If you, like Vox’s Todd VanDerWerff, fell in love with Ruth Negga halfway through the first episode of Preacher, you may be wondering where she could possibly have been hiding herself and her take-no-shit grin all this time.
Or perhaps you’re blown away by Negga’s Preacher co-star Joseph Gilgun. Where could he and his shaggy-dog comic timing possibly have come from?
As it turns out, they both came from the same place: Misfits, a cheerfully obscene TV show that was a huge hit in the UK and a cult hit in the US when it ran from 2009 to 2013. It’s currently streaming on Hulu.
The show, which won a BAFTA (essentially the British Emmy) for Best Drama Series, follows the adventures of a group of young offenders who get struck by lightning while performing court-mandated community service and develop astonishingly unglamorous superpowers. (One guy gets lactokinesis: the ability to move milk and other dairy products with his mind.)
Misfits follows in the footsteps of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but it takes Buffy’s formula forward the next logical step: Where Buffy elevated adolescent mundanity to apocalyptic levels, Misfits brings the apocalypse down to mundane levels.
On Buffy, finding out your boyfriend isn’t who he says he is might destroy the entire world. On Misfits, a zombie plague means a slightly messier day at community service and drawing straws to decide who has to kill the zombie cat.
Besides being excellent TV in its own right, Misfits features a talented cast full of people who went on to great things once their run on the show had ended. (In the UK, actors are rarely contracted to a show for more than a season at a time, so like most British shows, Misfits had a fairly high cast turnover.)
In fact, Misfits probably features a few of your favorite young actors. Here’s a sampling:
Before she was Preacher’s Tulip, Negga was Nikki, the sharp-talking teleporter who can make the line, “Are you always such a weird twat?” sound like the world’s most charming come-on. Negga was only on the show in its second season, but she was fun and funny and sexy. And as a love interest for Curtis, one of the show’s most underused characters, she brought out welcome shadings in his characterization.
To see her best episode, check out: 2.04. (None of Misfits’ episodes have names, so I’ll be referring to them by their production codes throughout. 2.04 is the fourth episode of season two.) This hour gives Nikki her superhero origin story. Plus, the look of outraged disgust on Negga’s face when she gets hung on a meat hook is one of the best things you’ll see on television.
Negga’s Preacher co-star joined the cast of Misfits in its third season as Rudy, a man whose self-loathing has split him into two people. (Yes, literally; this is a genre show.) Gilgun has enormous fun throughout his run on Misfits playing up the differences between the joyously vulgar and id-driven Rudy One and the morose and gloomy Rudy Two. Although the show’s quality drops off in its later seasons, Gilgun remains a bright spot up until the end.
To see his best episode, check out: 4.03, in which we meet the villainous Rudy Three and Gilgun shows off how well he can play sinister.
Iwan Rheon clearly loves playing dark, twisted characters. He’s best known for playing the sadistic Ramsay Bolton on Game of Thrones, and he’ll shortly be playing young Hitler on the satirical British TV movie Adolf the Artist.
When Rheon was first cast on Misfits as awkward, introverted Simon, the original plan was that this role would be more of the same for him: Simon, whose repressed rage and loneliness is so profound that it turns him invisible, was supposed to go dark and betray his fellow Misfits.
But showrunner Howard Overman liked Rheon’s performance so much that he decided not to make him a villain. Instead, Simon tries to become a hero, and the character arc that ensues is one of the most purely tragic storylines on the show.
To see his best episode, check out: 2.03, which introduces us to Simon’s noble future self — and shows off Rheon’s ability to dramatically change his appearance almost entirely by dint of changing his posture.
Jessica Brown Findlay
Jessica Brown Findlay, Downton Abbey’s Lady Sybil herself, appears in only two episodes — but she causes the death of a major character each time she shows up, so you can’t say she doesn’t make an impact. Findlay is Rachel, a buttoned-up cult leader who forces her followers to forswear sex and drugs and wear cardigans, making her anathema to the wild Misfits.
To see her best episode, check out: 3.08. Findlay’s first episode is 1.06, which was shot before Downton, and while she gets to show off some of the sly comedic chops she never got to put to much use in Downton’s stately manor houses, it’s nothing compared with her second appearance.
Episode 3.08 was shot after Downton’s first season became a smash hit, and it takes deep delight in sending up her other character’s prim and proper image, sending Rachel on a spree of drugs, sex, and cursing that seems designed to make you cry out, “Lady Sybil!” in shock.
I’ll be honest: I’m putting Antonia Thomas on this list in part because I want to see more of her.
In the US, she is probably best known for her role on Scrotal Recall, a sweet-natured British sitcom that came to the US on Netflix and was typically recommended as, “Much better than you’d think from the title!” She is not, to my knowledge, on any prestigious cable dramas just yet. But her performance on Misfits shows just how good she would be on one.
On Misfits, she was Alisha, the gorgeous party girl who gets stuck with one of the show’s creepiest powers: Everyone she touches is overcome with the uncontrollable urge to have sex with her. Alisha at first thinks she can turn the power to her advantage, only to find that it is inherently corrosive, and her slow progression from amoral glee at her own irresistibleness to horror at the things her power does is profoundly compelling.
To see her best episode, check out: 2.03, in which Alisha’s longing to touch someone without consequences comes home to roost — and her storyline intersects with Simon’s in a lovely and heartbreaking moment.
In the US, poor Robert Sheehan is probably the least recognizable person on this list — but in 2013, everyone thought it would be the other way around. He was supposed to be the breakout star of Misfits. He left the show after two seasons to pursue a movie career and was cast as the star of what was clearly going to be a big Hollywood blockbuster. Fame and glory beckoned!
The only problem was that the movie was The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones. If you don’t remember that movie, you are in good company: It was supposed to kick off the next big YA franchise, but it flopped instead. Sheehan has not had a major role in the US since.
But that wasn’t Sheehan’s fault. As Nathan, Sheehan was the joyful, anarchic heart of the show for its first two seasons, all uncombed hair and elaborately inventive insults. Nathan is an awful person, but Sheehan’s unforced charisma makes you love him anyway.
To see his best episode, check out: 1.06, the first season finale, in which Nathan delivers the show’s thesis statement: “We fucked up bigger and better than any generation before. We were so beautiful!”
You can watch Misfits right now if you like
Misfits is a show that’s well worth watching — and since the whole thing’s on Hulu, with no subscription required, it’s pretty easy to get to. Happy viewing!