Misfits: Series 5, episodes 1-3

“My father used to say to me, women are very much like tractors. Which I’ve never understood.” – Rudy

Misfits S5 Gang

OK, I’ll admit it – I didn’t actually know Misfits was back. That’s what comes of letting your Tivo pick your viewing and then not checking it regularly. Fortunately, said Tivo had faithfully captured all the episodes so far; and in the spirit of catching up, here’s a brief recap of the series so far before I plunge back into my usual episode-by-episode reviews.

Continue reading “Misfits: Series 5, episodes 1-3”

Misfits: Series 4, Episode 5

“I never in my wildest nightmares imagined I’d be repeatedly asking this, but – did you shag my mum?”

A more sombre episode of Misfits this week, though not for the reasons you might expect. With the last original character having fairly dramatically died last week, you’d think there’d be some fallout; but this was pretty thin on the ground. Instead, Howard Overman concentrated on Finn, who’d recently discovered that the man he thought of his father actually wasn’t, and his quest to find his real dad. In the process, it delivered an emotionally charged and affecting piece of drama only tangentially related to the show’s fantasy element, which ironically I found far more affecting than last week. 

There was still plenty of comedy along the way, as Finn made the uncomfortable discovery that his mum had had the nickname “Anal Mary” due to her unconventional sexual preferences, while Rudy, as ever, stood ready with a constant stream of innuendo and greed: “so, does your new dad have a car?” 

But really, the focus of this episode was fundamentally tragic. Working from an old photo of people his mum might have shagged at a party where he was allegedly conceived, Finn eventually narrowed the list down to one – Dan, played with some power by genre stalwart Francis Magee (Yoren out of Game of Thrones and Paul’s therapist in The Fades). What prevented it from being a happy reunion (for Finn really is the unluckiest guy in the show) wasn’t a plot point based in the show’s style of fantasy but something far more real and dramatic. Dan was in the last stages of dying from incurable cancer. 

I’ll admit at this point that this makes it hard for me to judge the drama objectively. My stepfather died an unpleasant lingering death from cancer some years ago, which was one of the most traumatic events in my life, so this really hit home for me. Francis Magee’s gaunt, haggard features lend themselves well to such a situation, but it was the acting that really sold it; I can testify to how uncomfortably accurate that was. 

It wasn’t all bad luck, though, as Finn also got to meet his half-sister Grace, who was dedicated to the care of their dying father. Which is where the show’s fantasy aspect did get to play a small part. Grace (a sweet performance from Charlie Murphy) had a power; it was none too certainly defined, but whatever it was, she was using it to keep her father from dying. But it wasn’t curing him – just keeping him alive in an ever-increasing level of pain. He wanted to die, but Grace couldn’t see that, so he tasked Finn with taking her out for the evening and trying to convince her. 

It was a pretty eventful night out, twisted up with the ongoing mystery involving Jess’ object of desire, the oddly reluctant Alex “from the bar”. This is now the only continuing plot thread, and it remains to be seen what Alex’s deal is. For now, though, the jealous Finn was trailing him, with an intrigued Grace in tow, to try and prove to Jess that he really was gay. 

Their search led them to an underground car park, where Finn used his cellphone to film Alex giving another attractive young man a wad of cash. Typically, he believed it was payment for sex, but Misfits is seldom so obvious; whatever Finn believes, plainly something weirder is going on. In the event, he was forced to use his power to distract Alex from discovering him, letting Grace in on the fact that he had a power too (albeit a really crap one that extended to barely moving an empty lager can). 

Grace then had to watch her newly-discovered half-brother making a dick of himself trying to convince the object of his desire that her lust object was really only after other guys (which didn’t work). Not only did that scupper Finn’s attempt to discuss their dad’s situation, it was then compounded by Rudy’s unwelcome appearance (“I’m genetically programmed to fuck sisters”). And just when it couldn’t seem to get any more awkward, Finn looked round to see his sister attached at the mouth to a burly gorilla of a man who didn’t take kindly to his intervention (“can I ask what your intentions are towards my sister?”). 

