Den of the Cyphered Wolf

Monday, July 28, 2014

Television Review: Misfits Series 1 (Spoilers)

It's old but I was in the headspace for it.
Let's do this.

I caught Misfits a while back and it was one of the funniest shows I'd ever watched and I was in the mood to laugh.

There is a lot to like about the show and it was fun to revisit it. I guess the best place to start is the set up.

The Set Up
So a group of teenagers and young adults are doing court ordered community service when a freak storm hits. The storm grants them and a bunch of other people...powers.  Since the show is heavy on the superhero refences that's the right word but a lot of the powers are pretty weird. And Funny, and Weird.

On top of that almost every one of the main cast members are in some form or another dysfunctional.  These are not your save the world types and they know it. Or as one of the characters, Nathan puts it, "You lot superheroes? No offence, but in what kind of fucked up world would that be allowed to happen."

But here is the thing each of the superpowers is tied to the character's own personal baggage and while being relatively light the show is often about them learning to get over it.

Tony The First Probation Worker
Before I get into each of the Misfit's hang ups I feel I need to talk about Tony the probation worker. As his shadow hangs over most of the show. The power he gets is basically uncontrollably Hulking out. Of course his anger issues create the problem of most of the first and for that matter second seasons.

Tony's not a bad guy especially in contrast to the later probation workers who are... kind of assholes. But he's got a temper that he's been struggling to control and the storm messes him up somethin' fierce.

In self-defense the kids off him but rather than call the cops who they feel probably won't believe a bunch of "anti-socials" anyway they decide to just bury the body out back.

If the first season had any sort of an overarching plot it would be the cover up serving as a catalyst for character development. Sort of like a messed up Breakfast Club.

Also while I'm at it there is a later episode where Tony comes back as a ghost and seems pretty well adjusted about the whole affair once he gets over the shock of it all. Like I said even though he gets mad at the kids he's probably the nicest and most competent probation worker the show had.

Let's Meet The Misfits
So again the emotional plot of the story is these guys figuring out that its them vs the world and dispite there reservations they actually need each other.  So lets go with it.

Nathan is a walking id. Not in the Hulk smash sense but he's the kind of guy who's going to say and do whatever he wants no matter what.

And most of the time that means he gets saddled with the funny lines.  He's kind of like Eric Cartman except not evil.  He's not a bad guy he just can't stop himself. In real life Nathan would be annoying as all hell but the writing is so good that you can't help but like him. His lines are really really really funny. And his actor Robert Sheehan has damn near perfect comedic timing.

In most of the shows character interaction moments Nathan is the proactive one and everybody else is more or less reacting to him. The other characters are put off at first but again he's not a bad guy and his is really really funny. Did I mention that yet. He takes things the least seriously and can act as comedic relief whenever things get too heavy.

Again everybody's power is tied to their personalities and Nathan's is perfect for the kind of stunts he pulls. But its also the last to be revealed and the arc of being the only guy without a discernible power is pretty funny.

So Simon was bullied a lot. How he wound up with community service is by peeing through a letter box but his back story is really interesting. See one night one of the guys who bullied him drunk dialed him and Simon thought they were going to go for a beer and that would be the end of it. Well again the guy was drunk and said some stuff and it caused Simon to snap. He decided to burn down the guy's house. He threw the tinder into the guy's letter box but as it was starting to burn he noticed the cat panicking and thought. "The cat never hurt me."  and put the fire out the fastest way he could think to.

Simon gets a lot of the character development out of the series and that moment sums him up so perfectly. Simon is socially awkward and is really frustrated by it. Most of the people around him don't do him any favors on that count either, but he's also the most emphatic of the group eventually evolving into the most moral of them.

He never really stops being the shy awkward kid but he also moves beyond it. Also the casting was great. Because of how Simon looks and acts the audience never knows which side he's going to shake out on and when he's the guy stopping everybody else from crossing the line even though he's played by the same guy as Ramsay Snow it sends a message. He's creepy but there is more to him than that.

Simon is desperate for friends, and his arc is learning that his path to that is being the good guy. That's all he needs and the rest will follow. Out of everybody he most embraces the role of the superhero.

All the same he really wants to be noticed and his power is invisibility, which kicks in when he mostly feels ignored anyway. Eventually he loses invisibility and gets precognition. I always felt that the idea to shift powers made the show lose its personality powers angle but with Simon it makes sense.

Curtis was training to be a U.K. Olympian when he got caught with coke. As everybody else is quick to point out "Nobody gets community service for just one vial." Don't he know it. His catch phrase through most of everybody's shenanigans is an exasperated "I'm not even suppose to be here." The judged decided to make an example out of him since he had such a high profile giving him a two year ban in his best years.

