Misfits: Series 4, Episode 6

“Trust me, you never forget your first Richard Saunders house party.”


Now that was fun. No, it didn’t explore the characters’ deeper feelings, or have any emotional sturm und drang. But what it did do was recapture the balance of urban reality that made Misfits so enjoyable in the first place, with a surreal story that was basically a rollercoaster thrill ride.

It did this by combining a convincingly grimy house party in a grotty flat with the exercise of a comic book style power that gave one character the ability to affect the whole of reality. Yes, this is a tried and trusted plot device in this kind of story – Supernatural did it last week too – but when done well, as it was here, it allows for all sorts of bizarre images.

Central among which was the besuited killer rabbit with a lethal golf swing, surely one of the more memorable images even in this often surreal show. Springing from the acid-frazzled mind of Rudy’s drug-addled mate Richard Saunders, it was a conglomeration of the images on his TV as he succumbed to the hallucinogenic influence – a hitman, a golf game, and a vivisected rabbit. The obvious comparison was with Donnie Darko’s demonic harbinger Frank:


But this rabbit, dressed in a sharp Reservoir Dogs-style suit, didn’t twist the shape of its inspiration; instead, it was all the more disturbing for its cute visage offset by glowing red eyes. It was both chilling and blackly funny as it strode menacingly around the grimy corridors around Richard’s flat, with some excellent direction from Jonathan van Tulleken. And it was hard to miss the inspiration from Aliens as Rudy, Alex and Finn tracked it down to the basement where it had dragged the unconscious Jess, only for it to pick them off one by one.

Richard’s party wasn’t all killer rabbits and menace though. It was well-realised with some thumping dance music and attractive young people crowding the tiny flat – a bit like a promo for Skins. Yes, perhaps a mite too glamorous, but I always enjoy the visualisation of a party that looks genuinely fun, and this one did. It was also amusingly contrasted with the other party the gang accidentally stumbled into at first, the sombre wake that was presumably ill-prepared for the arrival of Rudy.

Though as it turned out, Rudy had a bit of a blinding revelation this week, in the first of several apparent new plot threads. With the gang affected by Richard’s reality-warping power, the number of each’s sexual conquests had become emblazoned on their foreheads. Rudy’s (unsurprisingly) being 99, he was on the lookout for something special for what he endearingly referred to as his “centenary”.

Having failed to find any satisfactory potentials at Richard’s party, and dragging Finn off in search of something more vulnerable but less incapable (“yes, there is a law against shagging drunk girls”), Rudy found himself chatting to the grief-stricken Nadine.

MISFITS 4 - Episode 6

And much to everyone’s surprise, it turned out he liked her enough to not try and immediately drag her to bed. So it was a bit of a shocker for him that she suddenly had to leave when the clock struck 11. What, I wonder, is that all about? Answers were not forthcoming here, but to judge from the “next time on…”, Nadine will be back next week. That could be interesting, giving Rudy a bit more depth than just being a sex-obsessed comic relief – he’s been in danger of becoming rather two-dimensional as a result.

Finn, still being taken under Rudy’s dubious wing (“like a little Hobbit bitch”), had rather more success. With his forehead count usefully revealing that his conquests had the grand total of 1, Rudy suggested increasing the number to (hopefully) prompt some jealousy from Jess, and tempt her away from the hunky Alex.

Finn’s usually plagued by astonishing (and somewhat contrived) bad luck, so it was a bit of a surprise that he ended up in bed with a blonde stunner with a penchant for rather athletic sex (“I’m fucking you as hard as I can… I don’t want to damage anything down there”). It was the sort of sex scene that Misfits does well, where the titillation is more than balanced by the humour – with the punchline being that the rabbit-traumatised Rudy had been hiding under the thrown-aside covers the whole time.

Yet when Finn returned to the party later, all his erstwhile partner offered was a blank stare and the enquiry “Do I know you?” Again, this was left unresolved; was it something to do with Richard Saunders warping reality, or is something odder going on? I’d like to think it’s the latter, but if the point isn’t returned to it’ll make the writing here seem a bit lazy.

