Misfits: Series 3, Episode 7

“Let’s go resurrect my dead girlfriend.”

MisfitsZombieCheerleader

With series creator Howard Overman back on scripting duties, this week’s Misfits was another of the ‘homages’ that have been so prevalent this year – and a pretty good one at that. After dissecting comic book superheroes and alternate Nazi realities, this week the show took on 1980s cheesy zombie movies. I say 1980s ones specifically, because in my experience the trend of zombie cheerleaders began about then, although they’ve shown no sign of lying down since…

This episode balanced its homage/ripoff with the show’s usual tropes rather better than Overman’s Nazi episode, retaining the humour that was noticeably absent in that one. Of course, it’s rather difficult to do a cheesy zombie story with an entirely straight face, so in that regard it was actually better suited for the Misfits treatment than the Nazis winning World War 2.

As I mentioned some weeks ago, when it became clear that Seth was looking for a power to resurrect his dead girlfriend, this plot traditionally does not end well. Horror literature is littered with tales of bringing back the dead only to find that the resultant walking corpse is rather more horrible than you might have wanted; probably the first, and best known, is W W Jacobs’ 1902 story The Monkey’s Paw, but numerous variants have appeared since in comics, films and TV shows like The Twilight Zone and notably Buffy the Vampire Slayer (which did it at least twice).

Indeed, the opening sequence bore more than a little resemblance to a Buffy episode, as Seth and Curtis ventured by night into what looked like South London’s creepiest cemetery to dig up Seth’s dead girlfriend Shannon. Kudos to director Will Sinclair for imbuing this with all the atmosphere of a traditional horror movie, though it wasn’t afraid to show its roots. The exhumed Shannon was unpleasantly decomposed, but when Curtis used his resurrection power on her, the process was reversed and she returned to her former self; almost exactly what happened when Willow revived the dead Buffy at the opening of season 6. Luckily for Shannon though, she wasn’t left buried and having to claw her way out like Buffy!

Frome hereon in, the familiar tale of unintended, flesheating consequences unfolded with lighthearted inevitability. As we waited for Shannon to start feeling inexplicable hunger pangs, Curtis took pity on an old lady by reviving her dead cat. Anyone who’s ever seen ReAnimator or Night of the Creeps could tell that wasn’t going to end well; and so it proved, as Curtis was trapped in the bathroom by the vicious undead Mr Miggles, who’d already chowed down on his owner.

With nothing else to do but come clean, Curtis called in the rest of the gang to deal with “the crazy killer cat”, but having trapped Mr Miggles, nobody could quite go through with killing him. Rudy expressed what we were surely all thinking: “You can kill numerous probation workers, but you can’t kill one cat?!” Luckily, they had no such qualms about vicious old ladies; as Mr Miggles’ undead owner lunged for Simon’s neck, Curtis was quick to ram a hammer claw into her head.

It was clear that this was going to be a high body count episode; as Simon realised what the rest of us had some time ago, he summed up the situation – “It’s like a zombie film”. And in zombie films, there are always a lot of bodies. As Rudy commented when the gang were confronted with a horde of flesheating cheerleaders, “that’s a lot of killing, even for us.”

But first, the story skilfully interwove the spread of the zombie plague with Shannon’s plight and Seth’s dilemma. As Kelly found out she’d been dumped for Seth’s formerly dead girlfriend, she didn’t take it well, and Seth looked suitably ashamed; Shannon, meanwhile, was beginning to discover an insatiable hunger for living flesh, and desperately trying not to slake it by eating her boyfriend and resurrector. Even when he realised what she’d become, Seth couldn’t bring himself to put her down, because he was still in love with her and just couldn’t let go.

That central dilemma was one of the more affecting parts of an episode that was mostly a gory fun romp. The zombies here weren’t the mindless, rotting revenants of Romero’s movies. Like the girl in Return of the Living Dead 3 (and probably many others), they were still the people they had been, with thoughts and feelings they could vocalise. But they couldn’t stop themselves from killing and spreading the contagion. This would lead, as Simon said, to the gang holing up in a shopping mall while the rest of the world turned undead. As the show’s primary geek spokesman, Simon clearly knows what he’s talking about when it comes to zombie films.

The problem of killing zombies who were still, essentially, the people they had been was later the cornerstone for some amusing gags. Still unable to bring themselves to terminate Mr Miggles, the gang had locked him up in a cat box only for him to escape and infect the troupe of cheerleaders who were conveniently rehearsing at the community centre in order to complete the ambience of a cheesy zombie film.

This led to a hilarious explanation of Rudy’s hitherto unsuspected terror of cheerleaders; as he related to Simon and Alisha how he’d caught his dad having sex with his mum while she was dressed as a cheerleader, even his friends couldn’t help smirking: “That scarred me right through puberty. I couldn’t even have a relaxing wank without it popping into my mind!”

Joe Gilgun was as funny as usual as Rudy got to work through his phobia by helping the gang put down the horde of gore stained, bitey cheerleaders (well, helping in the sense of running away and hiding in a cupboard). But first, there were some cheerleaders who hadn’t quite turned yet, leading to some hysterically awkward pauses as our heroes waited impatiently for them to die while they begged for an ambulance. It’s black humour, sure, but still funny.

And, typically, caught up at the end of it was yet another new probation worker, having turned up just in time to be bitten by a zombie. Having drawn the short straw and the responsibility of bashing her brains in, Rudy effectively summed up the whole series with his apology – “We just want you to know, this isn’t our fault.We’re just in the wrong place at the wrong time. A lot.”

Mind you, the death of yet another probation worker (onscreen for such a short time she didn’t even get the courtesy of being given a name) does beg the question of quite how slipshod the Thamesmead police must have got since the first series. Back then, they were all over the disappearance of the gang’s first two probation workers; so much so that it was a cause of major panic when building work threatened to dig up the first’s makeshift grave.

Now, it seems, replacement probation workers are sent out without even an inquiry as to where the previous one has got to. And wherever the gang are putting all the bodies, it must be starting to look like one of those mass graves from the Great Plague. Also, even if the cops aren’t too bothered about probation workers, surely the disappearance of an old lady, Seth’s next door neighbour and a troupe of cheerleaders should prod them into action?

To be fair, the show has playfully acknowledged its increasingly improbable undiscovered body count a lot this year. But while it may seem churlish to complain about a lack of realism in a show based on superpowers, just making postmodern references does slightly undercut the previously realistic setting. Still, with one more episode to go, perhaps the police will start poking around after all…

Outside the zombie-killing romp, though, the episode did have to deal with the emotional impact of what had started all this. Satisfyingly, it ended with Seth realising that his new feelings for Kelly were stronger than those for his undead girlfriend; though it probably helped that Kelly wasn’t trying to eat people. So, once again, it was Seth who resolved the situation in a confrontation with the ‘villain’ – because after all, it wasn’t Shannon’s fault she’d ended up that way. Charlene McKenna did a good job of making Shannon a sympathetic character, but really, the only way to resolve this was for Seth to prove himself by taking responsibility for killing her personally.

Which of course he did, proving his feelings for Kelly and prompting her into a surprisingly emotional declaration that she loved him too. I’m glad this seems to be getting resolved; it’s been a nicely underplayed Big Plot for this year, and Lauren Socha and Matthew McNulty have had some real chemistry together.

So, another ‘fun romp’ episode, its homage/ripoff done supremely well in the Misfits style, and all the regular characters getting a fair crack of the whip. It ended up with the gang’s realisation that, by containing the zombie plague, they’d actually saved the world – as Kelly said, “that’s some real superhero shit.” Of course, they then comically realised they’d forgotten all about Mr Miggles, and dashed off to deal with him as the episode closed. But Mr Miggles isn’t the only loose end – Shannon had also chowed down on Seth’s pet iguana, which presumably was still housing the time travel power Seth placed into it for safekeeping a few episodes ago.

As we know from the Nazi episode, killing someone means their power is lost for good. So how will Simon’s future self travel back in time now to die saving Alisha? Or could the iguana become a zombie, and if so, can zombies still house powers? Who knows, but with only one more episode to go this year, maybe the future Simon’s fate will be coming closer. In a way, I rather hope not, as ending that plot may well end the series as a whole (although it doesn’t necessarily have to, I suppose). Either way, I’m eagerly waiting for next week’s finale…

Misfits: Series 3, Episode 6

“I’m not gonna let guys like you do shit like this to me any more.”

