Sunday, November 22, 2009

Misfit Memories

I was chatting with my buddy Steve the other day when he asked me if I'd heard anything about a new British SF series called Misfits.

Apparently it's about a group of young offenders who, while out doing community service, are struck by lightening and endowed with super powers.

Sounds like an interesting concept in teen drama programming, but it wasn't a show I'd heard anything about.

The only SF "misfits" that came to my mind were from the American TV show Misfits of Science. Now that was an unexpected flashback. I don't think I'd given that show any thought since I'd watched it as a kid during its original broadcast back in '85.

Misfits of Science was an SF action comedy about a group of people who, one way or another, come to a big corporation's super science and paranormal research lab and eventually form a team that investigates the weird and sometimes saves the world. Dr. Billy Hayes (played by Dean Paul Martin) was the defacto leader. Hayes was one of the research scientists at the company and a bit of a well-meaning screw-up - think a combination of Judge Harry Stone from Night Court and a watered-down Peter Venkman from Ghostbusters. Hayes was the one of only two people on the team without powers. The late Kevin Peter Hall, generally known for towering over everyone while wearing a mask in films like Predator and Harry and the Hendersons, played Dr. Elvin Lincoln, a 7-foot-4 man who could shrink himself down to the size of a Ken doll. The running gag was that despite his height, he couldn't play basketball. Johnny "Johnny B" Bukowski (Mark Thomas Miller) was a rock 'n roller cool guy who could shoot lightning from his hands and run very fast. A young Courteney Cox (I'd forgotten how hot she was back then - not like these days when she's so boney that she could pass for Skeletor - ironic since she also starred in the Masters of the Universe movie with Dolph Lungren, fighting the skull-faced bad guy) played Gloria Dinallo, a powerful telekinetic who'd had been in trouble with the law for (in a bit of mild Carrie inspiration) wrecking the odd shopping mall when the other teens made fun of her. The team was rounded-out by Jane Miller (Jennifer Holmes), Gloria's parole officer, Hayes' love interest, and the only other person on the team without powers; and (in the pilot at least) Arthur "the Iceman" Beifneiter, a man who'd been cryonically frozen for decades and woke up with the ability to freeze things, super strength, and apparently lost most of his brainpower except for a fixation on "Amelia" (presumed to be Amelia Earhart).

In the pilot, the group has to free the Iceman from the clutches of the badguys: the company's new boss and a rogue Army general (MASH's Larry Linville doing not a bad Lance LeGault impression); then destroy a "neutron beam" weapon that has the power to potentially annihilate the Earth.

I was curious to see if my memories of the show matched the real thing, so the other night I rewatched the pilot on Youtube (the site actually has several of the episodes available, and it was funny to see the TV station's programming change clip at the beginning of the pilot that showed KITT with the voiceover telling the audience that Night Rider would not be seen so that they could present Misfits of Science).

At one point while watching it, my wife came in and wondered what was on the screen. After getting the gyst of the show from me and watching a minute or two, she gave a snort of derision and left. Clearly they didn't have Misfits of Science airing (translated or in English) in Hong Kong when she was a kid, or if they did, it never got onto her family's television set - might've interferred with The Golden Girls or whichever of the 5 English language shows they watched from time to time. I guess there are limits to her geekdom.

For my part, it was quite a trip to see all of those old 80s hairdo's and fashions and hear that synth-heavy pop music. But I have to say, aside from the visuals and the music dating the show, the story itself stands up. Sure, in some respects it's typical network fare, but for all that, it's ultimately not a bad little underdogs-save-the-world adventure and it does have its funny moments from time to time.

It seems as though the time was right back then for a resurgence of SF, or in general, the weird on TV. Sure there had been SF and Fantasy-based series in the early 80's (some good, like Mr Merlin, some that were accepted at the time but seem kind of lame now like Night Rider, and some that were completely sucktastic like Automan, Manimal, and, horror of horrors: Galactica 1980), but I seem to recall that things were dying down a little bit - the typical cycle of popular programming subject matter on TV. Then Ghostbusters exploded onto the movie scene in '84 and suddenly everyone in Hollywood seemed to be looking to cash-in on paranormal adventure, especially if it was a bit admittedly goofy. Thus, Misfits of Science was given a shot in '85, as, I think, a direct and unabashed attempt to capitalize on Ghostbusters, with a bit of comic book influence thrown in. A similar type of show, Shadow Chasers, also hit the screens that year. And though less tongue-in-cheek, The Twilight Zone was reborn that year, and that's also when Spielberg introduced Amazing Stories (which was deliberately a bit silly). If it had come along a couple of years later when the SF/Fantasy/paranormal/whatever fad died down in TV land, Misfits of Science may not have been given a chance to air.

Now that I've rediscovered Misfits of Science, I'm not sure that I'll bother to go back and rewatch every episode that's available online, but I certainly haven't regretted indulging in the memory for a little while.


Joanna Magnolia said...

Hey, it was cool to see your post about 'Misfits of Science'. What you said about it maybe getting more of a chance because of the surge in popularity of Ghostbuster-like things, is interesting, not something I'd thought before, but it's probably right.

Misfits still holds up, even today - I find that so great!

I'd like to share a link to the fansite I've just put up for the show:


Robin Shantz said...


I just checked out your link and it looks like your site is homebass for Misfits material! Great job with the wealth of info and the vintage 80's colour scheme!