With great hype, comes great responsibility. You can’t have escaped E4’s relentless pushing of its new superhero drama – a kind of Fantastic Four with ASBOs.
Of course, pilot episodes are notoriously difficult to make fly – there’s a whole new cast of characters to introduce, and have the audience care about – but Misfits succeeds at this within the first few minutes before chucking our heroes at a sinister, empowering, and possibly government-funded thundercloud.
So, our vexed heroes get powers roughly pertaining to their existing personalities – so Kelly (the wonderful Lauren Socha – best moment: her delivery of “I – am – not – a – chav!”), who’s spent most of her life crossing her arms against the world so she doesn’t have to hear them, now finds herself forced to listen to even their thoughts, Curtis (Nathan Stewart-Jarrett), used to doing one minute sprints, can now flash-forward 60 seconds into the future in times of danger (a kind of Spidey-sense meets DVD chapter selection), and Alisha (Antonia Thomas), who has been using sex as a weapon, now finds that it is a weapon she cannot control (and so, poignantly, she might never be able to experience real human contact again). Added to the mix is Simon (Iwan Rheon), used to being invisible, now actually is, and Nathan (Robert Sheehan), a charming and confident Irish lad whose swagger disguises the fact that his home life is without purpose.
It seems that that theme continues within the Misfits, as he’s the main misfit, because it looks like he has no discernable power – although when the merchandising kicks in, he’ll have the most interesting lunchbox: whilst other superheroes have catchphrases like ‘It’s clobberin’ time’, and ‘Up and atom!’, Nathan is reduced to muttering “There’s a tingling sensation in my anus”.
Misfits could have very easily been awful – BananaMan being tripped up by Skins – but it actually shows great promise, mixing drama, charisma, and a fair bit of laughs and pathos. While they’ve swapped capes for Guantanamo Bay style jumpsuits, it’s likely this gang will be poster kids for the Heat generation. This is a brash, confident opening episode, all hanging on a deliciously simple idea – the sort of idea that gets sold, Life On Mars style, to various networks across the world: what if a bunch of kids who arguably didn’t deserve anything, suddenly became superheroes? Will their community service how include saving the world?
With the same shaky camera style as Dead Set, there are some neat directorial flourishes here, such as an Avengers-style near total absence of extras, heightening our heroes sense of disconnection and loneliness. But while we like the fact that these crusaders care more about their ankle bracelets than being dark knights, what we really want to see before the series end is them going up against a huge mutant space robot. That would be cool.
Airs at 10pm on Thursday 12th November 2009 on E4.