Nathan: “It was an accident! She was rubbing my cock, all right, and then she started foaming at the mouth, and then she tripped and impaled herself on her Mother Teresa Young Humanitarian of the Year Award. I know it sounds unlikely, but there it is!”
Nathan, Nathan, Nathan. I think any real fan of Misfits realizes that this is a show that is all about Nathan. And the second series is very bittersweet in that regard. The season starts out with a Nathan-centric episode early on, but it’s a largely dramatic one and is relatively humorless. It’s still a very good performance from Robert Sheehan where he gets to hit a lot of different dramatic notes, but it’s missing a lot of what makes Misfits so watchable, and is actually a bit of a bore. And the rest of the first half of the season is Nathan-light. In fact, we see the emergence of a figure in a hoodie who seems to be a super-hero that the group encounters from time to time, there are some bits involving time travel, and there’s a deep storyline involving Simon and Alisha.
The good news on that front is that Iwan Rheon and Antonia Thomas really rise to the challenge of the increased screen time. Antonia Thomas becomes the heart of the show and reveals a more subtle depth to her acting talent, and Iwan Rheon gets to play some new sides to his character and displays some welcome new range. He was great in the first series in his ongoing storyline with parole officer Alex Reid, but here the character comes out of his shell and we get to see a whole other developing side to his personality. But… with the focus on these kinds of elements and with less Nathan, Misfits begins to resemble exactly what I fear the U.S. version of the show might look like. It has less edge, and it’s more about hook-y plot developments and less about the extreme, socially undesirable sides of the characters. I was about to reduce my rating of the show for this second series.
But episode four, featuring a Grand Theft Auto-derived villain, integrates more humor and finds a pretty good balance between the two. And then episode five and six hit, and we get two of the best Nathan episodes ever. In fact, episode six is probably the best episode of the show, period– so good that it’s an episode I imagine will never be beat. It riffs on great deconstructionist comics like Watchmen, and fulfills so much of the show’s promise, including taking the character of Nathan to the peak of his potential. Misfits has always reminded me of a cross between a youth-centered comic like Brian Vaughn’s Runaways, but with a dirty, British/Irish sensibility like some of Garth Ennis’ comic work or Warren Ellis’ The Authority. In fact, it kind of plays like a teen Authority— when they were still kidsand before they were operating out of a satellite space station. The episode even kicks off with a pre-credits sequence detailing the origin story of a brand new sad, pathetic character who gets a power he calls “lacto-kenesis” and is referred to in the papers and on television as the Marvelous Milk Magician. And we get a great line from Kelly commenting on the whole thing right before the music kicks in “That has to be the shittiest power evah.” Then of course, over the course of the episode, this ridiculous character, not taken seriously by anyone, actually becomes incredibly dangerous. Brilliant. It’s playing in the same sandbox as Ben Edlund’s The Tick and The Venture Brothers. This is what Misfits should be.
Sadly, from there the Christmas episode is quite a disappointment. Anyone watching the show at this point realizes it’s the last Nathan episode. And Nathan here just isn’t as funny. There has to be at least a little sadness, pathos, and frustration to Nathan, and he really works best as a supporting character who riffs off of everyone else. But here we get an attempt to send the character off, and Overman just keeps hitting the same crass humor button on Nathan without balancing it against anything. In fact, he gives the character a strong romantic interest, the kind of thing that probably should bring out more of the quieter, dramatic side to Nathan, particularly in his last episode. But Nathan spends the whole episode cranked up to ten, and it’s too much, especially considering his storyline in the episode. The Las Vegas short that leads into the third series is much of the same, so it turns out to be a fairly disappointing finish for such a beloved character.
And it’s a bittersweet finish for the second series overall, because even though the season was so strong in general, building a new side to itself with the Simon-Alisha storyline, and featuring a couple of great Nathan episodes, we know it’s kind of the end of the series proper. If Howard Overman wanted to take the show from really good to amazing, he would have needed to keep Robert Sheehan on-board, better balance his material, and continue playing with that kind of Tick/Venture Brothers vibe. Instead, we end the second series on a bit of a sad note knowing that future series are only going to be a pale carbon copy of something that was just hitting its stride and approaching greatness. I guess fans will just have to rewatch series one and two whenever they need their Misfits fix.