Tuesday, January 10, 2012

How an American "Misfits" Could Work

After a comment on my previous post (shout out to Keith!) about my new obsession "Skins," I had intended eventually to write a post on another British television series Robin introduced me to that I really liked, "Misfits." I didn't intended to write about it this quickly, but hilariously enough, today I discovered some interesting news that ties into both "Misfits" and my "Skins" post. Specifically, "Misfits" is being remade into an American show—to which my initial reaction was, "of course it was."

In all seriousness, "Misfits" is a fantastic show. It focuses on a group of young delinquents all on court-mandated community service for committing various crimes and misdemeanors. A freak storm ends up giving them all different superpowers—ranging from invisibility to time reversal to, well, I don't want to spoil too much. The rest of the show goes off from there. Other people gain powers as well, but this is where "Misfits" differs from other shows in this genre. Instead of becoming superheroes suddenly or realizing that they must use their powers for some greater good or something, the youngsters pretty much just continues on as they always have—as misfits. Don't get me wrong, characters grow and change, but not so much because of their superpowers but more so because of their circumstance and environment, which happen to include said superpowers.

Anyway, what's really interesting about the coming-to-America announcement is that I actually think "Misfits" COULD work as an American show, or rather COULD HAVE at a certain point. Not so much anymore. After shows like "Heroes," "The Cape" and "No Ordinary Family," which all more or less played toward the standard superhero archetype, at this point, I think it's increasingly unlikely general audiences will give a show like "Misfits" a chance—despite the fact that it absolutely subverts the genre. Ads will mostly likely position it the same as any other superhero television show and most people might end up just passing it off as another "Heroes."

Then there's the fact that the potential remake will be done by Josh Schwartz, co-creator of "Gossip Girl" and "Chuck." Now, I've never seen either shows, but from what I've seen through marketing and heard from friends who do watch the show, "Gossip Girl" doesn't exactly scream "Misfits" to me in terms of tone and writing… at all. And while I am interested in seeing "Chuck," just because a show like "Misfits" features nerdy subject matter doesn't not make it a nerdy show. Again, to me, there is a distinctive clash in tone and style between Schwartz's previous projects and "Misfits."

Now, I don't want to make this post another one about how British stuff should stay British and America needs to stop. Instead, I want to talk about how I think "Misfits" could absolutely work in America—providing of course we ignore the two things I just mentioned earlier and instead concentrate on these two simple things that could make it work.


I think a big problem with previous examples of remakes is that they tend to follow the episodes of the British version shot for shot, line for line. I'm talking camera-work, scenery, everything. This happened with "Skins" and with "The Office." In the case of the former, there was a lot that didn't work beyond that, but in the case of the latter, while I love the American version of "The Office," I really didn't get into it UNTIL it went its own way.

I think in order for "Misfits" to work I think they should keep the basic idea, the manners in which things happen, but make sure it's shot and written in an original way. So, young offenders get powers during crazy storm. That's the basic idea of the first episode. By keeping the idea, it's still "Misfits." They'll get the new fans either way, but by avoiding doing a shot-for-shot, they can also bring in the elusive old fans.

As a fan of the British version, I personally will appreciate seeing something new since, well, I haven't seen it before. Moreover, when a shot for shot remake happens, I think people naturally end up comparing it to the original. "Oh, I like how the original actors said this line better" or "Man, I've seen all of this before... EXACTLY THIS!" By changing up the directing and dialogue, they can provide those old fans with something familiar but also something new.


I've often heard the complaint that there are never any new ideas anymore. Maybe to a certain extent that's true, but to me what makes something new and different isn't always the idea but the characters. Look at "Misfits" itself. The basic premise isn't entirely new. Everyday people gain superpowers. That's been done a million times over. What made "Misfits" unique was the characters—characters whose personality and actions guided that original premise into a completely new direction.

In fiction, two characters should never react to something in the exact same way. They need to be unique. One of my favorite writers—and an all around AWESOME person—Geoff Johns once gave me a great piece of advice in regards to writing characters. He told me, you imagine your character walks into a room and sees something shocking, like a person just standing there naked. How do they react? A different character walks into the same room and sees the same thing. How do they react? Those reactions should not be the same. Every characters reaction should be different because their personalities are different, their mannerisms are different.

Therefore, if you take any basic premise and insert Character A, the story unfolds one way. If you take that exact same premise and insert Character B, then a whole new story unfolds. This is because Character A and B are two different people whose actions, personality and life will guide that premise in different directions. Writers often talk about the characters becoming so real that they end up writing themselves. That's sort of what I mean here. It's like the Butterfly Effect. That one change should send a ripple across the entire story that changes how things end up.

This then works on a number of levels for "Misfits." For one, the storylines will be different. The tone and premise stays the same, but what happens will be different. Again, it'll be new. But mostly, you avoid the character conundrum. I talked about this with Cassie in "Skins." It was going to be impossible for the American version of Cassie to live up to Hannah Murray. A similar thing will happen to me with regards to the American version of "Misfits," specifically with the character of Simon.

Simon is easily my favorite character in "Misfits." He's super weird at first and get insanely badass later, but his lines are consistently pretty phenomenal and they're delivered brilliantly by actor Iwan Rheon. And I just know the American version won't live up.

Finally, there are characters that work in the UK but who won't work here. Nathan is the perfect example for this. That is a character whose entire purpose is to be super offensive and that type of offensive cannot translate to America because, well, he can't get away with half the stuff he does in the British version in the American one. And for a lot of fans, a tamed down Nathan just isn't Nathan.

So, there it is. I honestly would like to see an American interpretation of "Misfits," and that's the key thing: I'd like to see the American INTERPRETATION and not so much the American REMAKE. Take the theme, take the premise, but make it our own.


Keith said...

I appreciate the shout out. But I have to disagree with your opinion on Nathan. I think he would be a perfect character to bring from over the pond. He made the show, especially in the first couple of episodes.
I mean "Southpark" is just as crude as Nathan is, and their 4th graders.
There are so many networks and the show itself shouldn't cost that much per episode.
So lets put it on cable after 10pm.
Let's be sure to actually get the guy who created it, Howard Overman, and hire great writers.
The only problem I foresee, is casting. Especially in the case of Nathan & Simon. I think what makes the show great are it's characters( Imagine Kelly as a Jersey girl) And it's crass humor which sets the tone for the viewer to except that these kids kill people on a regular basis. But I hope if they do decide to remake it, they will call us! So it can be as good if not better, under the watchful eyes of the CKT kids and their legions of loyal fans..

"Have you ever seen a man shat a rabbit out of his Arse?"

Kevin said...

Hey Keith! I do agree with you that Nathan could work on a cable network post 10 pm. However, I was mostly going on the assumption that the show was being made for the CW or NBC or a similar station--as that's where Schwartz's shows previously ended up. Given a cable network and the proper direction I think American "Misfits" would be a sure thing. We'll see how it goes, but yes! They should totally hire us!

Keith said...

Off topic, I wanted your opinion on the news of liefeld taking over F&*^in!! 3 comics. I mean what can this guy possibly do except get these books cancelled. Maybe thats DC's plan?
But seriously, Everyone knows he has a hard time with drawing, and I've read some of his comics.
Which didn't blow me away, so let's give him even more to do!
Which I'm sure even is pain for someone who is an actual paid writer. What must all the freelance writers think?? Just wanted to a professional opinion, hoping that i'm not crazy.

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