And we – finally – got the answer to this series’ so far underwhelming ongoing plot, the mystery of Alex’s reluctance to have sex with beautiful women. Turns out – there’s really no other way to put this – that someone’s stolen his cock.

Yes, Alex has run afoul of another miscreant abusing powers granted by the storm, in this case an overeager transgender person capable of appropriating the genitals s/he was so desperate to obtain. That’s the sort of marvellously scatological plot point Misfits is traditionally good at (remember Rudy’s “rotting cock” affliction last year?), but I must say it felt a bit of an anticlimax after such a drawn out mystery. It seemed like the sort of thing the show would, in previous days, have dealt with in one episode.

Still, if that ongoing plot felt a bit disappointing, we at least had the pleasure of meeting someone who’ll presumably make up the numbers of the now rather depleted gang. First discovered passed out in a corridor, Abbey is a slightly scatty but (on this evidence) mischievously fun new character.

MISFITS 4 - Episode 6

It’s logical to assume that she has a power, but as yet we’ve no clue what it is. Given her astonishingly prodigious consumption of alcohol to no apparent ill-effect (at least after her earlier passing out), perhaps she has a heroic booze tolerance. Quite how this could come in useful is anyone’s guess; but she’s already proven herself more capable in a crisis than the others, resourcefully finishing off the giant rabbit with a screwdriver to the back.

So, a straightforward (if surreal) undemanding episode that put the fun and fantasy back in the show, which as a result I enjoyed more than any this series. It seems a little late in the day to be introducing new major characters and plot points, a sign perhaps of the show’s uncertainty in reinventing itself. But this was far more promising than anything I’ve seen so far this year, and makes me feel far more optimistic about the show’s future. Let’s see if next week can carry on the trend.

Skins–the party’s over

“Everything’s ending. And it’s fucking scary.”


So farewell then Skins, which wound to a largely unheralded end on E4 last night. It’s not completely the end – there’ll be a coda of three ‘mini movies’ next year which promise to catch us up with the doings of some of the shows previous characters since they left. But Skins as we know it, the teen drama/comedy composed of hour long episodes which changes its cast every two years, really is over.

When it began, Skins was in many ways a groundbreaking show. Its unconventional approach was to tell a teen drama story with none of the compromises that usually bedevil such a show; swearing was allowed, and sex, and enjoyable, consequence-free drug use. In short, it treated teen drama like adult drama, which was reflected in its late night timeslot.

It also took the unconventional approach of employing actors who really were teenagers, unlike so many US teen dramas where the high schoolers are plainly in their twenties. And it went further, with teen writers added into the mix along with series creators Bryan Elsley and Jamie Brittain. Consistent with its cutting edge ‘yoof’ approach was an aggressive online marketing campaign on the likes of Facebook and Twitter, with the characters receiving their own pages and interacting with the show’s fans.

It seems old hat now, but back in 2007 this all felt startlingly fresh. The result was a teen drama (with a lot of comedy) that purported to be a truly realistic depiction of what modern teenagers get up to. In this it did itself something of a disservice; given that episode one featured the gang trashing a posh house party, stealing a Mercedes and then crashing it into a river causing the loss of a huge bag of weed, it’s fair to say that its portrayal of teenage life was more than a little exaggerated.

This aspect of the show has always polarised opinion among viewers, whether they be teens or not. Some (noticeably those from large cities) tend to say, “yes, things like that have happened to me”, while others (seemingly from suburban and provincial towns) think it’s glamorised wish fulfilment. A common criticism in latter years has been that teen comedy The Inbetweeners, with its hopelessly awkward quartet of teenage boys, was a far more accurate representation of teenage life past and present than Skins with its impossibly good looking cast, hedonistic sexuality and mad, drug-fuelled parties.

And yet Skins did catch some of that feeling of what it’s like to be a teenager. All the way through, there’s that air of self-doubt, insecurity masquerading as confidence and a mixture of anticipation and fear about what the future holds as you begin to move into the ‘real world’. For me, it always caught that atmosphere really accurately; certainly well enough for me to forgive the show its many other excesses.

