“Misfits” review: Dark, hilarious, utterly captivating sci-fi

“Misfits” cast: Nathan Stewart-Jarrett, Antonia Thomas, Robert Sheehan, Lauren Socha, Iwan Rheon Photo credit: Channel 4-E4

Last week I somehow stumbled onto a British science fiction dark comedy television show called “Misfits,” which I have since fallen in love with. After watching a few incredibly addictive seasons on Hulu.com, I spent several hours reading up on this wonderfully irreverent little gem of a show that’s somehow been around for the last three years, but that I’d never heard of before now (clueless Yank that I am).

“Misfits” follows a group of five young offenders in South East London who get caught in a freak electrical storm that gives them each a superpower, such as invisibility, time manipulation and the ability to hear other people’s thoughts. But wait, this isn’t your kid sister’s “Heroes”-style pap. It’s actually good. And you don’t just have to take my word for it; “Misfits” first season won the 2010 BAFTA Television Award for Best Drama Series.

I’ve long loved the superhero genre, but have rarely been able to stomach any television versions of it. Almost all of the American-made superhero shows I’ve seen up until now have seemed overwhelmingly pretentious, or stultifying preachy. In other words, lame to the point of inducing coma. Watching a group of super-perfect models save the world each and every week has never been my cup of tea. Yawn.

“Misfits” differs in that the scripts are relentlessly funny, unpredictable and often quite rough. Creator/writer Howard Overman has carefully crafted characters that act more like real human beings in the face of an absurdist sci-fi situation than almost any other show of its kind before. (In my opinion, “The Fades” came the closest, but it was axed after just one incredibly original season.)

Best of all, no one in this raggle-taggle group of young delinquents is trying to save the world! This crew is only trying to get through their six weeks of court-mandated community service and get on with it, and their newly acquired superpowers just get in their way more than anything else.

“Misfits” – Series 1 Trailer on YouTube

One big plus is that “Misfits” is filmed in the UK, so there is far more mature language, nudity and sex than would ever be allowed on American television. Yes, the characters curse and do drugs and shag — a lot. In fact, it has been described in many online reviews as a cross between “Skins” and “Heroes.” But the different standards simply allow the characters to talk and act more like real people, not like some sanitized version of what television executives in America think teenagers are like.

These are genuinely believable characters, both likable and unlikable. At times they are crude, cruel, feckless and self-absorbed, but they also feel and suffer and sometimes even end up caring more than they thought they would about each other, just like real people. The scripts are sharp as a knife, fresh and laugh-out-loud funny, and the well-chosen young actors who portray these characters deliver their lines as if they actually had some experience living a youthful offender life. (which, sadly in one instance, turned out to be not too far from the truth.)

Yes, it’s a silly sci-fi show and therefore full of impossible situations and improbable coincidences and there’s more than a few plot holes sprinkled about, but in the end I found that I didn’t mind that one bit. I realized that didn’t sit laughing and mesmerized in front of my laptop because of any awe-inducing CGI or overdrawn “end of the world” scenarios. I kept watching because I started to care about the characters on the screen.

Which is brilliant. And, of course, how you truly hook an audience.

The first three seasons (or series, as they are called in the UK) of “Misfits” are available online for free on Hulu.com, and are one of the service’s most-watched shows. A fourth season is filming now. Not surprisingly, there’s also an American remake in the works (the horror!), the quality of which is anybody’s guess at this point.


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