Marvellous Misfits

Here’s a great guest blog from Danny Stack, script writer and script editor and co-founder (with Tony Jordan) of the Red Planet Prize.
Take it away Danny…
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Why I Love Misfits by Danny Stack

** MINOR SPOILERS **

Five teenagers get struck by lightning and develop strange super powers, blah, blah, blah. On paper, Misfits, E4’s new supernatural series, shouldn’t work. We’ve seen this idea before. Or at least, it certainly feels like it. Anybody within a five feet radius of the spec script pile will tell you it’s groaning from the weight of similar sci-fi ideas. All of a sudden, thanks to Heroes (the American smash hit series) superheroes were thrust into vogue. The geeks hadn’t just inherited the Earth, they’d taken over the TV.

In the UK, the success of Dr Who, Torchwood and Merlin (BBC) and Primeval on ITV meant that hey, the audience must really want to see these kind of shows, right? ITV tried again with Demons, which didn’t exactly work out, but at least ITV2’s sitcom No Heroics was a playful send-up of the genre. Still, enough superheroes. Time to move on, yes? And so, when it came to E4’s Misfits, the heart didn’t exactly jump with excitement. ‘Heroes meets Skins’, apparently. Hmm, an easy pitch, sure, but it would be so easy for Misfits to misfire. Luckily, within minutes of the first episode, you just knew that the show was going to get everything right. An instant classic was born.

First, why it works. The show is created and written by Howard Overman (a TV regular: Merlin, Spooks, Hustle, amongst others). You can’t over-emphasise the importance of the writing for a show like this to succeed. Right from the very start of Misfits, you can tell it’s got a style and assurance all of its own. You think: ‘yeah, Heroes meets Skins… but better’.

The characters are a bunch of teenage ASBOs, enslaved to community service. There’s gobby Nathan, chav Kelly, sexy Alisha, athletic Curtis and meek Simon.

Episode 1 pep talk

When they get hit by lightning, they discover they’ve got supernatural traits but their powers are far from cool or useful. Sexy Alisha gets a disturbing power where anyone who touches her skin is consumed with violent lust for her. Or as meek Simon puts it when Alisha touches his neck: “I want to rip off your clothes and piss on your tits”. This dialogue edge continues in its unashamed and bold fashion, making you do a double take of ‘did they just say that?!’ on a regular basis. The gobby Nathan won’t stop talking but thankfully what he has to say is always cheeky and witty. “I’m pretty sure this breaches the terms of my ASBO” he says when burying their community officer. Fun, fun, fun.

Oh, did I say they had to kill their community officer? Self-defence, obviously, because he had turned into some kind of crazed zombie who was going to kill them all. You begin to realize that the ‘Heroes meets Skins’ pitch is totally off. This has no American overtones whatsoever. This is ‘Dead Set meets Skins in a bastard world of Heroes’.

Meek Simon

Kelly holding Nathan's, um, wank sock.

Why it works, the second. The direction. It seems if you want a show to have a distinctive look and feel, then you got to hire directors called Tom. In this instance, Tom Harper and Tom Green. They give Misfits a delicious cinematic vibe with their careful composition and grading. ‘Let’s give it a cinematic look’ is a phrase often heard in the early rounds of TV development, only for the execs to change their minds in the edit suite as they panic whether the audience will hear the dialogue when the action stays in a wide shot. Thankfully, we get no such interference here as Misfits establishes a visual style that just reeks of class and cool. These are two hip directors to watch out for. Tom Harper has the film Scouting Book for Boys in the bag and we haven’t seen the last of Tom Green, that’s for sure.

Why it works, the third. The actors. Robert Sheehan (Nathan), Lauren Socha (Kelly), Antonia Thomas (Alisha), Nathan Stewart-Jarrett (Curtis), Iwan Rheon (Simon). They may be misfits, but they’re perfect. Then you have the brilliant Alex Reid out to find the truth about her missing boyfriend (the dead community officer) and guest star Amy Beth-Hayes who nearly steals the show in episode two. The main cast is where it’s at though. They’re characters we care about, and want to spend time with. Most importantly, we want to know what happens next.

Curtis and Alisha

Why it works, numero four. The setting. A community centre on the banks of a murky river. Possibly London, who knows, it could be anywhere, but what’s particularly genius about the choice of setting is that it keeps the action contained. This means that the production budget doesn’t spiral out of control, especially as it has to cough up some wonga for special effects. It’s also testament to the two Toms (directors) that they keep everything visually interesting. You never get bored of looking at what would be a very drab location in real life.

The drama and fun of the action zips by at a thoroughly enjoyable pace, and there’s effective character development for all concerned. The only Misfit misgiving is that the main arc of the series ends a bit sooner than you might expect, leaving the final episode to introduce something new and not altogether satisfying. Still, the final pay-off reveals Nathan’s super power and leaves things nicely open-ended to ensure that series two can pick up where they left off.

‘Nuff said. Stop reading. Get thee to your nearest DVD outlet and purchase Misfits immediately. Enjoy.

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