A very British squad of superheroes
They're the Asbo avengers who beat 'Spooks' and 'The Street' to a Bafta. Gerard Gilbert welcomes the return of the Misfits
Monday 08 November 2010
There's the annoying gobby lad who is immortal, the slap-happy female "chav" who can read other people's thoughts and the quiet weirdo who can turn invisible.
Then there's the sporty one who can turn back time and the girl who can instill overpowering sexual desire into anyone who touches her. Yes, welcome back Misfits, the E4 saga about Asbo teenagers which with its first series beat Spooks and The Street to a Bafta for best drama series and gave us five very British superheroes.
For the uninitiated, the show's young offenders – Nathan, Kelly, Simon, Curtis and Alisha (played by Robert Sheehan, Lauren Socha, Iwan Rheon, Nathan Stewart-Jarrett and Antonia Thomas) – developed their powers during a freak hailstorm while engaged on a community payback scheme. The show has been dubbed, with some inevitably, "Skins meets Heroes".
"Someone else came out with what I thought was a slightly better one, which was X-Men meets Trainspotting," says the show's creator and sole writer, Howard Overman, who adds that he had the idea long before anyone in the UK had heard of Heroes. "There hadn't been anything on superheroes on TV for ages. I thought there was room for a British take on it, like Shaun of the Dead had reinvented the zombie film in a very British way."
Overman's idea had been to set the show in a department store, but Channel 4 thought that too middle class. "And then all the community service stuff started to come out in the papers and I thought these were the perfect people to reinvent the superhero genre with," he says. "They've got ready-made orange costumes and they'd got interesting back stories in the sense that they'd all committed crime. Superhero characters often tread a fine line between criminal and hero."
There are no overt messages about social inclusion in Misfits. It's far too much fun for that. The final episode of the first series, in which the superheroes are pitched against a sinister cult that is cleansing youngsters of their vices, is a perfect example of the show's philosophy.
"In traditional shows people would fight back when they realised the town was being turned evil, whereas our gang fight back when all their peers are being turned good. We were poking fun at the American chastity movement, which I think we British are duty bound to do. Is it so bad that kids are going out drinking and shagging each other – isn't that all part of growing up?"
Misfits characters abuse their superpowers in ways that would make Batman and Superman blanch. Alisha can make people desire her by simply touching them, so she touches every boy (and girl) she can lay her hands on. "The idea was always that it would be a realistic reaction to getting superpowers," says Overman. "How many of us would get a superpower and think, 'Right, I'm going to fly off and save the world from nuclear catastrophe'?"
The humour is often breathtakingly filthy, too. "Shock is part of the genre," says Overman. "In the second series there was only one thing that Channel 4 told me to take out, which was sticking a nicotine patch on a pregnant girl's stomach."
The second series begins with Nathan waking up to his immortality in his coffin, probation worker Sally very much dead and Simon meeting a face from the past. When the series was trailed online recently Misfits was, by the following morning, trending No1 in the world on Twitter.
The show's makers have become pioneering exploiters of Twitter and social networking sites, becoming the world's first TV show in which characters Tweeted live during transmission. Meanwhile, each character got a Facebook page.
Overman is now writing a Christmas special and planning the third series, an eight-parter, and America is interested. "I think we're holding off and waiting for the second series," says Overman, "but there are lots of people sniffing around it. We've had a few offers."
'Misfits' returns to E4 on Thursday 11 November
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