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Now that was good. I have to say, after two episodes, I am very impressed with new writer Jon Brown, who’s taken up the slack from series creator Howard Overman for this unprecedently long series of Misfits. This episode deals, not for the first time in the show, with the whole concept of sexual politics, in a very nuanced and intelligent way for a series with such politically incorrect humour. And not just that, but Brown seems to have a knack – which Overman, of late, hasn’t – of giving all the regular characters important roles in the episode’s story, so none is reduced to just sitting in the background making snarky remarks (something that’s happened to Curtis all too often).

To deal with the major plot first, we got a surprisingly serious rebuff to the whole concept of Rudy’s character as a boorish, shaghappy wanker who just uses women for sex and discards them without a second thought. Up till now, this has been just a jokey aspect of his persona; here, for the first time, he – and the viewer – gets reminded that there are consequences to this kind of behaviour. Under normal circumstances, these consequences are limited to hurt feelings and disillusionment. But in the world of Misfits, where anyone might have superhuman powers, the consequences go further. And with what happened to Rudy, Jon Brown managed to tap a nerve that’s nightmarish for every male viewer, but might well have every female viewer cheering.

OK, so it was basically the standard Misfits story where the gang encounter someone who’s misusing their powers and have to put a stop to it. The show always gives such characters a believable motive for doing what they do, but it was notable that the miscreant this time neither ended up dead nor lost her power. So, a girl who’s had a string of meaningless sexual encounters with men has – like all the characters with powers – ended up with a power that reflects her personality and her frustrations. And as Rudy discovered, that meant she had the power to literally make insensitive men like him have their dicks rot off.

And, speaking as a man, ouch! That taps into a primal fear for all male viewers, one of which I suspect girls are all too aware. And in the process, it can make the male viewer think a little bit about what they’ve done in the past. OK, so I’m actually gay, but Curtis’ contemptuous remark, “You can’t remember who you slept with? Classy.” did bring a wince-makingly familiar stab of guilt to me. As did Rudy’s admission that, in his drunken state, he couldn’t remember which of the three girls he’d flirted with at the previous night’s party he’d actually ended up in bed with. At the risk of stereotyping men, yes, we really can be bastards who think with our dicks.

So this main plot became a (still amusing) quest for Rudy and Simon to find, and make reparations to, said girl before Rudy’s penis fell off as in Simon’s vision of the future. That, it has to be said, had me simultaneously laughing hysterically and wincing at the thought. And given Simon’s usually very serious role in the show, it was nice to see his visions focussing on something which was (unless you’re a man) less than a matter of life and death.

And inevitably, it was going to take finding all three flirtees before the guys found the right one, leading to some rather amusing misunderstandings. So, was it “collarbones”, “Ready Brek” or “ankles”? Along the way, Rudy and Simon formed a rather good double act, with Simon’s seriousness making him a great straight man to Rudy’s boorishness. Some elementary detective work led to an increasingly embarrassing set of encounters, of which probably the worst was Rudy’s attempt to charm one girl who turned out to have just kissed him, and actually had a girlfriend of her own. Which doesn’t sound so bad until you realise that Rudy prefaced this encounter by dropping his trousers before knocking on her door, meaning her prepubescent sister was greeted with the charming sight of his rotting penis (thankfully spared from viewers).

Of course, this too led to an amusing subplot in which Rudy was arrested, and managed to escape by splitting and leaving the police with his ‘better half’. Who, inevitably, was forgotten about and turned up at the eleventh hour to instil Rudy with yet more guilt. Because yes, Rudy did seem to actually learn a lesson from all of this. Having tracked down Leah (the actual culprit) at a night club, he made what sounded like a genuine apology over the club’s sound system (much to the displeasure of the rest of the patrons) – “I’m just a twat with a big mouth. I’m sorry”. And top marks that Leah actually wasn’t that interested when he really did offer to have a drink with her and get to know her – because that would have been too easy. So off she went, with her power very much intact; watch out, thoughtless men!

Elsewhere, the ‘B plot’ (though it was at least as significant as the ‘A plot’) delved into the consequences of Curtis’ male/female masturbation experiments, almost as a counterpoint to the sexual politics aspect of what happened to Rudy. Finding himself uncontrollably turning into his female alter ego, then finally being stuck there, Curtis was confronted with perhaps the most serious consequence of his power – he (she?) was pregnant. But who was the father? After all, to the best of our knowledge, the female Curtis hasn’t actually had penetrative sex with a man. Step up then, Curtis himself. In a plotline that only Misfits could do, it turned out that Curtis had been alternating male/female wanks, and used the same tissue to ‘mop up’ with. So, basically, he was the father of his own child.

This was a genuinely interesting moral dilemma, so I thought the way the story got out of it was a bit of a copout. Rather than have Curtis stick as a woman, and have to face the decision of abortion or giving birth, he ended up back at Seth’s, trading away his sex change power. This seemed rather too easy, and also had the sad consequence that, presumably, this will be the last we see of Kehinde Fadipe as the female Curtis – a great pity, as she’s been fantastic.

But it did tie into this season’s Big Plot, which is now clearly about Seth, Kelly, and Seth’s dead girlfriend. So we saw Seth and Kelly properly getting it on (in the community centre’s storeroom, very romantic), and then Seth offered to take Kelly to Morocco. Which would be great, and no less than Kelly deserves; unfortunately, at about that point, Seth managed to track down the important power he’d ‘lost’. And yes, as we’d all worked out by now, it was the power of bringing back the dead. So, as a tradeoff, he took away Curtis’ sex change ability in exchange for an agreement that Curtis would wield the resurrection power for him – since, as is now clear, Seth can’t use powers, only trade them.

So, next week – to judge by the flashforward – expect zombie cheerleaders and cats, something Misfits should be able to do very well. But it’s revealing that that kind of comic strip shenanigans, as shown by the Nazi episode a couple of weeks ago, tends to be less satisfying than the usual balance of reality and fantasy. Still, I love zombies, so I have high hopes. And I’m still waiting on a new probation worker to replace Shaun, who I’m already missing – as Kelly says, “they always send a new probation worker after we’ve killed one”. Watch that space…

Misfits: Series 3, Episode 5

“We were supposed to go for a drink together. Me and Kelly. I mean, it might have been nothing, maybe she would have been too high maintenance, maybe I would have got on her nerves. But it could have been something. We could have been good together.”

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After the high stakes sci fi shenanigans last week, it was nice to have a rather more low key episode of Misfits which concentrated on character as much as concept. This was very much a Kelly and Rudy centric story; we already know and like Kelly, but we got to delve a bit more into Rudy’s troubled psyche, which was the lighter side to a story that actually had a few shocks along the way. And it was nice that, for the first time in quite a while, we got to see almost all of the gang using their powers.

It is fair to say that, like last week, we had a plot concept here that’s pretty old hat – namely, the good old-fashioned body swap. The script even spelled it out for us. Once Alisha had used her power to see through Kelly’s eyes, discovering she was in a coma ward, then the gang found a different girl there, Simon guessed what was up immediately. Of course, Simon’s the geek of the group, so it’s hardly surprising he’s come across the idea before; but even Rudy immediately blurted, “it’s like that film!” then lost points by saying Face/Off, while Simon patiently explained that it was more like Freaky Friday.

And of course it was like Freaky Friday. And Vice Versa. And Quantum Leap. And any number of episodes of The X Files, Buffy and Angel. Last week, I felt the show suffered a little from a very overused concept; but here, I thought the concept was given a nice twist that worked in the Misfits universe, and gave Lauren Socha another chance to shine playing, essentially, a different part.

The basic crux of the plot worked so well because it’s one of the things Misfits does best – a crisis caused by superpowers that directly affects the emotional lives of the characters. So, just as Seth was finally getting over his old girlfriend and arranged to meet Kelly for a drink to see where things might lead, their chance was cruelly snatched away when Kelly, trying to be helpful as always, took the hand of coma patient Jen and their bodies were switched.

Straight away, then, there’s an ethical dilemma. If we get Kelly back, Jen goes back into her coma, losing not only her boyfriend Dom but probably her life too. But here I felt the script missed a trick by deciding to make Jen a bit of a bitch once she was up and about again. Dom (a nice portrayal from Nick Blood) was a decent guy, and he couldn’t square having his girlfriend back with the idea of someone, even a stranger, having to unfairly suffer her fate. Jen, on the other hand, was so desperate not to be back in a coma that she was prepared to shut off the life support and let Kelly die.

