It’s not really fair to start out a review of a TV show by comparing it to another show. But I’ll be darned if “Misfits,” the super-powers dramedy hitting DVD from BBC Home Entertainment this week isn’t what “Heroes” always wanted to be, and never got right.
It’s also not fair to rate “Misfits” only on “Better than ’Heroes,’” because there have been many, many comic book-inspired TV shows before Tim Kring’s aborted affair, and since… But in terms of trying to take the superhero paradigm and translating it to a weekly television format, “Misfits” is successful in all the ways “Heroes” wasn’t.
If there’s a main reason for that, it’s this: “Heroes” was put together by people who (mostly) didn’t know comic book tropes, but tried to ape them anyway; “Misfits” was put together by people who whole-heartedly understand comic book tropes, and ignore them as often and gleefully as they can.
The set-up is pretty simple: five kids sentenced to community service get struck by lightning, gain superpowers, and then proceed to not use them as much as possible. Turns out, though, they’re not the only people who got (mostly underwhelming) powers, and the group, over the first series, is forced to not only use their powers, but come together as a makeshift team. And at every turn, wherever they can mock the idea of becoming superheroes, or putting on costumes, they do.
If anything, “Misfits” is far closer to the superb “Chronicle” at taking a real world view of superhero and comic book ideas. Where that movie celebrated the comic book world, “Misfits” subverts it at every turn, which not only allows the show to be far, far more darkly comic; but also gives it the legs to support far beyond the first season. The pilot is effortlessly economic in particular, establishing the characters, but also seeding plotlines that only pay off in the last moments of the first series; and some that clearly set things up for series two, three, and beyond.
The real joy of the show, though, is the performances. I was particularly curious to check out the bonus features on the DVD, including short, vlog-style looks at the cast members behind the scenes. The “kids” who play the young offenders on the show are so natural, it almost feels like we’re watching Harmony Korine’s version of “X-Men,” if anything. Turns out, though, they’re acting. If you can believe that.
Robert Sheehan (Nathan) is the delightfully crude anchor of the cast, and off camera, he’s pretty much the same. But over the course of the season, not only does he happily spout off enough euphemisms for masturbating to make the cast of “The Inbetweeners” blush, he also grows beautifully, adding depth and complexity. The other stand-out is Iwan Rheon (Simon), an intense “weird kid” who seems down to Earth and sweet in real life, but has the most terrifyingly intense blue eyes ever committed to film.
The rest of the cast is also uniformly excellent, and as they grow more emotional and attached to each other, it’s a credit to their acting, as well as the writing that it feels natural: these people become friends through a need they didn’t know they had. And they hate that they need each other, but the end of the day, they do. A climactic speech in the last episode from Nathan sums up the points of the series nicely, without overstating or losing the funny. And though there are three further series, and some huge cliffhangers, the first six episodes are so good as a unit we wouldn’t be totally bummed if there wasn’t more. Happily, there is.
A few other stand-outs: this is a really well filmed show, with a unique look that stands in stark contrast to the purposely bland setting. Surprisingly so, given the quality of some British TV shows; but this is on par with the new seasons of “Doctor Who,” or “Downton Abbey” in terms of filming style. And the effects, as you might imagine, are well-placed, and extremely minimal. This is a superhero show designed on a minuscule budget that manages to look better than anything we’ve done in America for decades (I’m looking at you, “Smallville,” and upcoming “Arrow.” And “The Cape”).
Point being: if you haven’t checked out the show on Hulu Plus yet, this is the best – and only way – to view the series here in the states. The DVD extras are a nice bonus, particularly the cast bios, and some fun short films from Rheon’s character. But they’re all basically web content, so the real draw is the excellent episodes. Fingers crossed Series 2 hits DVD soon, because I’ve gone from non-watcher, to “Misfits” fan in a few short days.
Misfits: Season One is now available from BBC Home Entertainment for a suggested retail price of $24.98.