You might think a half hour BBC2 comedy/drama series wouldn’t be an obvious fit for a review website predominantly dedicated to horror cinema. You’d be wrong. PSYCHOVILLE, written and performed by Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith (of THE LEAGUE OF GENTLEMEN fame), is every bit as macabre, and as sweepingly cinematic, as the most effective Hollywood chiller.
Series two picks up directly where series one, and the brilliant Halloween special, left off. The hunt is on for Nurse Kenchington’s locket, led by Detective Finney, a cop who’s just as likely to bump off a suspect as to question them. As the original cast start dropping like flies, new (and equally monstrous) characters are introduced. There’s Jeremy, the quiet librarian who’s willing to resort to breaking and entering and kidnap to effect the return of an overdue book (and who in moments of stress is visited by the Silent Singer, a terrifying apparition with golden braids and crooked shark teeth); Hattie, a bitter old spinster who will do anything to get a man; and Peter, a gay Nazi toy shop owner. Despite these new additions, it’s Pemberton and Shearsmith’s signature creations, grotesque incestuous serial killer mother-and-son team Maureen and David Sowerbutts, and cantankerous hook-handed clown Mr Jelly, who steal the show. By the end of the series they’re virtually the only characters to have survived since episode one, and have even somehow managed to worm their way into our affections.
Dark as all this gets (and it gets very dark indeed), PSYCHOVILLE never forgets it’s a comedy. A twisted comedy of the grotesque, revelling in cancer-ridden serial killers and mothers pining for their dead babies, but a comedy nonetheless. The humour is derived from a mixture of physical and verbal gags, and a general sense of the absurdity of the situation. Maureen Sowerbutts’ deeply offensive Tina Turner impression, interrupted by the news that she’s dying of cancer, is one of the most inappropriately hilarious things this reviewer has ever seen (check it out below).
There’s also a sense of pathos and grandiosity that elevates PSYCHOVILLE far above the ordinary. As with LEAGUE, it may be sick and grubby, but it’s fiercely intelligent and never less than literary. The aforementioned Maureen’s deathbed scene, where she and her borderline-backwards son discuss metaphysical poetry, is both brilliantly out of character and genuinely touching. The scope of the series is also to be applauded. Series two’s story arc, encompassing elements of fringe science, murder mystery and kitchen sink drama, is as ambitious as anything in Hollywood, and is achieved with the kind of assurance most filmmakers can only dream of.
PSYCHOVILLE is that rarest of beasts, a horror comedy that succeeds at both. Sometimes puerile, other times deeply sophisticated, it is never less than riveting viewing, and represents, along with BEING HUMAN, the best of British TV horror.