That’s believable enough, I suppose, if you’ve been in a coma for a long time (and the traumatic revelation that Jen was aware of everything around her the whole time was pretty hard-hitting). But if anything, it made the ultimate resolution a bit too easy; we weren’t going to feel too much angst about returning Jen to her coma if she was like that. It meant that the only one we could really feel sorry for was Dom. And maybe we shouldn’t feel too sorry for him either, as it seemed like his initial reason for worrying about the situation was that his girlfriend was now in a body he didn’t fancy as much as her real one.

Elsewhere, we had a nice little subplot with Rudy’s ‘better half’ starting a relationship with his anger management therapist. This being Rudy, this was the funnier bit of the plot, as his initial therapy session involved his disappointment that they wouldn’t be “breaking stuff and putting on the boxing gloves”. But even this subplot was a bit emotionally affecting. Confronted with the question of whether he’d been a bed wetter, Rudy started clutching at his groin, and the natural assumption was that he needed to go for a piss. But of course, it was his more sensitive other self waiting to burst out. And when ‘nice Rudy’ found the therapist crying in her car and offered to talk, it was inevitable where this was going.

And equally inevitable that, as in so many identical twin comedies, the therapist would end up getting it on with the ‘wrong’ Rudy later, and all manner of hilarity would ensue. Except, after Rudy’s initial puzzled delight at getting a free handjob from his therapist, it actually turned out that ‘nice Rudy’ had really fallen for her, in a twist that reminded me of David Cronenberg’s twisted ‘identical twin gynaecologists’ movie Dead Ringers.

‘Nice Rudy’ it turned out, had never really had a girlfriend before, he’d just been present when his normal self carelessly shagged girls and threw them aside. So he was none too happy when his more boorish half told the therapist that it was over because she was “too old” (followed by the inevitable bit when nice Rudy, unsuspecting of this, offered to take her  for a meal and got a slap for his pains).

That got the two plots to nicely intersect, though, as ‘nice Rudy’ decided to drown his sorrows with ‘Kelly’, who’d found herself similarly rejected. The sequence in which the gang comically removed the comatose ‘Jen’ from the hospital before her life support could be switched off was entertaining (and reminiscent of a similar bit in Star Trek IV), but I had to wonder what was keeping her alive while she was being trundled around with her machines unplugged. OK, maybe they had a battery backup, but there was a noticeable lack of beeping noises when she was bundled into the back of Seth’s BMW.

Still, that’s just nitpicking. The plot was resolved as ‘nice Rudy’ managed to trick Jen/Kelly into joining her old comatose body at the community centre; but it wasn’t smooth sailing. It took a heartfelt plea from Seth to make her have a change of heart, realising she was effectively cheating two more people out of their chance at the happiness she’d had. The dynamic of this scene was particularly effective, as Lauren Socha played ‘not-Kelly’ dealing with Matthew McNulty’s impassioned Seth, and you could feel the chemistry between them. This burgeoning relationship has, more than anything, formed the ‘Big Plot’ of this year’s series, and I was glad to see that, by the very end, it looked like they were properly together at last, and not in some alternate reality this time.

It wasn’t such a happy ending for Shaun though. Reviving the show’s first season trope of killing off all the gang’s probation workers, he finally got his this week when Jen, in Kelly’s body, stabbed him with a screwdriver. Of course he got killed last week too, but this time it was in our reality, and it was for keeps. This actually made me a little sad, as I’ve really enjoyed Craig Parkinson as the lackadaisical, couldn’t-give-a-fuck probation worker. He’s been around now for nearly two series, and despite his generally lazy, slobbish and often downright creepy attitude, he’s been a likeable character in the way that previous probation workers weren’t.

In the event, his death scene was actually rather affecting. As Simon gently told him the truth and Rudy demonstrated that they really did have superpowers, his last words were, “I can’t believe I never picked up on it. You bunch of dicks. Fucking superheroes.” And with that, he was gone.

Of course, it was obvious that he had to die, as he’d have fingered Kelly for the stabbing; and Simon only told him the secret because he wasn’t going to live. But I have to say, I’m wondering how the gang will explain away yet another ‘missing’ probation worker without the police starting to seriously pay attention. Perhaps that’s a plotline to come…

And speaking of plotlines to come, it was nice to get reacquainted with Curtis’ female alter ego Melissa (Kehinde Fadipe) for the first time since episode two. Following up on his discovery of the delights of the female orgasm in that episode, it seems he’s been switching into Melissa every now and then just to have a wank, leading to a typical Misfits comedy scene of misunderstanding as Alisha discovers him just after this, then Simon discovers the pair of them and wonders if they’re getting back up to their old habits again. Comic it was, but I think there’s going to be fallout here. Not only did Curtis not explain that he’d been masturbating as a woman, but it’s sown some uncertainty into Simon and Alisha’s relationship. Looks like there’ll be more of this next week.

A good character based episode then, and an impressive first script from Jon Brown that really nails the characters we’ve come to know. This is actually the very first Misfits episode to be scripted by anyone other than Howard Overman, though like Steven Moffat on Doctor Who, he may well have had a lot of input. Nevertheless, it’s encouraging that other writers can take it on, especially with the slightly longer season of eight episodes this year.

This episode has also cemented Seth and Kelly’s relationship, and established Seth properly as one of the gang (in answer to Rudy’s question on this, Curtis grumbles “don’t call it a gang, we’re not in primary school”). Some viewers may be impatient that the show’s not getting on with the Really Big Plot of Simon’s time travel and death, but I’m just as happy for that to be kept in the background for now; if it’s resolved, either the show will end, or at the very least lose Simon, which would be a shame. No, I’m happy for the gang to have individual adventures each week, and if there has to be a Big Plot, I’m happy for that to be about Seth and Kelly.

Misfits: Series 3, Episode 4

“We’re all doing what we need to do in order to survive.”

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So after cleverly and successfully deconstructing many of the superhero tropes of comic books last week, this week Misfits writer Howard Overman turns his attentions to another classic trope of sci fi and comics – the alternate reality where the Nazis won World War 2 – with, arguably, rather less success.

This plotline’s as old as the hills. Philip K Dick went there with his excellent 1962 novel The Man in the High Castle, Stephen Fry more recently with Making History, not to mention any number of Twilight Zone stories, Doctor Who novels and comic book stories. Its very familiarity as a fantasy scenario has the advantage that it’s instantly clear to the viewer what’s going on, so not too much explanation is needed; but it also has the disadvantage that it’s been pretty much done to death. It’s the common post-1945 cultural nightmare, and it’s so ubiquitous that it’s hard to come up with anything new to say on the topic. While I love Misfits, it has to be said that this didn’t really come up with anything new either.

But then maybe Overman wasn’t trying to make his scenario especially original. The point – and the fun – of doing an alternate reality episode of an established TV show is to show familiar characters behaving in very unfamiliar ways. Hence, for example, the Doctor Who story Inferno, in which the Brigadier appears as a fascist stormtrooper, or the Mirror Universe stories of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, which re-imagine Major Kira as a leather clad bisexual dominatrix and Captain Sisko as an unscrupulous space pirate.

And yet, oddly, this episode of Misfits doesn’t really do that either. True, Simon’s a Nazi soldier in this reality, and Curtis an undercover resistance leader; but neither is particularly different in their character from what we’re used to. Simon was unwillingly conscripted, and Curtis may be a latterday Victor Laszlo but he’s still working as a barman in that ratty old bar. Kelly and Alisha are still doing whatever the Nazi equivalent of community service is, and seem no different to usual. And Rudy is still Rudy, falling in with the resistance because the Nazis want his power, but being about as much help as a chocolate tea strainer.

The only character who is – perhaps – different from usual is Shaun; a low ranking Nazi functionary who still functions as a kind of probation worker, he’s as slapdash at fascism as he is with his usual role. And yet being an authority figure in a Nazi world allows all those really nasty aspects of his character, usually only hinted at, to stand out proudly. He’s blackmailed Alisha into sleeping with him by getting her off a drink drive charge, and he’s quite willing to actually shoot people. Craig Parkinson makes this version of Shaun a natural extension of his familiar loathsomeness rather than something completely different; you get the believable impression that, given the right circumstances, ‘our’ Shaun could be like this too.