Nathan McMullen as Finn is very much growing on me as the show gives him more depth as a character. He’s actually rather sweet and unassertive; not quite the painful introvert Simon used to be, but something similar. This episode showed a progression of him having to learn to stand up for himself, though – first in the inevitable bar fight he provoked, then against Grace herself as she headed home and didn’t take kindly to his attempts to stop her prolonging Dan’s pain even more. 

I think, for me, that scene was the most painful to watch, as Grace tearfully realised that her efforts were motivated not so much by love as selfishness; she couldn’t bear to let her dad go no matter how much pain she was causing him. It was an affecting scene, with tearjerking performances all round, as Dan gathered both his children to him and quietly, finally slipped away. 

As I say, my own experiences perhaps make it hard to judge whether that would be as powerful for anyone who hasn’t been through it. But it certainly felt more emotionally affecting, the death of this character we’d only just met, than last week’s death of Curtis, the last original character the show had left. 

Indeed, considering that should have been a fairly seismic dramatic event, it got notably little reference this week. On reflection, though, why would it? Of all the characters currently in the show, only Rudy had known Curtis for more than a couple of weeks. Hence, it was he who was summoned to hardass probation worker Greg’s office for some frankly terrifying ‘grief counselling’ – “I’m going to skullfuck your living brain… so, have you been feeling isolation and despair?” 

It was a blackly funny scene, well-played as usual by Shaun Dooley and Joe Gilgun. But again, I felt that the exit of the show’s last original character maybe deserved something more as an epitaph. It’s symptomatic of a major problem I’m having with the show this year – the current gang of lead characters don’t seem to have much in the way of emotional bonding as the original gang did. Yes, there’s the will they-won’t they tension between Finn and Jess, and the growing, uneasy friendship between Finn and Rudy. But as a group, they just don’t cohere the way the original five, with their shared experience of the storm and its aftermath, did. 

Perhaps they will, by the end of this series. But to make yet another parallel with the similar events in Being Human recently, even before the new characters there had bonded as a group, I’d found myself liking them individually. I can’t say the same is happening here. I don’t (yet) really care about Finn or Jess; and Rudy, while he’s a lot of fun, rarely drives the drama. 

It might help to have some new blood; the show’s original lineup of ‘heroes’ was five, and we’re down to three now. A logical step would be to have Grace return as a regular. We still don’t know exactly what her life-prolonging power is, or how it works; but notably, it hasn’t been removed or neutralised in the way the show’s usual plot concludes. Perhaps it has something to do with just why she was suddenly so keen on snogging that guy at the bar? 

And perhaps Alex too is being groomed as a new regular. Jess’ attempt to search his flat for stereotypical indications of homosexuality (co-ordinated clothes etc) was amusing but answered with what looked like a genuinely passionate kiss. Nevertheless, there’s something weird going on with Alex’s sexuality (as witnessed in the “Next Time on…”), and I’m betting it’s to do with a power. But will he be misusing it, or is it something that the gang will find useful? 

So, there are a few hopeful plot threads going on, and this episode’s central plot was an example of how good the show can be as drama, whether fantasy-based or not. Finn’s newfound self-confidence and growing depth are making him more likeable, and perhaps the ‘relationship’ with Alex will do the same for Jess. Next week certainly looks interesting, with a giant rabbit, numbers on our heroes’ foreheads, and Alex’s urgent demands to see another man’s cock. But so far, regardless of the strength of this episode, it still feels like the show as a whole is floundering somewhat. Given how much I’ve always enjoyed it, I hope Howard Overman can change that by the end of the run.

Misfits: Series 4, Episode 1

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

MisfitsS4Cast

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.

MisfitsJess

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.

MisfitsFinn

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.

Misfits_Dooley

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.