Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Microreview: Misfits (TV series, UK, ongoing)

Now in its fifth series, 'Misfits' has become something of a left-field institution on British television. Its set-up is simple. On a bleak housing estate in an unnamed English town a freak storm results in those zapped with lighting becoming infused with super powers. The central characters are five twenty-something's doing community service together and, as they continue about the drudgery of cleaning graffiti or picking litter, they discover and deal with their new-found abilities and struggle with empowered adversaries that come their way. Although the central cast has altered since it began in 2009, the structure has not.

The whole saga has stayed within this framework, and remained within the sitcom-esque location of the community centre and surrounding housing estate. We never see the wider world, or any media or government reaction to the storm's effects (save for one alternate timeline). The location, Thamesmead, east of London, which appeared memorably in Clockwork Orange, is a perfect hive for the tale - isolated, with wide-open spaces and futuristic yet dilapidated architecture. This is a story told in a bubble, and that has allowed it a lot of freedom to keep a largely fun, darkly-comedic tone throughout. As in a sitcom, the central cast are appealing and likeable. As in a sitcom, there is an element of 'story-of-the-week', with life back to normal at the end. 

Yet, unlike your average sitcom, the action is fantastical, the cinematography beautiful, the music soaring, the violence bloody, the sex and humour dirty and rude. This is drama - dark, intense drama - that is undercut, undermined and yet elevated by sarcasm, self-deprecation and a free-wheeling, to-the-wind attitude. It's a little like Heroes if they let your little sibling and their mates rewrite it whilst drinking cider and casting themselves, then telling the producers to piss off before filming it on their phones. In short, it has a rebellious response to its own premise.

Like all rebellions, there are problems raised even as others are vanquished. The levity and twisting against the serious atmosphere a tale of superpowers gone wrong might bring (cheer up, Marvel, for Hulk's sake) results in some dilution of the emotional power of many moments. An incident of profound impact is often layered with a quip or a lurch into enjoyable yet one-note crudity. Most recently, for example, a main character's horrific transformation is thwarted by being bum-shagged by another whose power has become to remove powers with his, um, trouser wand. It's so (literally) bollocks-out dumb and desperately excessive it comes back around the corner from stupid nonsense and almost back to inspired.

Yep, it's silly. It's juvenile. It's about young offenders being young and offensive. It has sweary words. Irresponsible behaviour. A total disregard for the outside world or those in authority. Wanking. A surprisingly-large amount of wanking scenes. Invisibility. Time-travel. Flying. Baseball bat fights. And a zombie cat.

It is also moving, astonishing, profound and thrilling. Not always, and not always entirely. But when it hits high notes of these emotions, or of the above absurd daftness- or, even more impressively, both at once - it has few rivals in my recent television drama experiences.

I could go into the names of the characters, the superb actors (some of whom have gone on to bigger things), the course of the storyline, logistics. But I won't. Watch it. Don't wait for the long-mooted American remake. Ignore the reviews saying it has lost its way since the creator Howard Overman stopped chief writing duties and the original cast (spoiler alert) departed - it has merely evolved, as all good, individually-authored series should. Dismiss the fact it comes from relatively second-rate UK cable channel E4, a child of Channel 4 that usually shows reality or US sitcoms and generally has Big Bang on seventeen times a day (no bad thing til you realise the weekend has disappeared and you are still in pyjamas); although they hit the odd ball out of the cricket ground, like this and 'Skins'. Watch it and come back to me in the comment section below. Am I wrong? Do I just like sarcastic wankers too lazy to use their super powers to do anything useful? Am I just weirdly obsessed with zombie cats? Or is this one of best shows on TV of the last decade?