As with last week’s episode, this is necessarily a very timey-wimey plot, steeped in potential paradoxes. Taking a similar tack to Fry’s Making History, the McGuffin to set the alternate universe into being is an elderly victim of the Holocaust travelling back in time ostensibly to kill Hitler; as in that novel (and most other versions of this plot) he actually succeeds in making things worse. Not only does the Fuhrer overpower him, but he drops his mobile phone during the struggle, handing the Nazis advanced technology decades before it should exist. Result (as usual) – the Nazis win the war and Britain in 2011 is still an occupied country. Swastikas hang from the familiar community centre, black clad troops are everywhere, and we see Seth being hauled from the boot of his car and taken away in handcuffs. After a nice precredits sequence establishing this chain of events, Kelly sums up the situation with typical bluntness: “Fuckin’ Nazis.”

The Nazi-run Thamesmead housing estate is only marginally more grim than it usually looks, but the equally grim nature of the scenario means that there’s far less humour this week than usual, something that felt somewhat lacking. Kelly is thankfully her usual self, pithy insults and all, and Shaun’s usual creepiness is enhanced but still funny. Rudy, as usual, is reliable comic relief, but his scatological observations are kept to a minimum as the story tries to get perhaps too serious. Elsewhere, Curtis is unusually earnest and Simon still looks soulful and troubled, but jokes aren’t the order of the day here: Overman seems to want to keep his scenario unrelentingly grim.

Thankfully, the script doesn’t go into too much detail about the bigger picture of a Nazi-dominated world, relying instead on the familiarity of the scenario for viewers, and painting in minutiae like swastika headed paper and armoured Jeeps. The lack of exposition is probably wise, as it would be easy to pick holes in the scenario. For example, given Nazi racial policies, it’s highly unlikely that Curtis or Alisha would be around at all; this isn’t even acknowledged in the script, though Shaun does acidly explain that homosexuality is illegal when Rudy tries to pass himself off (hilariously) as Curtis’ gay lover (“I’m the butch and he’s the bitch. I’m the sausage and he’s the muffin…”). Then there’s the fact that the Nazi military vehicles are very obviously (American–made) Jeep Cherokees (you can even see the company logo on the steering wheel). And the most glaring flaw in every alternate reality episode of any TV show – with history having changed so substantially, it’s highly unlikely that the same group of characters would still be together in the same place that they are in established reality.

The intentional lack of exposition makes such holes harder to poke, but the scenario still felt a bit low-rent. The Nazis only appear to have two military vehicles, the housing estate is only altered with a few swastika banners and a (very obviously CG) statue of Hitler, and the local resistance movement comprises only Curtis, Kelly, and latterly Rudy. Even if they’re only one cell, that seems a remarkably small one – even if Rudy can conveniently up their numbers with his duplicate.

It was nonetheless a good episode for Kelly and Seth, using the all-bets-off nature of alternate reality to further explore their feelings for each other. The plot hinged on the Nazis wanting to use Seth to acquire the superpowers which they were somehow aware of; having already sold Curtis’ old time-travelling power to the elderly man who started the whole thing, Seth was obviously also the key to putting history right. In the mean time, though, a few old faces cropped up, having not died in this history. Thus, Kelly was accompanied by Josef Altin as Gary, the less than pleasant member of the group who was killed way back in the first episode, and we also saw Peter from last week’s episode brutally shot by the Nazis (killed twice in as many weeks, he’s an unlucky guy). And Catrin Stewart popped up as Lily from the second episode of last year’s series, forced into trading her freezing power to proper Nazi bad guy Captain Smith (Glenn Speers managing to make him a scary enough bad guy despite him basically being paper thin as a character).

Seeing the old faces was a nice nod to the show’s past, and demonstrates the attention it pays to its own continuity; but of course, it did make one wonder where Nathan had got to. Obviously Robert Sheehan is still ‘unavailable’ but it’s a shame he couldn’t have popped in for a cameo at least – this of all episodes would have fitted that beautifully.

Interestingly, none of the regular characters – with the exception of Rudy – had any powers in this alternate reality, allowing a potential changeover of abilities yet again. This might have been very confusing though, and Overman wisely resisted the temptation to do it. Quite apart from anything else, it would be yet another temporal paradox in a show that’s becoming riddled with them for any of the gang to have acquired a new power in a timeline that never actually happened. But equally obviously, someone would have to be given the old man’s time-travelling power to sort everything out. I’d expected this to be Simon, thus giving him the ability to time travel that he’ll need for his future self to come back and die saving Alisha; but obviously that’s being saved for another day. Instead, it was the increasingly marvellous Kelly who got the power, transmitted in a light-blazing kiss with Seth – another admission that there’s definitely something going to happen with these two in the regular reality.

Kelly’s fast becoming the best character in the show, with her pithy humour and down to earth decency – a character who by sheer likeability manages to overturn all the potential ‘chav’ stereotypes. She didn’t disappoint in this episode; first she stormed the community centre/prison with two silenced pistols, being punch-the-air badass, then she travelled back to the past and gave Hitler a good kicking to sort things out, mouthily declaiming “Why do you have to be such a dick?” If there’s any doubt as to who should be the next breakout star from the show, I’d say it’s definitely Lauren Socha. She even gets the episode’s fantastic last line; as the only one aware of the alternate timeline, when asked what she’s been up to, she responds with “fighting Nazis and kicking the shit out of Hitler. What about you?” Oh yeah!

Mind you, it seemed a little redundant that, having given her the time-travel power, Overman had her give it up again when she returned to regular reality. Going back to the ‘rocket scientist’ power felt a bit odd given how limited its usefulness has been so far (even if in keeping with Kelly’s basically decent, down to earth nature). Still, perhaps this power will yet prove to be instrumental in a later plot; in the meantime, Seth has placed the time travel power in his pet iguana “for safekeeping”. Hopefully this won’t mean that we’ll shortly have to see our gang stranded in ‘planet of the lizards’ alternate reality…

Overall then, this was a bit of an uneven episode, whose success depended on how tolerant you were of the much overused ‘Nazis win WW2 alternate reality’ plot. It might have felt less overfamiliar to me if Howard Overman had used the episode to deconstruct the cliche, as he so successfully did with superheroes last week. As it was, this felt like an uneven romp, which was enjoyable enough but missed a lot of chances to be more original. Being Misfits, though, it was still miles better than a lot of versions of this story; it’s just that, given the show’s usual stellar standards, this felt like it didn’t live up to the usual quality. There was plenty to like, but let’s hope Overman can return the loveably pithy mix of reality and fantasy to a better balance next week.

Oh, and one final thing – it only occurred to me last week (after the superhero musings) that the name ‘Overman’ is a literal English translation of the German ‘ubermensch’, which was itself later Anglicised (from Nietzsche’s work) as ‘Superman’. Is Howard Overman secretly Superman? Smile

Misfits: Series 3, Episode 3

“You wear a costume and you jump off buildings. And you save people from muggers. Trust me, that makes you a superhero.”

MisfitsSuperhoodie

A doomier than usual episode of Misfits this week, as the focus shifts to Simon and his ‘destiny’ as Superhoodie, the most obviously comic-book-like of the gang. There was much musing on the subject of the temporal paradox we already know to be at the heart of his story, and while done in typical Misfits style, this was very much a thoughtful musing on fate and how much control we have over it.

All this was facilitated by the introduction of Peter, a shy, introverted, comic nerd whose personality is so wound tight he always wears his shirt buttoned right to the top. In other words, Peter was basically a carbon copy of Simon as he used to be, before the discovery of his powers and his future liberated him. As Peter, Michael Marcus put in a clever performance as the extent of his inadequacy and hero worship gradually gave way to what seemed like full on psychosis – like a dark mirror of how Simon could have ended up if things had gone a different way.

And things going a different way was at the heart of the story this week. The nature of the plot is that we know Simon, as Superhoodie, will come back from the future to save Alisha, being killed in the process. Alisha is obviously none too keen on this, for various reasons. She cites how good Simon is in bed (“Just pretend I’m not here,” mutters Curtis), and the fact that she’s never been the one on the receiving end of a dumping. But the truth is simply that she’s totally, believably in love with Simon, and knows that if he’s to follow the path time has laid out for him and travel back to save her while dying, they can’t have long left together.