And excessive it certainly seemed, at the beginning. It was trailed with some well-remembered promo shoots of an insane party at which gorgeous, scantily clad teenagers shagged, boozed and did drugs while trashing what looked like an ordinary house. This led to a minor craze of ‘Skins parties’ publicised on Facebook and later by the Daily Mail as they invariably led to the near-destruction of whichever hapless teenager’s house they were held at.

Initially, I expected the show to be like that all the time. I must admit, I tuned in initially out of titillation; those were some very nice looking boys I’d seen in the trails for the show, and it looked like they wouldn’t be wearing much. But I stayed because I got sucked into the drama and became emotionally attached to the characters, even when (as in the Russian school trip episode) the comedy was sometimes so puerile as to be a turnoff.

And it really surprised me with its second series, as much of the comedy was toned down and it became one of the most thoughtful, perceptive dramas around at that point. This was best exemplified by Nicholas Hoult’s beautiful but manipulative and unlikeable Tony Stonem, who basically spent the entire first series having his selfish cockiness demolished until he was ultimately run over by a bus. For him, the second series was all about rebuilding his life, and he became so much more likeable as a result.

The other characters too spent the second series dealing with the consequences of the events in the first. Geeky Sid (Mike Bailey) abandoned his on-off relationship with flaky but fun Cassie (Hannah Murray) to fulfil his longstanding crush on Tony’s girlfriend Michelle (April Pearson). Anwar (Dev Patel) was having a hard job reconciling his Muslim faith with his best friend Maxxie’s homosexuality. All of this was written and acted with amazing sensitivity. For me, the emotional high point was the death of Sid’s dad (a terrific sweary turn from Peter Capaldi), and his final reconciliation with his former best friend Tony; as both embraced, weeping, it was hard to keep a dry eye. Though running it a close second was the unexpected death of loveable party animal Chris (Joe Dempsie).

At the end of that second year, fans were surprised to learn of the bold but logical decision that the entire cast were to be replaced by a new gang of sixth formers at the college. This was a risky step but made sense; when a group of friends finish their A Levels, they do tend to go off into the world in their own separate ways, and keeping the gang together would have been ridiculously contrived. The loss of characters the audience had come to love was offset by the freshness of a bunch of new ones – it was like Grange Hill without the casts overlapping (much).

Each successive ‘generation’ followed the two-series template laid down by the first. Their initial series would be comparatively light, but with the drama ratcheting up throughout; the next series would be much heavier stuff, usually involving the shock death of one of the major characters.

The problem with this approach was that, by the just-departed third generation, it had come to seem pretty formulaic. And the heightened drama was becoming increasingly implausible, even for Skins; the nadir, most fans agree, was the bizarre ending to the second generation’s time as Effy’s (Kaya Scodelario) love-crazed psychiatrist beat her boyfriend Freddie (Luke Pasqualino) to death with a baseball bat.

And while (some of) the later characters were undoubtedly likeable, for me they never quite reached the level of emotional investment I got from the first gang. Generation 2’s love story between emergent lesbians Naomi (Lily Loveless) and Emily (Kathryn Prescott) was heartwarming and touching; but the tedious love triangle between Effy, Freddie and the charismatic but obnoxious Cook (Jack O’Connell) quickly became annoying. It also recalled, unnecessarily, the love triangle between Tony, Michelle and Sid from the first generation, and the fact that this plotline recently got yet another rerun with the third crew was perhaps one of the clearest signs that the show really had run its course.

The third generation at least toned down some of the increased madness of the previous plotlines with some much more low key drama. More than ever before, it focussed on the misfits; with androgynous Frankie (Dakota Blue Richards) as its lead character, and even its seemingly brainless ‘popular’ characters like Mini (Freya Mavor) and Nick (Sean Teale) being unravelled to become more complex and insecure than they at first seemed.

But it’s difficult to keep something so immediate and vital fresh for long, and the show was starting to look tired with its formulaic approach. It didn’t help that its undoubtedly deep influence on youth drama was spawning fresher competitors; it’s probably fair to say that without Skins, we wouldn’t have Misfits or The Fades, which take the Skins formula and graft elements of the fantastic onto it. It was no real surprise then to learn that this third generation would be the last. Skins, once so original, was now old hat, and was being retired.

