An infamous second generation Irish man once asked “ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?” He was asking it to a hostile audience at the Winterland Ballroom in reference to the shenanigans that were causing the anarchic group he fronted to implode after a single album but it’s not too difficult to imagine that exact same sentiment coming out of the mouth of a different Irish malcontent exactly 45 years later. The malcontent in question is Jen (Máiréad Tyers), a 25 year old who is no less disaffected, crass and narcissistic than the former Johnny Rotten, and is the protagonist of Extraordinary, a cheeky and disarming twist on both super heroics and coming of age stories. Jen works at a rundown costume shop instead of singing in a punk band and the cheating she’s experiencing isn’t exploitative band management but a rather literal feeling of being completely average while everyone around her is special. You see, in her world, everyone inexplicably gets “super”powers on their 18th birthday, but Jen is heading into the wrong side of 30 without a single hint of a power.
Extraordinary, scripted by brilliant newcomer Emma Moran, isn’t a traditional “with (eventual) great power comes (eventual) great responsibility” superhero tale, though; instead, Extraordinary is a surprisingly deep and thoughtful take on the personality crises of overwhelmed and overloaded youth post-shutdown. Sure, Extraordinary’s debut season features such oddities as a shapeshifting cat-man named Jizzlord, a low level thug who can 3D print objects with his anus and a recording session with the ghost of a country star so bigoted and foul mouthed even Kid Rock would be offended but Extraordinary is one of the best and smartest comedies to emerge in this bloated streaming era. Over the course of eight episodes, Extraordinary quickly and confidently establishes itself as a worthy successor to Fleabag and You’re the Worst, both of which were equally fearless in their portrayal of horny fuck-ups who were too smart to not be perpetually anxious about how stuck they felt.
That commitment to making the powers in its universe so pointless is one of Extraordinary’s smartest decisions. The pilot episode establishes the mundanity of this superpowered world quickly and efficiently. As Jen heads into a job interview, we see people using their abilities in much the same way they would a smartphone; people who can fly mostly use it for delivery side gigs, someone who can make fire come out of their fingers only has enough control over it to light a cigarette, a man who can control water only thinks to use it to push the splash from a puddle away from himself and on to Jen. And as is the case with our real world billionaires, the people who do have a lot of power at their disposal are almost uniformly all assholes, like the interviewer who doesn’t warn Jen ahead of time that she has the ability to make everyone around her blurt out their thoughts unfiltered, defending that bit of dickishness by saying if Jen is truly suited for the job she’s interviewing for, the “truth” can only help her.
The exception to that is Jen’s BFF Carrie, whose ability to give voice to the dead is quite useful and lucrative. At Carrie’s day job, she’s brought in to help settle estate conflicts, whether it be a disagreement over a will between a wife and a mistress or the aforementioned fallen country star bigot whose label is eager to finish the album he was in the middle of before he drank and drugged himself to death in the hopes of cashing in on it posthumously. Carrie also selflessly uses the power to let Jen continue to speak with and get guidance from her late father, establishing a plot mechanic that adds some heart and emotional maturity to all the filth and fury. That said, one of the funniest moments in the pilot comes from Carrie’s decision to channel Hitler, just so everyone can humiliate him (“interracial relationships are cool now, Hitler!”) to cheer up Jen after the botched interview.
Carrie’s selflessness and commitment to being an anchor for the people around her is also one of the driving conflicts of the show, reminding us that Jen may have a fair complaint about her lot in life but she’s still a narcissist who is unable to truly hear Carrie when she tries to explain that her power has turned her into a tool for others. Carrie argues that nobody regards her as an actual human being with a voice of her own anymore, not even her best friend, who quite literally uses her as a communication device to stay connected with her dad. While Carrie exhausts herself to uplift Jen and Kash, neither of them seem willing to acknowledge those efforts or make an effort of their own to listen to Carrie about how used she feels from her job and relationships. It’s to Extraordinary’s credit that it doesn’t shy away from highlighting what a self-centered and destructive force Jen is, driving home that feeling left out and lonely and adrift isn’t an excuse to treat the people around you like shit. But the show deserves equal credit for making Jen more than just an asshole– like any other anxiety ridden depressive, she has her ups and downs, and it’s never hard to see why someone like Carrie is drawn to her. Jen may be a reckless asshole but she is also funny, and charming, and, in her own way, loyal. And, perhaps more importantly, Jen at least appears to have the capacity to change and recognize her flaws, unlike “nice guy” Kash, who is revealed to be perhaps the biggest villain of the show in its finale.
While there are an odd number of foul mouthed “mature” superpower series on streaming at the moment, Extraordinary’s depth of character sets it leagues apart– The Boys, for all of its ambition and scope, really is just about the great responsibility that comes with great power and what happens when that’s abused, ditto Invincible. Even with all of the trauma Jen has endured, that doesn’t define her in the same way The Boys’ leader Billy Butcher (Karl Urban) lets the loss of his wife define him and his mission, nor does Jen’s lack of a power define her to her friends, as much as she believes otherwise. It’s for this reason that it seems safe to assume that even if Jen did eventually discover a power, a la Nathan (Robert Sheehan) on Extraordinary’s spiritual predecessor Misfits, it wouldn’t fix the void in her life. In the end, that feeling that she’s been cheated is unlikely to ever leave Jen, but at least we as viewers aren’t cheated out of more great television. I suppose that makes us the true selfish assholes, doesn’t it?
The first season of Extraordinary is now streaming on Hulu in the US and Disney+ elsewhere.