2 July 2015 | Red-Barracuda
More good work from Shearsmith and Pemberton
Psychoville is the TV series actor/writers Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton devised between The League of Gentlemen and Inside No. 9. Like those others it also has that very specific mixture of black comedy and horror that these guys are so at home with. For my money though, Psychoville is probably the lesser of the three series, although it is still very good. Despite what its title initially suggests, and unlike 'League', its characters are located in various places around England and the action is not confined to a single location. The title seems to refer more to a state of mind than anything geographic. Anyway, the cast of disparate characters are slowly drawn together by an ominous secret from their past which is initially communicated to them via mysterious sinister letters.
First off, this is another bit of work that once again showcases Shearmsith and Pemberton's considerable abilities as character actors as well as writers. They both play a selection of very different people who populate this dark story. They are even joined by former 'League' colleague Mark Gatiss in what to me was the best episode of all, 'David and Maureen', which pays very direct homage to Alfred Hitchcock's experimental thriller Rope (1948), in that it shares the conceit of having its whole story told in one single unbroken take. The series also references other films too, such as another Hitchcock classic Strangers on a Train (1951), in less obvious ways.
Of the three series Shearsmith and Pemberton have done, this is the most story-based. It has a mystery underpinning it and the characters do have story arcs that progress in a more traditional manner. The first season probably did this best, in that we knew less of what was going on, so the element of surprise worked more strongly in the series favour. As it progressed I felt it sometimes gave the impression of running out of strong ideas though. The characters are a strong point as you would expect, however, with, amongst others, a misanthropic clown, a psychologically damaged midwife and a sinister manifestation of the mind known as the Silent Singer. The ending to season two quite clearly looks to have been devised with the hope of winning a third season, as it is not really a proper ending at all, with certain plot threads left in the air and the finale really no more than a cliff-hanger of sorts. Evidently the BBC thought otherwise and that was it as far as Psychoville went.