I watch a lot of TV. But, seemingly paradoxically, I don’t watch almost all the popular shows, or the critically acclaimed shows (aside from the comedies). I watch a lot of movies, but most popular/acclaimed movies, I don’t watch (again, not counting comedies). I read a lot of comic books, but most non-superhero comics, I don’t read. I know it makes me sound somewhat childish, but I really only like things when there are people with superpowers in it (OK, I like plenty of things that only have sci-fi or fantasy elements). That doesn’t mean that I like everything with superpowers, though. The past few years, there have been several really, really crummy TV shows about people with superpowers. Misfits is not one of them. It’s a really good show. Not only is it a good show, but it really demonstrates what it is I like about media with superpowers.
For those who don’t know, Misfits is a British show (available on Hulu) about some just-twenty-something delinquents who, while performing community service, get superpowers. They don’t put on masks or fight crime or get involved in crazy conspiracies or try to save the world. They don’t really do much of anything, in fact, except live their lives while trying to deal with their new abilities. It’s way better than I just made it sound, though. The dialogue is smart and witty, the characters engaging, and the stories interesting (most of the time). The stakes are small compared to what they are for most super-humans, but they’re big for the characters, and that’s all that matters. The show uses their powers exactly as they should be used; as a way to deepen the characters, rather than as an excuse to have flashy action scenes.
Like many (most? all?) good stories about super-humans, the powers of the characters in Misfits act as a metaphors for some aspect of their personality. Looking at the series now, I was tempted to write that the metaphors were actually probably too obvious, but then I remembered that I only think that because I’ve gotten to know the characters over time. In fact, the only reason I know them so well is because of their powers. Their powers, and how they think about and use them, reflect what they think about themselves, and how they view their powers changes as they do. This is great, as it gives the writers another way to tell us about these characters, instead of just talking.
That said, I like talking. Or, at least, I don’t understand why so many shows/movies/comic books about super-people (or even just sci-fi/fantasy) feel the need to have big, flashy action scenes all the time. Yes, their super powers (or spaceships or dragons) are cool, but as far as they relate to story or character, action scenes may as well be musical numbers. They’re fine, but it’s pointless to build a story around them. In fact, I would argue that’s not really a story (yeah, I said it, Glee. Woah, just realized Glee makes an excellent show to compare Misfits to, but I’m kind of committed to this post. Readers, that’s your homework). Anyway, back to Misfits, they don’t have big fight scenes. There are moments of violence as part of the plot, and sometimes (OK, most of the time — the characters are kind of dicks) conflicts reach their climax violently, but the violence plays out as a natural part of the narrative. Or, at least, it’s the punch line of a joke, which is really just another form of climax. Their powers just heighten the tension and make the climax that much more interesting.
That’s really what’s at the heart of what I like about super-powered media. All the powers really should be doing is magnifying what is already a good piece. It makes the action more interesting, the characters more understandable, the stakes higher (whether for the world or for the characters), the big questions bigger. When I don’t watch other things, it’s not that I don’t think I’d enjoy it, it’s that I know I’d enjoy it more if it just had super-humans in it. So, why ‘waste’ the time? Why watch Skins (another British show that makes a good point of comparison) when I can see the same, only better in Misfits?
I know I’ve been rather abstract and haven’t given any actual examples from the show, but I wanted to avoid spoilers, and more importantly give you a reason to check out the show. So, don’t take my word for it, watch the show! Watch it. C’mon. Watch it. Before the American remake/adaptation goes and ruins everything.