Misfits: Series 4, Episode 1

“I just came here to do community service and now I’m going to die locked in a freezer.”

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The end of Misfits’ third season felt like a proper ending for the story – at least as far as the characters we’d come to care about go. Alisha was dead, Simon was off back in time to die saving her previously, Kelly was together with Seth, and all the rest of the gang could do was get on with the rest of their lives.

Given all of that, I was actually a bit surprised to see that it was coming back for a fourth series. But it’s a popular show, and the central premise – that the mysterious storm gave lots of people in the area strange powers – has never been resolved, and leaves plenty of room to introduce new characters.

The trouble is, with Nathan, Simon, Alisha and now (we discover) Kelly all gone, it feels like the human core of the show we’d come to love has been somewhat eviscerated. New characters can come in, but we won’t have the level of emotional investment in them we did with the previous set. This episode faces a high hurdle in accomplishing that. Like the recent series of Being Human (to which it’s often compared), it effectively has to reboot itself, and give us a new set of characters in the hope that we’ll come to like them as much as we did the old ones.

This was helped by the way that we’d already come to like Rudy, who’d stepped in last series to replace Nathan. Joe Gilgun was as great as ever, with perfect comic timing as Rudy got up to his usual un-PC antics. Seth was back too, explaining that Kelly had chosen to stay in Uganda and user her ‘rocket scientist’ power to defuse landmines. He said that he was only back to “pick up their things”, but the fact that he’s there at all makes it seem likely that he’ll be a permanent fixture this series.

For me, though, Seth never felt like a proper part of ‘the gang’ last year, and (through no fault of actor Matthew McNulty) it’s going to take a bit of work before I give much of a damn about what happens to him. For some continuity, original gang member Curtis (the only one left) is still around, but he’d been sidelined so much last year (despite an interesting subplot about his gender-swap power), that he felt like a bit of a loose end. Again, Nathan Stewart-Jarrett has always been great in the part, but since his ‘origin story’, it’s always felt like the writers have struggled to come up with much for him to do, preoccupied as they were with the bigger sturm und drang of the Simon/Alisha epic love story.

So, it’s not all change. We still have Rudy (terrifically funny, but usually incidental to the main action), Seth (broodingly good-looking but with only one previous storyline which is now concluded) and Curtis (whose usual function last year was to sit sulkily on the sidelines and make snarky remarks). Perhaps some entirely new characters will help?

The jury’s still out on that one. Two new characters popped up; seemingly genial, soft-spoken Scouse lad Finn (Nathan McMullen), and piercing-eyed Jess (Karla Crome). They’ve turned up to do community service, as usual. Yes, that aspect of the show could have been dropped; it’s getting increasingly contrived for the old characters to still be stuck doing community service. But then it wouldn’t be Misfits. It’s a central plank of the show that it’s about young offenders forced into comic book situations when they’d rather be out getting pissed, shagging and breaking stuff – the very misfits of the title. Move it into the wider realm of the outside world being affected by superpowers, and you just turn it into Heroes – and we all know how that ended up.

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Unfortunately, the new characters didn’t make that much of an impression. Jess seems… well, nice is about the best you can say so far. No idea what crime she committed, but her power appears to be the ability to see through walls. Other than that, the script for this first episode gives us very little of a handle on who she is, and what she’s like, which you’d think would be rather important.

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Finn gets a little more depth, and a hint of mystery. He seems a likeable, enough ordinary bloke; his power is an extremely crap variety of telekinesis, which so far has enabled him to shake a plant pot and singularly fail to mind-throw it at Rudy. But we’ve established that he has a tendency to make things up about himself that are often singularly inappropriate – such as telling Jess that he was raped by his uncle to “lighten the mood” when they’re locked into a freezer to die.

And we later discovered that his ‘dog’ Sadie, who he was so concerned about looking after, is actually a bound and gagged young lady strapped to his bed. Interesting idea there – that one of the main characters might actually be a bit of a baddie. Or a nutter, at least. Of course, we still don’t know the full story here, but certainly Finn gets a better shake of the dice in the character depth stakes than Jess, which seemed a little unfair.

With all this weight on the episode to reboot the show, the story (such as it was) felt pretty inconsequential. Rudy, Curtis and Seth had been ‘infected’ by the power of a greedy thief who’d stumbled into the community centre with a briefcase full of money cuffed to his wrist. The effect of his power was to make anyone he touched as fanatically covetous of the money as he was, thus pitting the regulars against each other in an increasingly homicidal, paranoid escalation of mistrust.

It’s basically the ‘standard’ Misfits plot – the gang meet someone else affected by the storm who’s misusing their powers, become affected themselves, find a way to break the spell, and effectively, punish the power-abuser by killing him/her and/or removing the power concerned. True, it was told in an interesting, non-linear way, opening on the rooftop with the gang literally at each other’s throats, weapons drawn, fighting for possession of the case full of money. The story then unfolded with flashback within flashback, with a self-aware Rudy acknowledging that, “I’m what’s known as an ‘unreliable narrator’”. Nice to see he was paying attention in English Literature GCSE.

Along the way, there was a fair bit of fun. Rudy pretending to be the new probation worker (while caught wanking over internet porn) was a laugh, and the script actually had you wondering for a (fairly short) while if he was telling the truth. There was the business of him trying to drug everyone’s drinks left, right and centre, which was played well for laughs (though where did he get these ‘drugs’?), and Seth being somewhat discomfited by Rudy and Curtis wanking themselves to sleep next to him (“it’s a sedative, isn’t it?”).

I said last year that the show was in danger of collapsing under the weight of its complex, massively self-referential time paradox plot arc, so it’s probably a good idea that it’s going back to the episodic, self-contained nature of its first series. The trouble is, not only did it feel inconsequential by comparison, it also felt very much like we’d been here before. It didn’t help that, in a bit of presumably amusingly-intended lampshade-hanging, Rudy kept commenting on the show’s established tropes – “oh, the storm. Yeah, it’s always the storm”, and, of the new, hardass probation worker (an excellent Shaun Dooley), “don’t worry, he’ll probably be dead within a week”.

That last actually points to an increasing credibility gap (insofar as it’s fair to complain about that in a show which features superpowers). The death of the gang’s first two probation workers, back in the first series, led to all kinds of worry about police investigations. But last series they managed to kill off two, one of them in the middle of a major zombie outbreak, and the Thamesmead police don’t seem to have concerned themselves with it at all.

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Still, new probation worker Greg is a breath of fresh air, since the show got rid of the lovable, lackadaisical Shaun last year. Given a great establishing scene – “if you cross me, I will fuck you. And it’ll feel like being fucked by a train. Choo choo.” – he’s presumably going to be around for a while, resetting the balance the show lost with no authority figure to hate.

I have to say, as a longstanding fan of the show, I actually didn’t enjoy this very much. It didn’t help that the plot required the regulars to be acting very out of character, and that at least one of the new characters seemed to have very little depth at all. To be fair, if you’ve never seen the show before, this could be an ideal jumping in point, without the heavy burden of all the old characters’ backstories. But on the basis of this first episode, I’m still unconvinced that it was a good idea for the show to carry on after the finality of the third series’ ending. I’ll stick with it, to see if it pulls off the trick Being Human managed of making me like the new characters as much as the old. So far, though, there’s little evidence of that.

Misfits: Series 3, Episode 7

“Let’s go resurrect my dead girlfriend.”

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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 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.