Antonia Thomas was great as Alisha this week, showing how she’s matured while still retaining that sassy cockiness that defines her. Obviously very worried about what Simon’s getting up to as Superhoodie, she’s none too pleased to see his hand bandaged up, but when he tells her that yes, it does hurt, her response is a simple, “good”. This is not a girl that’s going to be walked over by fate. And true to form in such plots, both her and Peter want Simon to try and change his destiny.

Alisha falls prey to one of the common misunderstandings of a time paradox, as she tells Simon that he doesn’t need to go back in time – she’s alive now, so therefore she can’t die in the past. But therein, of course, is the paradox. Simon has to follow the future laid out for him or the present will be changed and Alisha will be dead.

Peter, rather more pragmatically, addresses the concern that nerds like me have had since this plot came on the scene – namely, since Simon knows he’ll be shot saving Alisha, why doesn’t he wear a bulletproof vest when he goes to the scene? And Simon’s answer was, thankfully, not some sub-Doctor Who technobabble about the Blinovitch Limitation Effect or the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle. In keeping with his more mature, thoughtful personality these days, he explains that his future self dying is the catalyst not only for him to become that person, but also for Alisha to fall in love with him. And that’s not something he wants to give up, even if he can only have it for a short time before he has to die.

But there was also the fact that Simon – a comic nerd himself, remember – is clearly enjoying being Superhoodie, and the events of this episode served to bring him back down to earth somewhat. After saving Peter from an attempted mugging in full-on Batman/Kickass style, Simon’s plainly high on the idea of being a superhero. Ironically, it’s Peter’s slavish worship of him as one that serves notice as to how treacherous the idea can be.

Of course, this being Misfits, Peter had a power of his own – and it was very much in keeping with the themes of the episode that it was to draw comics and have the events in them turn into reality. So having discovered the true identity of his saviour in the toilets at the community centre (which Rudy, typically, assumed was Simon coming to terms with himself as “a beautiful, proud gay man”), Peter set about manipulating his hero into becoming his best friend, then disposing of his current friends when they got in the way.

This led to some clever musings on the tropes of classic superhero comics, not least the often ridiculously portentous dialogue. Manipulated into splitting up with Alisha, Simon announced, “I’m terminating our relationship… being a superhero is a great burden.” Alisha responded the way most of us would when confronted with such dialogue in the real world: “What the fuck are you talking about?”  There was also Peter’s declaration that superheroes can’t have girlfriends because their relationships never end well – true enough for anyone familiar with the relationships of, among others, Superman and Spiderman.

Simon was, however, acting very much out of character – something the rest of the gang were quick to notice, even Rudy (though he continued to assume that Simon was just coming to terms with his homosexuality, and offered Alisha a charming “rebound fuck”). It didn’t take Sherlock Holmes to work out that Simon’s newfound devotion to Peter must be down to Peter himself, and this was confirmed when they discovered his drawings of what had happened. As they were torn up, Simon snapped back to his usual self, the lights in his Batcave-like lair flickering on and off while the Hans Zimmer-like theme for Superhoodie played in the background.

Tearing up the drawings was an obvious save, but it did occur to me that burning them might have produced a more unfortunate effect. In Vault of Horror when Tom Baker discovers he can kill people by painting them and then destroying or disfiguring the paintings, he makes the baffling choice to do a self-portrait, which nearly kills him when locked into an airtight safe, then actually does when he spills paint thinner on it (he gets run over by a truck, making his face look as messy as it does in the ruined painting). I wondered whether burning Peter’s drawings would, similarly, burn Simon – though he doesn’t get torn in half from tearing them up. Still, that’s the sort of nitpicking that a nerd like Peter (or me) would do. And it’s not the end of the nitpicking either; the fight that Peter pre-choreographed with his drawings, where Superhoodie wiped the floor with his unwitting friends, must have depended on the idea that Peter knew they were all going to corner him in advance. Maybe there’s some timey-wimey stuff going on with him too?

It’s another classic trope of comics to have a bad guy who’s basically how the hero could have turned out if things had been slightly different – Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke hinges on the Joker drawing that similarity between himself and Batman. Here, as Peter descended into what seemed full on madness, he kidnapped Alisha while actually dressed as Superhoodie. And when he died after Simon had stabbed him with his own butcher knife, Alisha even commented, “it’s like watching you die for a second time”.

But the story had one last twist to play. It seemed out of character for Simon to have actually killed Peter – yes, he did kill the social worker back in series one, but that was an accident that horrified him. But as the camera panned over some still intact drawings, it became clear that Peter had still been manipulating events up to the end, to both embody and teach his perceived idea that “a superhero has to be prepared to die for what he believes in”. Insanity or destiny? Hard to know, but it was a nice way to end the episode as the camera panned down to the last panel of the comic to reveal: “To be continued…”

While the plot generally hinged on Simon, Alisha and Peter, the rest of the gang were still not as sidelined as they were in last week’s Curtis-centric episode. Rudy got to be typically coarse and offensive – although I assumed that many of these were lines previously written for Nathan before Robert Sheehan chose to leave, as I could easily imagine him delivering them. Though I must note that his failed attempt to disable Peter’s burglar alarm featured him saying first, “I took a BTEC in computer science”, then after making the noise even worse, admitted “But I didn’t say I passed!” For the origin of that little gag, look no further then the introduction of Jo Grant in 1971 Doctor Who story Terror of the Autons!

Rudy also got to demonstrate his own power for the first time since episode one, leading to an amusing confrontation with probation worker Shaun when he discovered the two Rudys in the changing room. Shaun too was as drily funny as usual; assuming the two Rudys to be twin brothers, either of which might turn up for community service each day, he resignedly commented, “I’m going to forget what I’ve seen here. Because I really don’t give a fuck.”

Curtis didn’t get much to do this week beyond making the occasional wisecrack from the sidelines, but fair’s fair, he got pretty much the entirety of last week’s episode to himself. Kelly, though, was rather busier; besides once more exercising her ‘rocket scientist’ power to disable the burglar alarm, she also carried on flirting with ‘mysterious power guy’ Seth. He’s not as mysterious as he was, though. After Kelly flat out told him that she fancied him, we learned his backstory – he was a drug dealer who’d accidentally caused his girlfriend to OD, hence visiting her grave in the cemetery. And he can’t get it on with Kelly because he’s still in love with his dead girlfriend.

This caused me to speculate that perhaps the special power he’s so urgently looking for is the ability to bring the dead back to life; if so, he should be careful, as anyone who’s read The Monkey’s Paw will know, for resurrection seldom goes to plan. But Seth’s involvement is obviously crucial to this year’s storyline, and I also wonder whether it could give an out to Simon. Here’s my theory – Simon’s obviously going to have to acquire the power to actually travel in time, and Seth’s the only one who can deal powers out, so he’ll have to get it from him. But in the process, perhaps Simon might also, somehow, acquire Rudy’s power – meaning that it’s actually a duplicate Simon who dies saving Alisha, and the actual Simon can go off and live happily ever after with her.

Of course, I’m probably way off beam here, as I think Howard Overman’s plot solutions are rarely that obvious, but we’ll wait and see. Temporal paradox plotlines are very tricky things for a writer to get to grips with (unless you’re Steven Moffat perhaps), but Overman does seem to have an overarching plan for the show; that became obvious when Superhoodie was introduced at the end of series one. I think it’ll come together in the end, but in the mean time, this was a clever episode that combined comic fanboy enthusiasm with a bit of serious moral philosophy. Pretty impressive, and worth a look for those who still say that Misfits is just Skins meets Heroes. And next week’s trailer, with its plethora of Nazi uniforms around the community centre, seems to show yet another time paradox and comic book trope – I’m looking forward to that!

Misfits: Series 3, Episode 2

“You’ve no idea what it’s like, being a girl.”

Misfits Yr 3 Ep 2

After last week’s introduction episode for the new member of the gang, Misfits this week took on a rather less conventional plot as it explored the ramifications of Curtis’ new power – turning into a girl. Curtis had realised that this was a way around his ban from athletics, but as he began to spend more and more time as his female version, Melissa, he got a number of object lessons in sexual politics and the differences between the genders.

Plots involving identity confusion based on swapping gender are hardly new. There’s the ancient Greek myth of Teiresias, any number of Shakespeare plays (but especially Twelfth Night), Virginia Woolf’s Orlando, all the way up to modern comedies like Tootsie and teen fodder like It’s a Boy Girl Thing. Some of these involve mistaken identity stemming from the characters dressing up as the other gender, some from them actually transforming into the other gender. This Misfits episode fitted into the latter category, one I always think is more satisfying because it not only allows the character to experience that gender’s treatment, but how it feels physically to actually be that gender.