It’s always been patchy, but never less than compellingly watchable; for me anyway. And along the way, its casting technique of mixing professionals with untried members of the public has launched the careers of some terrific young actors. Nicholas Hoult has gone on to use those gorgeous cheekbones in movies like A Single Man and X Men: First Class; Dev Patel did rather well with Slumdog Millionaire; Jack O’Connell has been in acclaimed TV dramas like Dive and United; and recent superb BBC3 fantasy The Fades boasted no less than three Skins alumni: Daniel Kaluuya, Lily Loveless and Joe Dempsie.

It also had a peculiar but successful stunt casting approach to the adults, with most of them being played by comedians or comic actors. As a result, we’ve seen some surprisingly good performances from the likes of Harry Enfield, Morwenna Banks, John Bishop, Ronni Ancona, Ardal O’Hanlon, Chris Addison, and even, amazingly, Danny Dyer. Enfield even went on to direct two episodes, including the excellent, hallucinatory second series one with the convalescing Tony attending a surreal opening day at a university.

Last night’s finale, unlike the previous two generations, felt like a proper ending. Frankie, thankfully decided that she wanted neither of the two insipid brothers who’d been chasing her all year, who then reconciled their rivalry. Mini settled down to have her baby with unexpected love interest Alo. And sweet-natured metalhead Rich finally seemed at peace with the death of his beloved Grace. It all climaxed, in true Skins style, at a big, hedonistic party; but it was as the party wound down that it ended. And the series finished with Rich, for me the most likeable of this bunch, looking straight up to the camera and simply saying, “bye”. Ostensibly it was to the now departed Grace; but also, perhaps cheesily, it felt like it was to all of us too. And I couldn’t help but well up a bit. It’s been a great party, with some good people, but now it’s over.

And now, in memoriam, I’m going to indulgently list my fave characters through the years:

Sid Jenkins (Mike Bailey)
Sid Obviously. I have a huge thing about cute, geeky guys with glasses. But Sid was also sweet, insecure, and the voice of reason. In many ways he was the heart and soul of Skins’ first generation.

Cassie Ainsworth (Hannah Murray)
CassieFlaky, bright and cursed with a variety of mental issues like depression and eating disorders, Cassie was the perfect love interest for Sid.

Chris Miles (Joe Dempsie)
ChrisBecause you can’t not like Chris. Unflappably cheerful and likeable even when his world is falling down around him, you have to feel for him as every decision he makes ends up disastrous. Sleeping with his teacher: mistake. Opening his house to a party full of destructive strangers: mistake. Attempting to pee while still dosed up on Viagra: big mistake!

Naomi Campbell (Lily Loveless)
NaomiIncredibly smart but seemingly humourless at first, Naomi was the dry wit of the second generation. It helped that Lily Loveless is an incredibly charismatic screen presence. Her blooming relationship with Emily was the best plot that gang had.

Freddie McLair (Luke Pasqualino)
FreddieBecause I also have a thing about skater boys and stoners. Freddie was the sweet, sensitive one of the second generation boys, and I liked his insecurity despite being incredibly good looking.

Kieran MacFoeinaiugh (Ardal O’Hanlon)
KieranNaomi’s ‘mentor’ at Roundview College. Initially almost unrecognisable as the guy who was Father Dougal, O’Hanlon made Kieran funny, fallible but still somehow profound.

Rich Hardbeck (Alexander Arnold) and Alo Creevey (Will Merrick)
RichAloTogether because they’re basically a double act. These two music loving potheads and outcasts were the most likeable of the boys in the third generation. Rich’s metal snobbery and Alo’s bizarrely tasteless outfits were highlights for me.

Shelley McGuinness (Clare Grogan)
ShelleyBecause it’s always great to see the real Kochanski out of Red Dwarf in anything. Grogan was brilliantly feisty as Mini’s take-no-prisoners mum.

Alex Henley (Sam Jackson)
AlexActually Alex was a bit annoying, with his pretentious dice-decision-making affectation and shallow sex life. But my goodness, I could look at him all day.

So fare thee well boys and girls – till we meet again…