If there’s one thing the American superhero genre isn’t good at, cares about or even seems to attempt: it’s that. We’re used to the smiles, sexy brooding and shining costumes of CW heroes. The flashiness and overwhelming colors and presence of Marvel and DC heroes. Even our darker heroes(Batman, Arrow, Suicide Squad, The Defenders) tend to keep a level of pristine when they’re suffering from a near-fatal blow(which usually just means they’re holding a wound, breathing hard and bleeding from the mouth). But, these characters never feel like they are genuinely adapting or even understand the environments they swear to protect. Even Luke Cage(who explains he’s from Chicago and not Harlem), feels like a presence who exists beyond his environment. Like he is pre-destined for greatness and his opinions won’t falter due to his overwhelming viewpoints that seem adverse to the civilians he rescues. The U.S. may have stories that are violent, dark, tense or even brooding. But, that’s not what grime is.
In the U.S., we may avoid grime. But, Misfits lived and thrived in it.
Misfits was a U.K. series that aired on E4 from 2009 – 2013. The core plot involved 5 youths in the projects/ends who were trapped in community service for various crimes when a lightning storm strikes their entire neighborhood, causing each of them to gain superpowers. During it’s run, it won several awards (including British Academy Television Award For BEST DRAMA) and grew a strong, rabid fanbase. This has inspired the rising cable channel, FreeForm, to remake an American version of the show.While we’ve seen many other series with the same level of prestige come and go here in America without much notice (The Inbetweeners, The IT Crowd, Couplings, etc.), this one is far more important for a pretty simple reason: It portrayed what it would be like to have superpowers while living in a low-income hood.
The series spoke to a rough and delinquent U.K. audience that was ignored in everything except for the other hit of this time: Skins. But, unlike that show’s look into Essex or more suburban areas, this show focused specifically on the youth who dwelled in run down warehouse parties, piss-soaked dive bars and run-down housing developments. The powers were only an exacerbation of very real situations and the misunderstood people you’d meet. With the U.S. remake almost fully-casted and well underway to production, it’s important that this adaptation follows 5 of the most important characteristics of the original series(while being willing to correct others):
1.Destructively Flawed(yet, likable) Characters
The series maintained a steady focus on these characters living in low-income housing, being as amoral as they please, constantly sexually active, pill-popping at the first opportunity and (most importantly) never acting as superheroes or in pursuit of being heroic. And even with all of these “attributes” and flawed problems/habitual self-deprecating personality cues; these characters continued to be likable. You rooted for them to make a positive step towards adulthood. You constantly hoped they would use their abilities(or not, in many situations) to correct themselves or have a second chance. And this a series that loved to cross the line of making someone irredeemable. Or just reminding you that “these characters don’t care about saving people they have no intimate attachment to“.
2. Powers That Work As Metaphors
The abilities of anyone involved in the “incident” that caused a neighborhood to become superhuman were done a far more clever way than the show gets credit for. Every character(both major and minor) with powers was effected immediately by their personality. Their abilities manifested in Curtis’ regret(time-travel), Alisha’s promiscuity and desire for attention(Touch of Lust) or Simon’s isolation(Invisibility). While there were moments of hit-or-miss with episodic characters appearing with random powers(random guy turns into an ape; kid who was trapped as a turtle), there were some really great gems in there for life situations and personalities manifesting from real life experience(reserved parole officer that violently hulked-out; girl with the power to give a deadly std). Keeping the main characters’ abilities very low-level was part of it’s charm, but the mystery of discovering what someone’s power is from their interactions was some of the best sci-fun the series had to offer. This can be improved and is an amazing platform to speak on social issues happening today.
3. The Soundtrack
The soundtrack to this show was filthy. It was a mixture of underground hip-hop, hard British rock and (cool at the time) dubstep that coursed threw every scene. It was raw, angry, delinquent, visceral(and even sad) when it needed to be; much like the show’s characters. It was such a great representation of the characters by bringing in music and artists you wouldn’t hear play in a Top 40 nightclub(unless it made sense for a character on-screen). With artists who felt like they belonged in the scene with any of these characters, it gave life to thrilling or sexual moments and introduced many to new songs or artists on the rise. The American version could be an incredible platform for that new musician to get a break on one of the few series that could possibly represent their style.
This show was more than willing to remind you that anyone could go at any time and the series would continue to roll along. Death wasn’t far for any character and it could randomly happen at the center of any episode. Tragedy fell on these characters often enough that the tension remained high, simply because unhappiness was right around the corner. This even lead to a final season that didn’t have a single cast member from the original team.
5. Vulgar Comedy
There are genuine moments of disturbing comedy that poured from this series’ brave willingness to be obnoxious. From the disgusting one-liners from Nathan (and later, Rudy) to the low-brow sex jokes and cultural confusion: The balance of sheer ignorance and bitterness among the group, mixed with genuine innocence and concern for one another is a difficult balance. It created awkwardness and difficult relationships in the same way a negligent family does. But, it worked because the writers, the actors and the networks were willing to go disgusting, controversial and drag these characters through the mud, just to get a rise out of the audience. And I have no doubt that this will be lost in translation…
While the show still had many flaws in the form of plot holes, ridiculous story arcs, sloppy effects and even sudden bursts of randomness to help writers escape from the corner they wrote themselves in, it lived on the charm of it’s characters. And the setting itself left you wondering how threatening or exacerbated their situation would become with every development. The show took risks by never deciding it needed to be pretty or portraying it’s characters as heroic or innocent. It existed in contrast to everything around it. It was the window into the lives of those who would be considered chavs or “lower” to the rest of society. It was raw, dirty and willing to put a fist in the closest wall. I’m not sure if Freeform has it in them to carry on that tradition, but we can only hope from it’s pilot that is currently filming. But, if they want to carry on the legacy of such a strong cult IP they just purchased, they need to be willing to roll in the dirt.