Not that long ago, the Disney Channel meant kids’ cartoons and shows about toothy pre-teens with crossover pop careers. Now, Disney+ (Hulu in the US) has a comedy series featuring a character named Jizzlord, and nothing means anything anymore. The term ‘Disney Adult’ may currently describe the kind of person who gets married in a Prince Eric wig on a cruise ship, but if this trend continues, we’re going to need it back.
Extraordinary is very definitely for adults. It’s an eight-episode London-set comedy with a filthy sense of humour and a rich premise. In its parallel world, everybody develops a superpower at 18. Flight, maybe, or super-strength, or invisibility… There are powers of the less classic variety too – the ability to summon sea life, say, or to turn anything (anything) into a PDF. And then there’s Jen (Belfast’s Máiréad Tyers). She’s reached the age of 25 without manifesting a power beyond extreme failure to launch.
Jen lives unfashionably in fashionable East London with schoolfriend Carrie (Poldark’s Sofia Oxenham) and Carrie’s boyfriend Kash (Bilal Hasna). They both have their powers but in a world where everybody else does too, they’re just a part of life. Kash may be able to turn back time, but it doesn’t make him any less directionless. Carrie can channel the dead, but she still gets shit on at work and taken for granted at home. In other words, it’s like any other twenty-something flat share sitcom, just… weirder.
Weirdness is Extraordinary’s super power. The odder its jokes, the more it stands apart from sister shows Dead Pixels and Fresh Meat and Pure and Derry Girls and – the inevitable comparison – Misfits. (Yes, Channel 4 feels like it should be its spiritual home. And in all truth, perhaps the six episodes Channel 4 would have given it might have been been stronger across the board than these eight.) A story line in which a character falls for a 17th century King and we see a choreographed dance between a woman and a (sort of) cat are high points, an extended one in which a group of wannabe vigilantes fail to take back the night, less so.
The writing by newcomer Emma Moran is sharp, pacey, with an admirably light-touch handling of generational observations that might be hammered flat of humour by other hands. Progressive male anxiety forms a B-plot, one episode sees Carrie tempted to ignore her feminist values for a fat pay cheque, a pharmacist affectionately comments “you young people and your genders. Love it!”… It feels modern but airy and preaches to nobody.
The two leads – Tyers and Oxenham – are terrific. Motormouths well able for the often-strange demands of this comedy, they’re both convincing and charismatic. Treats pop up all over the supporting cast too, from screen magic Luke Rollason to Call the Midwife’s Ella Bruccoleri. Not least, Derry Girls’ Siobhan McSweeney as Jen’s mum, who’s great but underused until the finale and should be written into every scene of the soon-to-film second series – even Jen’s sex scenes. More Siobhan McSweeney in everything, please. Ardal O’Hanlon plays Jen’s dad Martin, perhaps her only healthy family relationship, with touching affection.
Affection that never sways into schmaltz. Overall, the sense of humour here is juvenile and refreshingly allergic to sincerity (one episode is titled ‘The Real Powers are the Friends we Made Along the Way’, for a sense of the ironic tone). There are sex gags, bum gags, a very good line about someone having super-powered tits… But there’s also the relatable charm of jokes based on real-world stuff, like being treated as an appliance at work, or being broke and dreaming of Tenderstem© Broccoli.
There are also odd moments of real connection between the characters, and the whole thing is steeped in a very recognisable sense of mid-twenties frustration. The feeling that everybody else is doing better than you at life is written in flashing lights ten feet tall for Jen, who is defined by her lack of power, career and boyfriend. Over the course of these eight half-hour episodes though, if it’s not too cheesy a remark, even she gets somewhere empowering. A very enjoyable binge-watch. Bring on Series 2.
Extraordinary is available to stream now on Disney+ in the UK and Hulu in the US.