This is heavy artistic company to be in with (well, maybe not It’s a Boy Girl Thing), and it’s always a worry that with a theme so often explored, there might be nothing new to say about it. But writer Howard Overman manages to make it work all over again in the Misfits universe; typically, this involves some pretty scatological and sexual observations about gender, which may have been done before but have a great impact when dealt with by characters we’ve come to know and like.

Central to making it work was the casting of Curtis’ female alter ego, and Kehinde Fadipe does a great job as Melissa. She manages to physically portray the kind of awkwardness you’d expect from a male learning to work a female body – witness her slightly drunken-looking, tottering attempt to walk in heels. But this didn’t compromise a genuine femininity and beauty, which was crucial to the plot. After all, if she hadn’t been beautiful, we couldn’t have been plunged into the subsequent Twelfth Night-like plot of multiple confusion as various people fell for both him and her. Curtis and Melissa, that is.

It’s certainly complicated to sum up, as a confused Simon discovered when he became Curtis’ initial confidante on the situation. So, Curtis likes fellow runner Emma, but she thinks he’s shit in bed; Emma actually likes Melissa, who is actually Curtis, but thinks Curtis is sleeping with Melissa at the same time as she (Emma) is, while Kelly sees Simon zipping up Melissa’s dress and immediately leaps to the conclusion that her best friend’s boyfriend is sleeping around with Melissa, who is actually their mate Curtis, while Rudy and Shaun desperately try to cop off with Melissa, unaware that the object of their fantasy is actually a man. Got all that?

Summed up like that, it does come across a bit like a Whitehall farce (so does Twelfth Night, come to think of it), but this episode managed to use its convoluted plot to explore gender differences in ways that were thought-provoking, dramatically affecting, and often just dirtily funny. So as a woman, Curtis got to experience first hand what it’s like to have salivating, unattractive men lusting after you and groping your arse (take a bow, Shaun), and being patronised by sexual predators who are only after your body. But conversely, he (she? Pronoun confusion!) got to experience the delights of female sexuality without actually having to have sex with a man, when fellow runner Emma gave him/her some amazing head. This led to an amusing conversation with Simon about the delights of the multiple orgasm, which was plainly an eye-opener for Curtis, who previously had been rather taken with its male equivalent and now found it somewhat lacking.

Indeed, Curtis’ sexuality (and its shortcomings) was very much a topic of this episode. Previously, our heroes have never had the dual identity common to comic book super heroes, which so often leads to confusion and hurt as Lois Lane describes to Clark Kent quite how much sexier Superman is. But now, Curtis has a genuine secret identity as Melissa, and as a result, Melissa got to hear some things about Curtis which were less than flattering. Having bumped into him in his role as local barman, Emma had ended up in bed with him as a “sympathy shag”, purely to hut him up after an endless stream of self-pity, then discovered  it was one of the less satisfying sexual experiences of her life. Certainly the flashback to this showed Curtis very much as the sort of lover whose sensitivity in bed tends more toward his own satisfaction than his partner’s. This caused Emma to have what she thought was a bit of a giggle to Melissa about the experience, while Melissa for her part looked suitably discomfited.

Much of the episode was about Curtis’ realisation of his shortcomings, both emotionally and physically, and Nathan Stewart Jarrett did a fine job of taking it rather more seriously than some other Misfits episodes. Alisha was forthright enough to confirm all his worst fears about his own negativity and sexual selfishness (with the most amusing female mime of male masturbation I’ve ever seen), despite this obviously not being what he wanted to hear (“This is why I never talk to men about this sort of thing. If they don’t want to know, they shouldn’t ask”). This obviously got him thinking, and by the end of the episode he’d certainly changed; not only did he manage to turn down Emma’s attempt to throw herself at him, he even made a conscious effort to lighten up about his prospects.

This was a well-done exploration of gender differences (being Misfits, with a strong emphasis on sexuality), and I felt it covered almost very potential aspect bar one – it might have been nice to have seen Curtis overwhelmed enough by his new identity to actually have sex with a man. The sex scenes with Emma were very well handled, but in some ways it felt like the script was missing a trick by having female Curtis still only fancy women. Still, there was enough subversion of standard sexual mores on display here to make this a pretty bold piece of work even without that. And it was nice that, after displaying Curtis’ selfishness as a lover, the script let us know that not all men are like that with Alisha’s description of why Simon is so good in bed.

With all this going on, there almost wasn’t time for an antagonist; certainly not the standard Misfits trope of someone else with a power who’s misusing it. So what we got instead was arguably creepier in its real world plausibility – Emma’s sexual predator of a coach, Mark, who likes to get his women by slipping them Rohypnol and raping them in the back of his car. That Mark was, on the surface, a charming and good-looking young bloke only made this more disturbing, and credit to actor Jay Taylor for managing to make him slyly creepy from the outset.

Inevitably, Mark tried it on with Melissa; equally inevitably, Melissa turned back into Curtis, who justifiably gave Mark a good punch in the nose before running off still clad in a sequinned nightdress. It was a good scene, with the transformation signalled by Mark noticing that his quarry now had a penis protruding from ‘her’ dress. The only question in my mind was (like Joe Thomas’ exposed testicle in The Inbetweeners) was this really Nathan Stewart Jarrett, or was it a ‘stunt penis’? Certainly unusual even for E4, it was only there for a split second, so could have been either; but if it was real, that’s kind of brave of Nathan!

Good sport too, then, to Jay Taylor, as Mark’s much-deserved comeuppance involved him being tied naked to the fence at the athletics track, the words “I drug and rape girls” scrawled on his chest. His old chap was visible too, but only in long shot. Still, this was a nice table-turning moment after all the trouble Melissa/Curtis had faced from men throughout the episode.

Since this was such a Curtis-centric episode, the rest of the characters didn’t get  much of a look in, though at least when they did, they were as consistent as ever. Rudy cemented his attempts to be more disgusting than Nathan by being caught unashamedly pissing into a sink (and somehow thinking that was a good thing because “she’s already seen my cock”). And then in a less than chivalrous moment he went down on the willing (because drugged) Melissa, somehow not noticing that she was referring to him as “Emma”. At least he got a pubic hair stuck in his throat for the rest of the episode as some kind of poetic justice.

Simon, meanwhile, was discussing the limitations of his new power with the gang. Last week, in a fit of hungover inattention, I completely failed to notice what this was. Thankfully, many friends soon pointed out that it was obviously the ability to see into the future for a short period. This week, we learned that, like Johnny Smith in The Dead Zone, he doesn’t get to choose what part of the future he sees; which rather put the kibosh on Rudy’s plan to win the lottery (and split the winnings “60/50”).

And elsewhere, Kelly’s definitely falling (in her own inimitably aggressive way) for “mysterious power guy” Seth. This week, after using her rocket scientist power to fix his old BMW, she trailed him to a local graveyard much to Alisha’s amusement (“You fancy him, don’t you"?” “Shut up.”). But who was the mysterious young woman on whose grave he placed his flowers? And what will all of this have to do with the gang in the forthcoming weeks? More urgently, now that Curtis has revealed his power to a ‘civilian’ (Emma), will she be able to keep the secret?

I’m continuing to be really impressed with this show, and its spot-on balance of humour, drama and fantasy; I’m also impressed that, unlike similar shows, the creator has so far written every episode, lending it a consistency in tone that’s often missing from, say, Doctor Who, or even Being Human. This week’s was another class episode which had a lot to say under the humour and pathos, and was an excellent showcase for both Nathan Stewart Jarrett and Kehinde Fadipe (and I hope we continue to see more or Melissa as the series progresses). But in typical Misfits style, the last word went to Rudy, and it was a bit dirty: “For a bloke, he’s got a lovely pussy.” Nice.

Misfits: Series 3, Episode 1

“Maybe it’ll be different this time. Maybe there won’t be any shit going down.”

Misfits Yr 3 Group

Yeah, right. At last, E4 have brought us the long-anticipated third series of their hit teen/comedy/drama/fantasy show Misfits, a surprise hit when it debuted a couple of years ago. Dismissed early on as Skins meets Heroes, the show was far more vital, far more inventive, and just far more scatologically funny than either of those. An everyday tale of five disparate young people on community service who unexpectedly gain superpowers, it was witty, well-written and well-acted.

