Psychoville - So how was it?

By Rev/Views

BBC's Psychoville finished it's first series run recently and also became the first program I watched exclusively via the BBC iPlayer, most BBC shows I either watch as their broadcast or manage to record and catch them later - but Psychoville managed to be in a 'broadcasting blind spot' where I consistently forgot about which day it was on. In fact, without Dan's weekly reviews I probably would have missed an episode, but as it was he kept reminding me they had been released.

Psychoville is the latest creation from, Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton two thirds of the classic black British comedy League of Gentlemen. It's a dark comedy/mystery featuring a series of unusual and unpleasant characters who are all linked together by mysterious letters being mailed to them by a enigmatic blackmailer who "Knows what they did".

As in League of Gentlemen, Reece and Steve play a significant portion of the characters in the show through prosthetics and make-up. Giving the show a slight sketch show feel, but they are also supported by other actors, the most notable of which being Dawn French - who reminds us just how funny she can be as the disturbed nurse Joy (unlike "Jam & Jerusalem" which I found devoid of humor), Daniel Kaluuya as Michael "Tea Leaf" - assigned to the blind Mr Lomax as community service, Jason Tompkins as Robert - a member of the seven dwarfs in a pantomime with "Biggins" (as he prefers to be called now) and Adrian Scarborough as Mr Jolly, fellow clown and nemesis for the one-handed blackmail victim Mr Jelly.

There are several sets of characters and each show unfolds by following each of these, there is Mr Lomax and Michael's tale; serial killer wanna-be David and his mother Maureen; Mr Jolly and Mr Jelly; Robert, Kelly, Debbie and the pantomime; and Nurse Joy's strange condition with her child Freddie. Most of the episodes rotate between each of these stories following each character storyline and advancing events along.

Everything else after this line here is now going to contain possible spoilers, as I'm going to look at the show and how it unfolded. If you haven't watched it yet, consider yourself warned...

First of I think it's best to disclose that Psychoville is not as good as the early League of Gentlemen episodes were. While there certainly are some funny moments they are not the norm, which is a shame because LoG provided creepy and funny in alternating brilliance. Psychoville aims lower on the creepy scale, but also manages to lose a lot on the comedy part as well. It's almost as if the loss of Mark Gatiss as a contributing writer has dampened the spark somewhat (just like the loss of John Cleese in Monty Python's last season resulted in a reduction in the funny).

But that disclaimer aside I'm going to focus on what's good for the majority of this, the series runs for seven episodes and the vast majority of these are 'good to great' - with two exceptions, the fourth episode is nothing short of amazing and the final episode is a bit of a flat letdown. The rest of them are quite adequate and occasionally rise up to the level of funny, but a lot of it depends on which characters are receiving the most screen time. David and Maureen start off weakly in the first episode but then rapidly grow into the breakout characters of the show, Joy remains consistently great until the final episode (where things slip a little) and Mr Jelly's constant dirty clown, bleak attitude and rage against the loss of his hand grow stronger as the series progresses - he probably has the best moments in the last two episodes when he is handcuffed to an elderly woman and the duo play off each other exceptionally well. But Robert the pantomime dwarf's storyline is pretty weak consistently as is Mr Lomax's.

The stand out "must watch" Gem in the series is the fourth episode, a single scene piece of sheer genius which homages Hitchcock's "Rope". Here's a scene from it:

This episode is so brilliant in conception and design that it makes the other episodes pale in comparison. It's so good you can watch it as a standalone episode and still enjoy every moment of it, perhaps it's no coincidence that Mark Gattis makes his appearance in this episode. It's almost a shame we probably won't see more from David and Maureen as Maureen is apparently dead from an overdose and David isn't as interesting without her.

The other episode worth writing about is the final episode, which genuinely lets the team down. It's not bad as such, it has a reasonable set of scenes, some fun moments and a brings a lot of things together. But it feels like the end of the first series of Prison Break did - like the original plan was a single season 'mini-series' and then at the last moment it was decided to do a second series and it was tacked on. Robert's story in particular just wanders off into the woods and while it continues the fairy tale 'theme' of his stories it was pretty bland and uninteresting.

On the whole Psychoville was pretty decent, it was consistently watchable with occasional moments of genius and it's only the last episode which screwed the pooch somewhat. How good it will feel on the re-watch is going to depend heavily on the second series. Which is another way of saying 'it feels unfinished at this time'.

BBC Psychoville website -


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