He's pissed that his life as an athlete is more or less over. While he's not a saint he's the most normal of the group.  He's still got his baggage. Curtis regrets. He can't move past his mistakes. He just wants to do it all over again and so that the power he gets. Mental time travel which kicks in whenever he desperately wants a do over, whenever he can't get over his guilt.

Over the course of the series he gets into the swing of things and becomes less and less the straight man. Later in the show Nathan's actor left and the comedy duties were split between him and another character who I'm not going to talk about right now.

Kelly puts up a good front but she is really insecure. The first rule of combat is get in the first punch. So that's what she does. The moment she thinks somebody is having a go at her she lashes out.  And she gains the ability to know exactly what people think of her and most of the time it aint good.

Her arc is basically about her learning to give people a chance. Even when their thoughts betray them they might just surprise her. For instance Nathan is a horndog but eventually gains genuine affection for her and once she and yes he can get over the "She knows I want to shag her" stuff they make a pretty good couple.

It doesn't matter so much what other people think about her.

Here is the thing. Alisha craves attention and uses her sexuality to get it. Its what she does. But living like that has its downsides and her power explores that. Nathan will jokingly airhump at the drop of a hat for laughs but Alisha will deliberately try to turn everybody else on buy "fellating" a water bottle and faking orgasm.

The condition of being sexy makes her feel good. And as much as a lot of people hate to admit it feeling good is good. But sex does obscure actual human intimacy. She can never tell if guys are interested in her or that thing.


Her power makes anybody she touches want to have debauched sex with her, giving her a crash course in practical sex ed.

That said this isn't the type of show that's going to condemn sex period it just wants to portray a character who doesn't have it all figured out yet and show her slowly doing just that. Figure out the thin line between love and lust without condemning either except in one case I'll get to later.

The Dynamic (At least for the First Series)
I more or less already described the plot of the show but again what makes it is the characters and how they interact. Curtis and Kelly generally play the straight men to Nathan and Alisha.

With Simon hanging back and lampshading various superhero and movie tropes while being ignored and told to shut up right up until the point when those superhero and movie tropes start running the show.

He was the first one to compare the group to superheroes.

Old People Need Relationships Too

I'm trying to figure out the best way to do this and I think is run down interesting themes and ideas. Apart from the set up the first two episodes focus a lot on Nathan and his problems at home.

It takes a lot to get Nathan down. The guy can bounce back from anything and has a comeback at the ready for just about any shot anybody is going to take at him. In a weird way he's the most well adjusted or at least the least insecure of the cast but at lot of folks aren't like that.

His give 'em hell attitude has been causing rifts between his mom and her many attempted relationships after his Dad left. She thinks she found the one and wants to make it work so she kicks him out and the first few episodes are about him dealing with that.

One of the community service trip involves going to an old folks home and helping out where he meets a knock out. Did I mention Nathan is a horndog and The Misfits weren't the only ones to get powers.


Like I said powers tend to be based on the personalities and hang ups of their recipients and one elderly lady just wanted to be young again. So she was. In trying to get over it he realizes that despite age people aren't so different and his mom is justified in wanting to have a life separate from him in particular wanting to find someone.

"Woman your age, if you don't settle down before your looks go you got no chance."

She Who Hunts Monsters
So Tony had a girlfriend. Sally and she takes his death not particularly well.

But here is the rub his death was totally self defense. In the show Curtis does his time travel stuff and sees first hand how that day could have gone the other way. The show is explicit if Tony hadn't have died The Misfits would have.

All the same because of how they handled it there is no real way to tell Sally that. To her, these kids are a bunch of murderers who need to get got and as the show goes on it becomes more and more clear the cops are not going to facilitate that.

Sally becomes the show's first villain. Not the show's first supervillian but the first largely external force of the show. Up until she starts doing her thing most of the problems were caused by the cast's own insecurities and in some cases downright stupidity and subsequently are solved when they stop acting like idiot teenagers but that isn't the solution for this problem.

For better or worse the reason why the cops won't investigate more is because Simon oddly enough is really smart about cover ups.  For instance he has the idea to steal Tony's credit card and use it so the cops don't think he's dead just on vacation somewhere. It's a TV show just go with it.

In another show or movie Sally would be the heroine especially contrasted with Simon's general creepyness.

Simon In The Dark
See here is the thing about Simon he actually is a creepy mofo and at the start of the series is kind of off. Remember he's there on an arson charge. But like I said in his character description he is the most empathetic and desperate for friends of the cast. His greatest desire is to be a part of the group and because of that he's intensely loyal to anybody who shows him a hint of human kindness. "The cat never did anything to hurt me."

Sally realizes this and works a Machiavellian plot to ingratiate herself with him enough that he will let stuff go or even better for her decide to turn on the group as a whole.

