They’re Back! Psychoville Returns

Posted by Sharon Deans on May 06, 2011 in Blog tagged with , , ,

And so farewell Crimson Petal, farewell Mr Whicher, and farewell, in TV terms, to the wonderful current spate of nineteenth-century Gothic productions.  However, all is not lost, and we bid a great big welcome back to Psychoville, that magnificently twisted (and very much twenty-first-century) Gothic comedy which returned on Thursday for a second series, and which, judging by this first episode, looks to be even sicker and funnier than the last – if that is at all possible.  I loved the first series of Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton’s Psychoville, but could not find anyone amongst my circle of friends, family and acquaintance to share my enthusiasm other than my elder daughter.  As my younger daughter is coulrophobic (look it up!) this is certainly not one for her, and the opening scene of last night’s first episode would have given her nightmares, despite its comic handling.

The regular crowd of crazy grotesques are back, many played severally by Shearsmith and Pemberton themselves: Mr Jelly the miserable clown; Joy (Dawn French) the mad midwife; the wonderfully named serial-killing mother and son from Wood Green, the Sowerbutts; and Mr Lomax the blind soft-toy collector.  Joining them this time round is Imelda Staunton, looking like a cross between Rosa Klebb and Sally Bowles, playing the enigmatic head of some sort of intelligence organisation determined to hunt the various characters down – Staunton is channelling Judi Dench’s ‘M’, and very funny she is too; there is also Mark Bonnar, a decidedly sick detective; plus an extremely disturbed librarian called Goode (another one of Shearsmith’s characters) who creepily stalks not the readers but their overdue books.  Goode is haunted by another character to populate our own nightmares: ‘The Silent Singer’.

Although this is twenty-first century Gothic, it has its roots firmly in the Gothic tradition: the first series featured a typical Gothic looking pile, surrounded by trees, as the Ravenhill Mental Hospital, an asylum that linked all the characters together; also think of Joy in the last series clutching her (figuratively) dead baby to her chest and trying to breast feed it, another Gothic trope par excellence.  Last year’s Halloween special introduced the puzzle of the sadistic Nurse Kenchington’s missing locket, and this is the point from which this new series takes off from; again this echoes many of the eighteenth-century Gothic texts where lockets feature predominantly.  The doubling of Mr Jolly and Mr Jelly speaks for itself, and, finally, there is that somewhat inappropriate relationship between Ma Sowerbutts and her son David – and I’m not just talking about the fact that they are serial killers! – incest, of course, being a staple of the Gothic tradition.

For those of us who are already fans of Psychoville we will know better than to expect the plotline of this new series to be solved or explicated conventionally.  Rather, the devil is in the detail, and we will just digest and enjoy as it twists and wends its weird and wonderful, not to mention funny, way towards some sort of ending.  For those of you who are new to it, I would perhaps recommend catching up on series one if you want to make any sense of series two.

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