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Misfits 

Finally, a superhero show that isn’t all about superpowers

click to enlarge They measure their powers with the metric system
  • They measure their powers with the metric system

In America, superheroes seem to be TV kryptonite. Scores of superhero shows have been attempted recently — and they’ve pretty much all been critical failures, all because of the same mistake: The writers, perhaps understandably, set out to make a superhero show. Their first brainstorming session — barely changed — is evident on screen: We’ll set the show around a dude who can shoot fire, or a guy that can lift a car, or a superfast mom.

But that’s not a television show. Those are single character traits, as important or unimportant as a character who’s good at math or loves stockcar racing or is deathly allergic to shellfish. And so these superhero shows simply become thumb-twiddling exercises until the next action sequence, which, on a TV budget, always disappoint.

Misfits is different. For starters, it’s not on American television. It’s a British show. That has normally meant that you couldn’t watch it without resorting to piracy, but someone at Hulu.com got the brainstorm to purchase the rights to Misfits and stream it, absolutely free, to Americans. Hulu already has the first two seasons, and, on Monday, began to stream the third.

From a distance, Misfits seems familiar — a mysterious lightning storm suddenly gives a group of youths superpowers. One can read minds, another can turn invisible, another’s immortal, another can (occasionally) rewind time. But if you take all the superpowers away, Misfits is still a very interesting show. The five main characters are all young criminal offenders, clad in orange jumpsuits, their community service overseen by a probation officer. That alone is an interesting premise. The character interaction — particularly the contrast between the stream-of-consciousness cocky joker Nathan and the painfully shy and awkward Simon — could easily make Misfits a simple comedic drama — no need for supervillains or costumes.

But the writers use superpowers as an opportunity to get creative.

The storm grants a man the power of lactokenesis — the ability to move milk with his mind. (He uses this power for evil.) Reversing the werewolf cliché, the storm transforms a gorilla into a human.

An American series would focus on why the storm happened and the ethical implications of using superpowers. The focus here is more interesting: the way being misfits — poor, self-destructive, aching for respect and control — creates camaraderie among people with vastly different backgrounds and abilities.

Misfits (Hulu, Mondays)

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