Here is the thing I really really related to Simon. In a way his vulnerability of "Because you were nice to me" is one of my same vulnerabilities and and her machinations hit me kind of in the gut, especially since at this point other than the stuff that landed him with community service in the first place, he hasn't really done much wrong.

Sally tries to seduce Simon, literally, remember Simon is a nerdy kid who doesn't now how to deal with that type of attention, into admitting what happened to Tony and giving up the rest of the group as she to prays on the darker aspects of his personality pointing out that they treat him like shit and it would be a good way to strike back at them.

But despite it all Simon considers the group the first real friends he's had and it becomes clear he doesn't have it in him to betray them.

She finds Simon's phone with video of idiot Nathan talking about the murder and in a matter of seconds every shoe that could drop does. Simon figures out her plot and when it becomes clear he's not going to just go with it she smashes his head into a mirror.

From there there is a fight for the phone and Simon accidentally kills her on a door handle, all while looking like the psycho killer he's afraid he is.

And like I said before he has a creepy talent for covering up murder so for the next few episodes into season 2 he's carrying that and it makes him sort of bitter whenever any of the rest of the case go with their normal teasing.

He's killed for them. And moreover he's the type of guy that destroys. I'm not talking about season 2 but more or less the entire point of the first episode is to rebuild him afterwards into a better, stronger person than his season one counterpart after what for most of the show will be the lowest and worst moment of his life.

Alisha and Curtis
So there's a relationship nobody so coming. Well by the third episode its established that the two have a real chemistry with one another and find each other sexually attractive.  But there is one major hick up. Remember Curtis is the straight man to the rest of the casts craziness and does not view sex as casually as everybody else. And he's not wrong about that.

But remember sex is the primary way Alisha experiences male appreciation. She knows Curtis is into her but is thrown off her game by the fact that he's not instantly up for doing the horizontal mambo.

It's not as though she has some way to magically make him get over it and... oh... she wouldn't...

Curtis justifiably does not take it well. The show is clear here he feels that she raped him.

"You can't be doin' that to people! THAT WASN'T ME!"

But he eventually gets over it and they carry on a fairly sweet relationship for a while.

The situation also leads Alisha to have some character development. Like I said for her sex has always been a good thing. This is the first time in her life where its bitten her in the ass and made her ruminate a little. The show for the most part still comes down clearly on the side of sex-positivity (one of the running jokes of the show is finding ways for Alisha and Curtis to be sexual and sensual with each other without actually physically touching) , but also seems to find Alisha's sex is the way I feel good about myself views flawed and juvenile.

Curtis Let It Be
It's subtle but the reason for Curtis exasperation at everybody else is that he's fully aware that he just ruined his life and feels like ass about it. It's ripping him up. Normally life has no do overs. But that's not the case for Curtis. His guilt activates his power almost every time he flashes back in the first season it's because he's realized he made a bonehead move and wants to fix it.

The fourth episode allows him to go back and fix the big one. He goes back to the night he was caught with drugs and tries to manipulate things so he doesn't get caught but slowly realizes he's a butterfly of doom. The first time he goes back ends up getting his then girlfriend. But the second trip has the bigger consequence. In the first episode Curtis in disbelief of a panicking Kelly opened a door allowing Tony to get in and brain her. His power kicked in giving him just enough time to convince everybody that Tony had gone nuts and react.

If he doesn't get caught, he's not there and Simon, Alisha, and Kelly die.

After some rumination he comes to realize despite whatever mistakes he's made, or how his life turns out he has a life, a life that matters and he needs to let go of the past and realize not everything, especially not past events that have already transpired lies within his control.

People Are Flawed. Deal With It.
If the show has any sort of grand thesis it is that people are more than their worst traits and that you can't just fix them. For better or worse people are the sum of their parts and changing a part fundamentally changes the person.  Like it or not you have to deal with people warts and all.

The show thrives in the gray.  Nobody is wholly bad. Nobody is wholly good. People are just people. We do things and things happen.

Episode six is probably the smartest, most fun episode in the first series. A girl who gets picked on because of her conservitive views gets the ability to more or less how many of you have watched Code Geass. Well she's Lelouch.

She thinks that at the end of the day the world is a better place without all that pesky sin so she more or less brainwashes people into well ...Cardigan wearing pod people. And its up to the Misfits to slap everybody out of it.

What's interesting is that the last men standing are Simon and Nathan and its Nathan who gives the big speech.

Once you scrape off all the Nathanness of its an argument for free will and individualism and since its Nathan giving this speech its lampshades that both of those things are not about being good or being right but about being yourself.

That a person who is accepts themselves and their flaws is generally better off than someone who is in denial of them, and more over no outside agent has the right to take that away from people by forcing their version of morality upon them.

And then spoilery stuff happens so I guess I'll leave it here.

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