Misfits: The series that dared to ask, “What if you had super powers and it was kind of crap?”

WTF is Misfits?

Misfits is a British TV show that follows a group of young offenders doing community service who gain super powers during a freak storm. Over the course of five seasons, the original cast are slowly replaced like so many Sliders, so that the series ends with completely different characters than it began with. Also, it sort of transparently replaces The Funny Guy with The New Funny Guy and The Tough Girl Who’s Secretly Nice with The New Tough Girl Who’s Secretly Nice and has them fall in love both times.

Misfits diverges from normal super hero stories in that a) having powers is kind of blasé, and usually pretty useless, and b) everybody swears all the time and makes off-colour jokes. It quickly becomes clear that a sizeable number of people in London gained powers during the storm, and that the powers have something to do with whatever their owners were preoccupied with at the time. Most of them are more of a hindrance than a help and, although some of the Misfits talk about trying to use their powers to do something good for the world, they mostly use their powers to escape awkward, potentially deadly situations that power-having guest stars place them in.

The show is mostly episodic, with a few longer story arcs along the way.

The Best Misfit

The best misfit is Rudy – a.k.a. The New Funny Guy – who’s introduced in season three. The character is very clearly designed to step into the role vacated by the original Funny Guy, who anchored the show and its crude sense of humour, but his power is more well-thought-out, and he gets more character development as the series goes on. Rudy has a literal version of Dissociative Identity Disorder, where he can split into more than one person. There are three of him, though the third one only appears briefly. Most of the time, the split is between the main Rudy, who’s a loveable asshole, and Rudy Two, who represents all of Rudy’s vulnerable and caring feelings and is, therefore, a really nice guy. It’s cool to see those characters interact, and Joseph Gilgun does a convincing job of playing both roles.

The Worst Misfit

Alex, the handsome barman. He’s added to the cast late, and there’s no good reason for him to be doing community service. Most of his story lines also involve uncomfortable/insensitive references to rape and trans people that are clearly intended to be funny, but sometimes land the wrong way.

The Non-Misfit MVP

Greg, the weirdly intense probation worker. Most of the probation workers on Misfits turn out to be evil and/or get killed, but Greg gets to stick around for two seasons, because he is hilarious. He’s usually paired with the blandest Misfit, Finn, who serves as a straight man for most of the jokes, but it’s funny to watch all of the characters react to him as he gets weirdly intense about grief counselling, and his father, and singing, and saying hello.

The Best Villain

Brian the disgruntled barista. After the storm, he gains the ability to control milk telekinetically and chooses to use it for evil. In a typically creepy/disgusting twist, he can use the milk in someone’s digestive system to kill them – and this leads to my absolute favourite moment in the series, when one of the Misfits confronts him, proudly explaining that he’s impervious to Brian’s power because he’s lactose intolerant.

The Only Story Arc I Kind of Remember

The one where Super Hoodie is Simon from the future. Um… spoilers for that. This is the only actual ongoing story arc that I can recall from the series, and it was pretty decent (I also remember that, in the first season, there was a bit of a mystery about what Nathan’s power would be; and, in the fourth and fifth seasons, the same thing again with a Misfit called Abby, but that’s not the same thing).

The Super Hoodie story line was the most science fiction-y story, and the most serious story, and the most melodramatic one, which is probably why I remember it. Basically, through time travel and other things that don’t totally make sense, this shy, weird guy named Simon turns out to be the only legitimate super hero of the group, but gets stuck in an unbreakable time loop where he and his girlfriend keep getting killed, and then falling in love, and then getting killed.

It was really different from the rest of the show.

The Scene that Completely Sums Up the Tone of the Series

Nathan’s girlfriend gives birth to an alien. NSFW.

The Most Uncomfortable Rape-Related Plot Point

It’s hard to pick just one. In the first season Alicia has the power to make any guy she touches want to sleep with her, and she uses it to seduce a guy who’s already said he doesn’t want to sleep with her. In the fifth season, Alex the problematic barman has the power to take other people’s powers by having penetrative sex with them, which leads to a surprising amount of non-consensual anal sex with dudes who are using their powers for evil – and I get the irony of having the other characters encourage him to be a rapist in order to do something “good,” but I don’t think it works quite the way they’re intending.

In the case of Alex the problematic barman, the show also seems to think it’s funny because it’s always two straight dudes and neither of them is enjoying it, which adds another layer of WTF – so I’m going to go with Alex the problematic barman as generating the most uncomfortable rape-related plot points.

The Weirdest Way a Character Left the Show

It’s hard to choose between original Misfit Kelly and original Misfit Curtis. Curtis has the distinction of being, I think, the only Misfit who was suddenly and randomly killed off. Kelly has the distinction, I think, of being the only one to leave after the actor assaulted a taxi driver – in story!world, the character just randomly “went to Africa” and never came back. The winner, I guess, is Kelly? Because it was weird in the show and also really upsetting in life?

The Most Horrible Power Anyone Ever Had

Again, it’s hard to choose. The girl who had the power to turn things inside out and accidentally turned her pets inside out comes to mind. But she might come to mind because she was in the final season, and that’s the only one I still sort of remember.

Final Thoughts

Misfits is sort of like Heroes if Heroes wasn’t so full of itself. Especially during the early seasons, where there is a somewhat serious story arc about a guy who actually does become a super hero. It walks a very fine line between being completely satirical and taking its characters’ feelings seriously so, even though it’s mostly a funny, irreverent show, there are surprising moments of insight along the way. The decision to be really dark and crass about super powers is one that opens the door to comedy, because it challenges the idea of what super heroes are supposed to be, but it also opens the door to exploring sides of the super hero trope that don’t always come to the forefront.

What makes Misfits feel fresh and interesting isn’t just that it’s making fun of super hero stories – it’s that it’s looking at a very familiar subject through a different lens, allowing us to pick up shades of comedy and tragedy we haven’t seen before. It can be surprisingly dark.

I’m not really into episodic shows or super heroes generally, so a lot of this erased itself from my brain as soon as I watched it, but it was a good time.

Image: Misfits; E4 | February 13, 2015