Happy-Slapping Hoodies with ASBOs and Superpowers: Misfits and Teenage Culture

When Heroes debuted in 2006, it was widely criticized for being nothing more than an X-Men rehash. Frankly, it’s hard to argue against that point. Of course, any storyteller worth their salt (or anyone with an English or Theatre degree for that matter) will freely admit that we are constantly retelling the same stories. So why was Heroes a bland rehash and not a great retelling?

The wisdom of Pablo Picasso tells us, “Bad artists copy. Great artists steal.” (Or something like that. The exact quote remains a mystery.) Perhaps the reason so many comic fans rallied against Heroes was because it didn’t seem like the creators of the show had lifted those ideas from X-Men and transformed them into something unique, brought a new take on an old favorite. They made a bad copy of something great. But that doesn’t mean that someone couldn’t do it up right.

In fact, someone has.

The UK channel E4 recently premiered season two of Misfits, a show that has been described by many as Heroes/X-Men meets a John Hughes film. The description is fairly apt; five teens doing community service for various crimes end up caught in a freak lightning storm that leaves them all with superpowers. Unlike your typical all-American superheroes with a sense of purpose and responsibility at having achieved such greatness, these kids have no interest in destinies or protecting society. Nathan, Kelly, Curtis, Alisha and Simon, they’re teenagers. They want to drink, have sex, ignore authority figures and generally get on with their lives.

Rather than being another rehash of X-Men or some other comic book yarn, Misfits is more a classic teen flick told beneath a crafty superhero lens. The powers held by each character make the show interesting, but don’t drive them to act as much as the world around them. Ultimately, the series has more in common with The Breakfast Club, and even in this respect the show has something different to say. Because all of those teenage stereotypes could do with a little updating, couldn’t they?

The “princess” is no longer a goodie-two-shoes who cringes at the tamest of lewd comments. Alisha is every inch the brat that Molly Ringwald was, but what she wants she gets by seducing the men around her. The hyper-sexualizing of young women is a problem that has grown exponentially in the past two decades, making this new queen bee true to form and manipulative to boot.

For Curtis, this generation’s “athlete,” it’s not some nasty jock prank that lands him in the orange jumpsuit, but being caught with cocaine. He struggles with the knowledge that he has let everyone down, lost his shot at the Olympics, ruined all hope he had for his future. In a time where so many underprivileged youths believe that athletic achievement or superstardom is their only way of making it in the world, Curtis is far too familiar to us all. Replace the cocaine with steroids and we are reminded of a completely different problem among today’s sports stars.

Simon, “the brain” of the group, endures the same sorts of trials that Anthony Michael Hall’s character does in the John Hughes film, but is much more subtly dangerous. Rather than just bringing the gun to school, one can imagine Simon reaching the end of his tether and using it before he had even realized what he was doing. The end of the first season proved he was more than capable in that respect. The effect of bullying in recent times seems only to have changed in the enormity of the reactions to it.

Instead of a pale, eerie goth presence, the Misfits’s resident “basket case” is a girl who gets attention the opposite way, shouting and slapping and playing the part of a tough chick while her insecurities wreck havoc with her non-existent self-esteem. Everyone knows this girl. Some of us have even been her at one point or another in our lives. Instead of staying silent in the hope that no one will hurt what they don’t notice, this brand of young aggression is a new answer to those who feel ignored or ridiculed by their peers.

The “criminal” of this crowd is far less intimidating than his 80s counterpart, but every bit as vulnerable. Nathan’s way of provoking the group is less about getting under their skin and more about making himself the center of attention. The viewpoint of both characters is relatively similar; Bender’s retort to Andrew about insulting everyone (“I’m being honest, asshole. I would expect you to know the difference.”) is easily something that Nathan would say. (Though much more cheerfully. Nathan is always cheerful.) The malice, however, is nowhere to be found. Truthfully, he is more the irritating class clown than he is a menace, and that could also be the effect of modern life. He is desensitized to the point where everything becomes a joke. Or, at least, he tries to be. It’s much easier to laugh than to face the world as it is.

All together they make up a fascinating and frighteningly real example of teenagers today. The fact that they happen to have superpowers is incidental, but the addition of that quirky element is what makes the show work. Misfits has stolen ideas rather than copied them, and the result is something very special in a world of box-order sitcoms and endless Law and Order spinoffs. It is often gloriously uncomfortable, occasionally too close to home and always, always entertaining. All those other super team yarns out there—start taking notes.


Emily Asher-Perrin writes, blogs, sings and enjoys cosplaying. She is a contributing writer on Examiner.com and Starpulse.com. She was recently told that if she had a superpower it would be “knowledge extraction.” You can follow her on Twitter here, if that’s your thing.

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