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TV Review – Misfits: Season 2

CAST: Robert Sheehan, Iwan Rheon, Lauren Socha, Anotonia Thomas, Nathan Stewart-Jarret ~ WRITER: Howard Overman ~ DIRECTOR: Tom Green ~ YEAR: 2010

The Backstory: Five young offenders, brought together thanks to their enforced Community Service, are caught in a bizarre electrical storm and end up with superpowers – but the last thing they’re likely to do is use them responsibly…

What’s it about?: Their community ser2vice is approaching its end, and Nathan has just risen from the dead thanks to the discovery he’s immortal. However, there are even more powers-enhanced people affected by the storm – many of them dangerous – and there’s also the mysterious hooded figure who’s watching their every move…

The Show: Season 2 of this ‘superheroes with ASBOs’ comedy drama doesn’t mess around – it knows what everybody liked last time, and delivers plenty more of the gory, sweary and sex-heavy formula laid down in Season 1. Low-budget but surprisingly stylish, Misfits knows what its audience wants and isn’t afraid to go in some ludicrously over-the-top directions in order to deliver it. It’s an energetic and fun show that works well as a purely enjoyable (and occasionally nasty) fantasy comedy/drama, but is also capable of being a hell of a lot more than the sweary teen drama it advertises itself as, frequently tackling ffective drama and strong character twists. In fact, Misfits’ biggest strength is the way it uses the normally black-and-white morality of superhero stories to explore some very grey areas, combined with the way it lets its characters behave in unsympathetic ways and go in directions that aren’t simple good vs evil (although they’ve finally found the right balance with Nathan (Robert Sheehan), who spent most of S1 being a little too annoying).

As a result, there’s also no shortage of conflict and weirdness (especially in the excellent shape-shifter episode that opens the season), and while the series cranks up the bodycount in these episodes (making the main location probably the most lethal Community Centre in Britain), it mostly keeps a good balance between outrageous fantasy and gritty reality, and does it a hell of a lot more effectively than overblown BBC emo-fest Being Human (a show that has, on occasion, managed to out-emo some Anime shows, which takes some doing…). In fact, despite the ‘superhero comedy drama’ tag, Misfits is often most effective when it’s pastiching horror, frequently coming over as a super-profane and gory remix of early Buffy the Vampire Slayer episodes – and like Buffy, it understands the importance of superpower as metaphor.

Misfits TV - publicity photoFor the most part, Season 2 is a much stronger and more focussed setup, giving us some very effectively played character drama (especially in the evolution of Simon (Iwon Rheon) and Alisha (Antonia Thomas)), and it’s largely a rollicking, entertaining and gripping ride – but there are still problems, and the quality of the storytelling remains rather variable. The main arc of the season – the identity of the mysterious ‘Super Hoodie’ who seems to know everything about the main characters – starts off massively intriguing and does pay off in a very surprising way, but feels oddly truncated and doesn’t impact on the series anywhere near as much as it should. Certain plot-twists and episodes veer towards the predictable, and the overall structure of the series is a bit murky, as it once again abruptly reboots towards the end of the season (particularly the Christmas Special, which feels more like a repurposed first episode to season 3), while you can also see scriptwriter Howard Overman starting to struggle with maintaining the ‘emotional metaphor’ side of the superpowers. This happens a lot with the now-frequently-appearing villains, many of whom don’t quite have the emotional focus that the ‘powers of the week’ had in Season 1 (for example, the man who has a Grand Theft Auto-style game playing in his head – what exactly is his power supposed to be?). It’s also the case that, as with Heroes, Misfits is the kind of show that should steer clear of full-on action that it doesn’t have the budget for – the only two examples sadly come across as a little embarrassing, trying to spoof superhero conventions (especially the fight with the Tatoo artist) but instead playing as weak and badly conceived.

Of course, these scenes only stand out because so much of the surrounding series is extremely good. In fact, about 70% of Misfits S2 is genuinely brilliant and entertaining stuff, but it’s let down by the other 30%, and not helped by the storytelling this year being rather skewed in favour of Nathan, Simon and Alisha. Both Curtis (Nathan Stewart-Jarret) and Kelly (Lauren Socha) get distinctly short-changed in terms of storylines, with Kelly’s one character-centric subplot leading to possibly the worst and most clumsily executed moment in the whole show (The lesson? Don’t attempt to make a tear-jerking scene out of the revelation that a character has – for slightly confusing reasons – turned into a gorilla (and especially don’t try to score it with Samuel Barber’s classical piece ‘Adagio for Strings – the results will be BAD)) while Curtis’s emotional time-rewind power essentially leaves him stuck as an emergency ‘Reboot Plot’ button or shouting “My power doesn’t work like that!” for most of the season.

The show’s being enthusiastically embraced by its fans partly because it’s a superhero tale that breaks taboos with such enthusiastic glee – a glee that occasionally gets a bit self-congratulatory (especially when they dress the characters up as superheroes in episode 4 for no other reason than ‘It’ll look great in the final shot!”) –  but while it’s still tetering on the edge of being brilliant and can be inconsistent, Season 2 does tip the balance further in a positive direction. The kind of crude, lewd show that’s oddly charming despite frequently trying way too hard to shock or repulse (most notably in the overplayed birth sequence in the Christmas Special), Misfits is nevertheless building in strength and quality – and it’ll be interesting to see whether the drastic format changes coming up in Season 3 will revitalise the series further, or send it into a Heroes-style downturn…

Verdict: An entertainingly filthy take on the world of the superhero, this isn’t quite the classic that much of the geek press is proclaiming it to be, but Misfits is definitely improving, and is one of the most enjoyable adult-skewed UK genre shows we’ve seen in a long time.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

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All written material © copyright 2011 Saxon Bullock, unless otherwise stated.