jenn’s best of 2010: televsion

If there’s one thing the British can do well, it’s television. Well, monarchy, tea and a stiff upper lip mentality are also their strong suits, but television is up there for sure.

Watching tv in North America is like watching dumbed down versions of British shows, sometimes literally (The Office, Skins, Being Human, just to name a few). They have a different format than we use; short seasons consisting of 6 to 12 episodes per season, long breaks in between so that the writing is strong and audiences are left without filler episodes. Most US networks prefer the nonstop new episodes hey it’s sweeps weeks! appeal, but the UK format has been adapted by many shows on cable. The focus on quality over quantity is what gives the Brits so many more interesting and daring shows. This year, that show was Misfits.

Okay, it technically began in 2009 but I never watched until this year. The E4 show is one of the rare examples of what it looks like on paper being pedestrian and boring, when it actuality it is hilarious, gripping and addictive. Misfits follows a group of young offenders who are struck by lightning during their community service and obtain super powers. Stay with me here.

It’s not Heroes, thank god. The characters are truly young offenders. There’s the chav Kelly gifted with telepathy, the obnoxious and immortal Nathan (who discovers his power the hard way), the hyper-sexed Alicia (skin contact causes anyone to want to sleep with her. Worst power ever?), the future serial killer Simon (invisibility) and the former star athlete brought in on drugs charges Curtis (rewinding time). In the first episode, they murder their probation worker.

Stay with me.

The rest of the season revolves around the group getting to know each other through covering up the murder, trying to avoid revealing their powers to the world and surviving. Of course the storm didn’t just effect the main characters, and many peripheral characters and side plots involve others with powers ranging from the absurd (old lady makes herself young again to have sex with Nathan) to the ridiculous (Kelly’s enemy has the power of making people she’s angry with bald).

The first series finale was one of the best episodes, with a girl who has the power to make people do as she says taking over the town. She uses her gift to make all the youths… good people. No more sex, or drugs, or bad behaviour. Everyone becomes miniature yuppies, until our band of anti-heroes get involved.

Seriously, stay with me.

Season two aired this past November and featured a Terminator-style plot line with a character coming back in time to change the course of events, as well as a villain who announces the presence of super powers to the world and kills everyone who tries to steal his spotlight (using his power of… milk control). The Christmas special (a staple in British television not yet adapted on this side of the pond) has a nativity scene featuring afterbirth, the gang killing Jesus and trading in their current powers for as yet to be revealed new ones.

It sounds absolutely ridiculous, I know. And it is. But it’s also dark, funny and sharply written in a way I can’t really describe. The characters should for all intents and purposes be annoying and despicable, but despite being morally grey they are strangely compelling and likeable. Sure Simon watches girls sleep and keeps some in freezers, but his earnesty and dedication to his friends almost make up for it. And while Nathan should be the obligatory douchebag, his lack of shame and pitch-perfect delivery by actor Robert Sheehan make him more endearing than anything else.

Watch this show. It’s funnier and more unique than anything else on tv right now, and with only 13 episodes you can get caught up in a weekend. You won’t regret this decision.

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