing Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s ‘The Power of Love’ at karaoke. Oh, and that he was gay. Which he now thought Finn was, having witnessed the earlier incident with Alex.
So we got a supremely awkward (and hysterically funny) scene of Greg browbeating the reluctant Finn into singing ‘The Power of Love’ at the community centre piano, gazing longingly into Finn’s eyes throughout in a way that was more terrifying than romantic. No wonder Finn’s telekinesis started working well enough to throw Greg down the stairs – I’d’ve been terrified too.
Given the other aspects of the show that were starting to seem a bit old, I groaned at the thought that they’d killed yet another probation worker; “let’s get the shovels”. But thankfully that was averted when Greg woke up groaning in his new grave. Only to be clobbered over the head with a spade.
But he still wasn’t dead, and I’m glad about that. So many aspects of the show have begin to strain credulity even by its own rules that losing another probation worker would be ridiculous. It’s already bizarre that, after the police investigation into the disappearance of the first one way back in series 1, nobody seems to have been remotely concerned with the disappearance or death of every one subsequently. I bet that’s not a popular posting in the probation service.
Also straining credulity somewhat was what is clearly an ongoing plotline – Rudy 2 (the sensitive one) has started attending a ‘support group’ for people with powers. Given that a major plot point of earlier series was the need to keep the gang’s powers secret, lest they be arrested and experimented upon, it seemed a little odd that the whole business of having powers is so out in the open now in the show’s universe.
Granted, the ‘support group’ looked pretty unofficial; still, it seems that the knowledge of powers is very much an open secret now, at least on the estate. It’s quite fitting that it should affect the residents’ lives so little that they just shrug and get on with things. Still, it doesn’t jibe with the averted timeline from series 2, when the revelation of the powers turned into a media shitstorm.
Speaking of series 2, the Power Support Group includes among its number Tim (Matt Cross), the scarily blank-faced villain of the ep in which his character was convinced he (and everyone else) was living in an ultra-violent, GTA-style video game. Plainly trying to recover, he has to keep shaking his head to rid himself of the vision of Rudy as a CG character, Given that he’s been in a couple of eps now, we may be seeing more of him. Which is cool.
The Group also includes an old lady who can “knit the future” – a fun idea represented by the jumper she gave Rudy. It depicted a number of knitted figures doing superheroey things like flying, causing Rudy to exclaim, “Are we going to be like proper superheroes then?!”
Maybe. Maybe not. But one person, it seems, already is; a shy, introverted type (not unlike Simon) called Sam. Sam, as he revealed to the Group, can fly. And Rudy’s already had one taste of this as Sam swept him out of danger, only to disappear, Superman-like, into the sky.
It’s nice that the show is still, at its heart, a sly takeoff of classic superhero comic tropes. But, despite the fact that I’m getting to like the new lineup better, I think it’s good that this is its last run. It’s started to repeat itself, which is never a good thing; you can’t get away with a lack of new ideas simply by making self-aware, fourth-wall-breaking gags about it in the script.
And I miss the show’s original idea (admittedly lost at the beginning of series 3) that the powers people got were reflections of their personalities; Simon’s invisibility, Alisha’s hyper-seductiveness etc. Since the characters have been able to trade powers so easily, the show seems to have lost some of the dramatic potential in that idea.
But it’s still Misfits, and even as a shadow of its former self, it’s a fun and often guiltily hysterical show to watch. I’ll stick with it to the end – and try to review every ep the same week from now on! For one thing, I want to know what the deal is with that tortoise…