Having successfully pulled off the “difficult second album” with series 2, series 3 actually has a bit more to deal with in terms of weight of expectations. An admittedly somewhat convoluted timey-wimey storyline has meant that writer Howard Overman has to pay very close attention to continuity, without alienating the viewers with masses of back references. On top of that, at the end of the last series, our heroes finished their community service, meaning that there was really no reason for them to stay together as a group. In order to retain the show’s flavour, it was necessary to get them back on the wrong side of the law. And to cap it all, loudmouthed (but funny) Nathan has left, as Robert Sheehan took advantage of his star-making turn to leap into a movie career.

Replacing Nathan was always going to be difficult. With his cocky attitude, loud mouth and propensity for highly inappropriate sexual references, he may not have been the smartest of the group, but he certainly stood out the most. This first episode of the new series rightly concentrated on presenting us with a new super-powered character to replace him, as we met Rudy, incarnated by Joseph Gilgun (best known as the hapless Woody in This Is England and Eli Dingle in Emmerdale).

At first glance, Rudy seemed a little like a carbon copy of Nathan (albeit more Northern and less Irish). He’s loud, he’s cocky, and he has a slightly disturbing fixation with anal sex.  But even before the opening credits we got an inkling of how he was going to differ. We first encountered him visiting “that mysterious cool guy who sells powers”, giving us the natural assumption that he wanted to buy one. But as he left after a fracas and cornered his mysterious assailant on a very dangerous looking rooftop, it became clear that he already had a power, and he obviously wanted to get rid of it.

As it turns out, Rudy’s power is that when he’s feeling down or insecure, those parts of his personality physically manifest themselves as another version of him springing from his chest. It’s in keeping with our heroes’ original powers, which reflected their personalities; and that’s where Rudy differs from Nathan. You often got the sense that there was a more sensitive (ie less crass) side to Nathan, but it was only ever hinted at. With Rudy, it’s right out there next to him. Or, more frequently, fighting with him, as his sensitive side seems to have a knack for exposing his insecurities. Their first disagreement on the roof showed that Howard Overman has lost none of his talent for very dirty (and very funny) humour: “Remember in the showers at PE when you got turned on by Richard Saunders soaping his balls? Yeah, and then you thought about it while you wanked into that fake vagina you made of mum’s rubber gloves.”

Gilgun is excellent as Rudy, delivering two quite distinct performances as the different versions of him. His public face is so boorish as to be almost a cartoon, but when the morose version pops out, you realise there’s more to him than someone who loves unprotected anal sex (“Nice girls never get HIV”). And in the calmer moments when he’s not fighting with his other self, both sides reveal themselves to be a bit deeper than the bloke who very publicly gets it on with his girlfriend in a bar (“Is he fingering her? Eww.”).

With Rudy nicely introduced from the outset, and already on community service with two new girls, it was time to wonder what had happened to the heroes we know and love. At the end of the last series, they’d sold their powers to “that mysterious guy” whose own power was to redistribute those of others (following this?). Finding normal life less rewarding, they’d gone back to him and asked to buy their powers back; but he’d already sold them on, so they had their pick of a bunch of new ones. The question, at the opening of this series, was which powers they’d got.

The script cleverly eked out this information throughout the episode. We first found out that gobby Kelly (Lauren Socha, still superb this year) has now got the power of being… a rocket scientist. Literally. Her only ability is to design rockets. This turns out not to be all it’s cracked up to be, as her attempt to sell a design for a ballistic missile fell foul of a snobbish CEO who refused to believe that anyone who sounded like her could be capable of designing rocket propulsion systems. On the face of it, this power seems rather rubbish, but Overman has previously shown ingenuity at making each power crucial to one story or another – I look forward to seeing what plotline that’s going to resolve.

Curtis, meanwhile, has lost his ability to reverse time and change the outcome of events (which always felt like a copout way of getting out of things, anyway). And like Kelly, his new power, on the face of it, doesn’t seem that useful. He can change into a girl. And that’s it. The same girl each time, a female version of himself (causing Rudy to muse “I’ve always fancied a vagina… mind, I’ve heard they’re quite high maintenance, cleaning and that”). This is a bit of a sore point for Curtis, who admitted, “I was the last one to pick, and all the other powers had gone”. But it’s already been useful evading a pursuing policeman, and I’m guessing there’ll be some interesting… sexual issues coming up as the series progresses.

Alisha can now put herself “into someone else’s shoes”, and see what they’re seeing – potentially very useful. And Simon? Well, as of this episode, we still don’t know what Simon’s new power is, but he’s continuing to grow in confidence as the group’s nominal leader. Iwan Rheon has delivered a cleverly progressing performance as Simon has developed from the painfully shy and slightly creepy introvert of the first series into his destiny as the black-clad “super-hoodie”. This week, we saw him practising the free running we know super-hoodie will be good at, even if he bottled it at one particularly dangerous jump.

The most obviously superhero-like of the characters, Simon’s comic book knowledge is serving him well, and he still has the mysterious Batcave-like lair he inherited from his future self (now there’s a timey-wimey paradox for you). He’s also been working out, and I was rather happy that the new series continues the trend developed last year that every episode will feature at least one scene of him shirtless and displaying his impressively toned body. But exploitation aside, Iwan Rheon continues to give Simon a more mature feel – witness the touching scene this week as he consoled the guilty Alisha, ashamed of her past as “the cockmonster”.

With all this setting up to do for this year’s events, it was perhaps sensible that the actual plot (such as it was) was what has already been established as a standard Misfits story. The gang encounter someone else with a power who’s misusing hit, and have to engage their ingenuity to stop them. This time, it was one of the two new community service girls, who, after a misunderstanding with Rudy’s duplicate, took against him rather. As it turned out, she had the power to freeze people (though not time itself; the frozen barman’s pint continued to pour, overflowing into the drip trays) and do whatever she liked to them. Predictably, this escalated because of Rudy, who declared, “If you fuck me, I’ll fuck you right back with a cherry on top.”

After Rudy had framed her for nicking a charity box, she handily used her power to escape from the police. It all came to ahead as she froze Rudy and his equally anal sex fixated girlfriend, then stabbed her and placed the knife in his hand before they unfroze. And then Alisha happened upon them, and a bit more freezing later, she and Rudy were perched on the back of chairs with nooses round their necks.

This was the first instance of Rudy’s power coming in handy, as his morose other self came to their rescue – though not before Rudy had kicked their attacker over and accidentally killed her. Cue the funny scene in which Rudy is initiated into the Misfits tradition of burying the bodies of those they’ve accidentally killed; Kelly was hysterically blase as she smoked a cigarette and shrugged, “you just bury them and move on”.

But our gang were still free from community service; that is, until they took a ride in Rudy’s car, which turned out not to be Rudy’s car after all, but the property of “some guy with a perm”. It may have seemed a little convenient to get them back onto community service so quickly, but that’s the show’s formula, and Howard Overman is wise enough not to screw with it. Besides, it means they’re back in the purview of amusingly callous probation officer Shaun, who’s managed to somehow not be killed yet. Drily played by Craig Parkinson, Shaun is clearly a spiritual cousin to Mr Gilbert from The Inbetweeners: “I’ve found a new vocation. I’m going to totally rehabilitate you. I’ll get on with that after I’ve watched Homes Under the Hammer.”

A strong start, then, and a likeable new character who seems to work well as a replacement for the much-beloved Nathan. So what’s to come? It looks like “the mysterious guy who sells powers”, aka Seth, is going to be much involved this year. It looks like he’s “lost” a power. And it’s an important one. Perhaps more worryingly, there’s more than a hint that he’s going to end up romantically entwined with Kelly. The Alisha/Simon romance continues to develop, as she matures into something more than “the cockmonster” and he sensitively takes his shirt off once a week to make me happy. And I’m sure Curtis’ sex swapping ability is going to lead to all sorts of confusion, and give Rudy the opportunity to make some really dirty jokes. Watch this space…

 

Addendummy Twitter friend Rob Taylor (@Stupid_Face_Rob) has pointed out that it looks like Simon’s power is to see into the immediate future. Hence the bottling out of the jump. I didn’t pick up on that, assuming he was just imagining the result, but I’m sure Rob’s right!

The most wonderful time of the year

“Everything has to end some time. Otherwise, nothing would ever get started.”

