UK’s “Misfits” approaches superpowers differently than American television shows

Lily Korte, Staff REporter

Due to their shared language, if not exactly a shared culture, television programs have frequently been imported and exported between the United States and the United Kingdom for almost as long as television has been a cultural force. However, there have always been limits to this; a lack of perceived audience in one nation might result in a show never getting picked up by an overseas network for broadcast, or a show might have “adult content” that would run afoul of censors in another country. The latter point in particular makes a good many British shows essentially unbroadcastable in the U.S. outside of late-night cable, due to pervasive strong language, graphic sexual content or both. Unsurprisingly, this is where internet-based content providers really shine, and Hulu in particular has landed some very high-profile British shows that Americans can now watch legally for the first time. Last autumn, American audiences could stream new episodes of the fourth and final season of the infamously foul-mouthed comedy “The Thick Of It” as they aired, and this fall Americans can do the same for the fifth and final season of “Misfits.”

Trying to explain the main concept of “Misfits” makes it sound like a very different show from what it actually is. A freak ice storm struck part of London and resulted in all those exposed to it developing various superpowers, but to call them “superpowers” is a bit misleading—this is no superhero show, and not just because the main characters are far from heroic, seeing as they are all wayward teenagers doing community service for a variety of minor crimes. While stereotypical powers like invisibility or telepathy manifest themselves in some people, others are stuck with abilities that are either useless, dangerous or come with severe drawbacks. The most interesting thing is the way in which the show treats the characters’ discovery of their powers and limitations, and the revelation that all sorts of people were affected beyond the young offenders the show primarily follows. From old women who can tell the future through knitting, to nine-month-old babies who can brainwash men into wanting to be their father, all manner of ordinary people begin discovering their strange new gifts and learning how best to utilize them. In other words, it is a show with otherworldly elements that isn’t overwhelmed by them.

It vaguely resembles the original U.K. version of “Skins” in that it functions as an ensemble drama with comedic elements, following a group of troubled British youths. It’s frequently raunchy and rude, and can also be quite violent, but there are genuinely heartwarming or depressing moments too. It also resembles “Skins” in that, from season to season, the core cast varies dramatically, with old characters being replaced by new ones as the young actors leave the show and move on to other projects. As of the beginning of the fifth and final season, no cast members remain from the first season. The transition is more graceful in “Misfits,” at least, as the turnover is gradual, and the show at least has the benefit of an established universe to help maintain more of a sense of internal continuity. Barring that, community service sentencing is only temporary anyway, so the shifting cast from year to year feels perfectly natural.

For a show that sits in such a seeming no-man’s-land between genres, it actually makes for rather compelling television. It’s not strictly a comedy, but has more than its fair share of very darkly hilarious moments. Nor is it strictly a drama, but there’s plenty of emotionally affecting stuff in it as well. The credit can surely go to the excellent cast, but must also go to the show creator Howard Overman, who wrote all of the episodes in the first two seasons, and continues to write the vast majority of the episodes by himself. In lesser hands, the show’s precarious mix could easily tip too far in one direction. Fortunately for the viewer though, “Misfits” adeptly juggles its rotating cast and shifting genres, leaving one saddened to learn that its first season to debut simultaneously in the U.S. and U.K. is also its last.

New episodes are available online every Thursday from now until Dec. 11, and all of the previous seasons (including interstitial web-only features) are also available to watch free of cost.