I really wasn’t sure whether to laugh, be scared or throw up while watching this new comedy-horror by the truly twisted inventors of The League of Gentlemen, Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton.
It started out being promisingly amusing in the first few seconds with a mystery man, all gloves and black clothes, writing out cards saying ‘I know what you did’ and sealing them with black wax. He’s then called to “Cashier number 4 please” and we see he’s in a bank with someone in the queue behind him remarking that he’s left his candle.
We then cut to one of the recipients of the mystery cards, Mr Jelly, a psychopathic one-handed clown and children’s entertainer who was asleep on his sofa cradling the ashtray that looked very much like the dice one from the set of the Royle Family…
The other recipients followed including Dawn French’s menacing midwife character who has a doll that she treats like a real baby, a blind millionaire recluse, a telekinetic dwarf and finally – though he didn’t actually open his card yet – a weird man who’s got a sickeningly incestuous relationship with his elderly mother and who’s obsessed with serial killers.
There is without doubt very heavy reliance on the audience numbering those who loved the Marmite-esque League of Gentlemen but there are also elements from lots of horror films; the clown is evocative of Stephen King’s scary creation in IT, the freaky mother and son perhaps have an overtone of Psycho about them and of course, it’s universally accepted that in the right circumstances, dwarfs can be scary. Not that I wish to imply all small people are frightening, they aren’t, but this one who has Carrie/Firestarter abilities is probably going to be.
However, he was by far the most benign of last night’s characters; I felt physically sick when the weird mother and son – David and Maureen – were being extremely inappropriate with one another. You’d need to watch it to see how gross it was but it genuinely turned my stomach. It was a real watch from behind your cushion scene.
That wasn’t at all funny but Mr Jelly’s tirade at the mother of a little girl whose party he was attending was. As was his applying lipstick to the birthday girl using what looked like drill bits attachments. I nearly wee’d.
All the characters were bizarre of course, as one would expect from the combined pens of Shearsmith and Pemberton, but for the same reasons I couldn’t watch The League of Gentlemen, I’m not sure I can watch any more of Psychoville. It’s just too gross which is fine if you enjoy vomiting while laughing, but I’m afraid I don’t…
For instance, harking back to David and his mum, she was scratching his scabby back – complete with revolting scratchy noises and nasty visuals of scaliness – and then asked him to get a dustpan and brush to get his skin off her skirt. Even worse, she then tucked his shirt in while clearly doing things a mother should never do… even one who’s a man dressed as an elderly woman.
Then later, we saw David working as The Butler at a Murder Mystery Evening in a local hotel. He’d been charged with setting up the faux murder of the cook – played by Natalie Cassidy – so he luridly described how the murderer had scrawled obscenities on the walls of the kitchen in their own excrement and deposited sperm in huge quantities on the floor. All this while the cook was hanging upside down, covered in blood with sausage links posing as her entrails. Erm, no ta.
I can’t deny though that if you’ve got a strong stomach, this will definitely be worth watching, if only to see Reece and Steve play so many different roles each while managing to be convincing in them all.
In summary, I found Psychoville to be something of a Goldilocks and the Three Bears story; not enough laughs, too much grossness but just right in terms of tension. If it were less minging, I’d be a big fan, but I can’t stand programmes that contain scenes which come back to you unbidden in a flash of mental clarity just when you’re about to eat dinner, and this is one of those shows. It’s going to take a while to rid myself of the memory of David’s back… eugh.