Ah, Christmas. The time of year which, for the British at least, is sacrosanct. It has to be absolutely perfect – the tree, the presents, the family gathered together in some mythically perfect pseudo Charles Dickens fantasy of non existent Victoriana. To make Christmas perfect, the British will go through anything – witness the savage consumer competitiveness of Christmas shopping, the weeping and rending of garments as the snow disrupted everyone’s plans for this to be ‘the best Christmas ever’. I sometimes wonder if, put in the position of having to, the British would actually kill to make it the best Christmas ever, as if the holiday was capable of improving its Christmassiness indefinitely, its zenith ultimately unattainable yet tantalisingly in sight. All of which may make me seem a little, perhaps, like that ultimate Christmas monster, Ebenezer Scrooge.

Which brings me neatly to this year’s festive Doctor Who offering, the derivatively titled and plotted A Christmas Carol. Not that the qualifying adverb ‘derivatively’ means it wasn’t a lot of fun. It was as intricately plotted as you’d expect from a Steven Moffat script, making full use of the show’s intrinsic timey-wimeyness to put a fairly novel spin on the Charles Dickens classic.

This meant there were moments when the use of the time travel concept led to some trademark Moffat jaw dropping moments. I absolutely loved the moment when the Doctor popped out of Sardick’s office to suddenly appear in the home movie he shot decades ago. The story also brilliantly subverted your expectations, based on the Dickens original, of how the Ghost of Christmas Future would work. “Are you going to show me that I die alone and unloved?” the elderly Sardick sneers, which is exactly what Dickens’ ghost does to Scrooge. “Everybody does.” And then we see that, for the boy Sardick, the present we’re seeing is a future he’s seeing. Mind warping stuff, for a family Christmas show on at six in the evening.

It was a show full of brilliant concepts, realised with some stunning visuals from the Mill. A planet covered in ice clouds, through which swarm beautiful fish, its climate tamed by the weather machine that was controlled by Scrooge-lite Kazran Sardick. Which also led to the fan-baiting dialogue about the machine’s ‘isomorphic’ controls – a claim the Doctor made for the TARDIS console in 1976’s Pyramids of Mars. “There’s no such thing!” exclaimed the Doctor, fiddling with the machine to comical effect. This probably made the hackles rise for many an earnest, humourless fanboy – and I dread to think how much they frowned when Sardick hugging his younger self failed to yield the expected explosion from ‘shorting out the time differential’ (1983’s Mawdryn Undead, and 2005’s Father’s Day, for that matter).

All of which, besides being a laugh for fans who don’t take the show as seriously as all that, underlined the point that a Doctor Who Christmas special doesn’t really have the same agenda as a normal episode. It’s a bit of fun, a romp, with a yuletide flavour. Po-faced fanboys shouldn’t expect a serious exploration of the show’s labyrinthine, already inconsistent continuity. Particularly not from the man who coined the scientific phrase, “wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey… stuff.”

And a fun romp it indubitably was. We had some well-realised set pieces – who’d ever have thought you could have a terrifying shark attack in the safety of your own bedroom? Or a sleigh ride through the clouds with the aforementioned shark in place of the traditional reindeer? It’s a mark of the continuously improving CGI from the Mill that these looked as good as they did, though I think we’re still some way off from when CG on this budget looks indistinguishable from the real.

A fairly small cast also shone, giving Moffat’s sparkling dialogue the delivery it deserved. Matt Smith, in particular, is fast becoming one of my favourite Doctors ever, with his weird physicality and studied eccentricities. He got some terrific dialogue with which to emphasise this, unsurprising from the man who used to write Press Gang and Coupling. “That’s got me written all over it! Well, it will have me written all over it, with a crayon and enough time…” Or “You know what boys say to fear, don’t you? ‘Mummy’.” All of which delivered at breakneck speed, as though Smith’s Doctor is continually thinking of something new before he’s finished vocalising what he’s already thought.

He also got some memorable philosophical sound bites, in keeping with a character who, in 1969, told us “Logic, my dear Zoe, merely allows one to be wrong with authority,” and countless others. Besides the line quoted at the beginning of this review, he memorably described Christmas, and Sardick, as “Halfway out of the dark…” and best of all, said “in 900 years of travelling through time and space, I’ve never met anybody who wasn’t important!” Which immediately recalled, for me, Dr Stephen Daker’s plaintive enquiry to a ruthless corporate shark in 1988’s A Very Peculiar Practice – “Isn’t everybody important?” Dr Stephen Daker was, of course, portrayed by Peter Davison.

Michael Gambon was, unsurprisingly, brilliant as Sardick. In keeping with some fairly emotionally complex writing, he made someone who initially appeared to be a one-dimensional monster increasingly layered and full of the contradictions feelings give to people. The character was also well-served by a great performance from his twelve-year-old counterpart, whose name I didn’t catch but who gave a more charming performance than Laurence Belcher as the teenage Sardick. Not that Belcher was bad – and very nice to look at – but the boy got all the best lines and scenes.

Katharine Jenkins was also surprisingly good, considering that, as an opera singer, she’s not exactly experienced at acting. Her character, Abigail, didn’t get that much to do, but great use was made of her voice in a beautiful musical moment as she sang to the storm to calm the clouds. What a great concept! It’ll be another memorable track on Murray Gold’s next soundtrack CD – although the music may generally be better remembered than the dialogue, considering that the dialogue could often barely be heard over the score. Sweeping and cinematic is fine, but that sound mix still isn’t right, and I think it’s probably worse if you’re not watching on a 5.1 surround system.

With Amy and Rory largely sidelined, Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill managed to still give us some memorable – though mostly comic – moments. The judicious reuse of two of their more incongruous costumes from the previous series was a hoot, and I couldn’t help but what wonder what kind of kinky role play would result from a scantily clad policewoman meeting a Roman centurion!

With carol singing, a planet that seemed to be modelled from idealised Victoriana, and the conceit of the Doctor not only coming down the chimney but appearing at every Christmas Eve from then on, it certainly matched Steve Moffat’s promise to be ‘”the most Christmassy episode ever”. And, as I alluded to in my introduction, this could well prove to be an insurmountable challenge. If each year’s festive offering has to be “more Christmassy” than the last, where can next year’s go? Where will it end? The logical extrapolation is an hour of television in which the TARDIS constantly circles a giant Christmas tree, chasing a reindeer driven sleigh and dodging friendly giant snowmen. Christmassy, to be sure, but less than thrilling.

I’m carping – a little – because, while the episode was a lot of fun, and had some dramatic and scientific concepts that boggled the mind, it left me, in the end, curiously unmoved. And that, I think, was because it was obviously trying so hard to be moving. There’s a lot of criticism one can level at Russell T Davies’ Christmas episodes – and God knows I have – but he did genuinely know how to make a moment tug at the heart. The emotional moments here seemed so dramatically contrived that I could actually see the strings trying to do that, and when I can see the emotional manipulation at work, it just doesn’t have any effect on me.  I realise that, for a lot of others, it worked very well, but maybe I’m too much of a cynic. Maybe I need my own Ghost of Christmas Past to visit…

Still, another good effort from Mr Moffat, with Matt Smith as excellent as ever, and the glimpses of the series to come were tantalising. The ‘Next Year’ trailer did seem to focus very heavily on the Doctor’s much publicised trip to the USA, but it still looks plenty exciting. Sitting at the President’s desk in the Oval Office, meeting X Files style aliens, wearing a stetson – “stetsons are cool” – and growing a beard a la Pierce Brosnan in Die Another Day. Though that last did make me wonder when the Doctor actually finds time to shave, given that he’s always immaculately clean shaven. I think I’d always assumed he just didn’t grow facial hair! There’s the po faced fanboy inside me coming out…

Before I end this – as usual – lengthy piece,  mention should be made of this year’s other great science fantasy festive special. Hastily commissioned but steeped in the show’s usual impudent quality, the Christmas episode of Misfits was a thing of wonder. It’s at the other end of the family friendly scale from Doctor Who, but how can you not love a Christmas special which includes the lines “Fuck me, Santa!” and “I’m going to kill Jesus.”? The second series of Misfits has built beautifully on the first, enlarging a concept that seems initially VERY silly – young offenders gain superpowers after a mysterious storm – into a show that incorporates imagination, drama and humour. If you haven’t seen the Christmas episode, I’d urge you to seek it out on 4OD. Just beware – you shouldn’t watch it with granny and the kids like you can with Doctor Who!