Friday, 13 May 2011

PSYCHOVILLE, 2.2: come die with me

Friday, 13 May 2011

I've rated it the same as last week's premiere, but I enjoyed episode 2 slightly more -- although I still have concerns about Psychoville's general direction and how it's using its characters. Considering there are less episodes this year, I'm a little worried by the fact it's not clear what the story is yet, beyond knowing a woman called Grace Andrews (Imelda Staunton) wants to get her hands on Nurse Kenchington's mystical "K"-initialed locket, and there's a Detective Finny (Mark Bonnar) who appears to be murdering the characters who are least capable of justifying a storyline this series. Still, it's early days, and the show is still great fun to watch, as there's nothing else quite like it on television...

This week, we returned to the story of dwarf actor Robert (Jason Tompkins), held prisoner inside a woodland cottage by deranged co-star Kerry (Lisa Hammond) as she prepared a love potion for him with the help of a witch-like accomplice. This Grimm Fairy Tale-inspired development was a bizarre turn-of-events last year -- wisely given short shrift here, as Robert escaped with Kenchington's locket and delivered it to his true inamorata: beautiful bimbo actress Debbie (Daisy Haggard), currently making a horror movie with exasperated Hollywood director John Landis (appearing as himself in a fun cameo.) Robert's was the least successful of series 1's storylines, so it was again hard to get involved with his situationhere, and only really felt pertinent because he's in possession of that jewelry...

Much better was the bizarre dinner party with the Sowerbutts, as crabby Maureen (Reece Shearsmith) and her retarded son David (Steve Pemberton) hosted a meal for am dram luvvie Robin (David Bamber), who brought along a gormless girl called Emily (Sarah Solemani), unaware the Sowerbutts are planning to kill him by spiking his food with nuts he's allergic to. The Sowerbutts are easily Psychoville's most entertaining creations, partly because they're the only characters that enable Shearsmith and Pemberton to interact together on-screen. One thing I think Psychoville sorely misses, compared to The League Of Gentlemen, are more opportunities for its writers-performers to bounce off each other in scenes. Shearsmith and Pemberton are either not involved (in the case of Robert or Joy's storylines), or partnered with other actors who mostly play straight-men (in the case of Lomax, Mr Jelly and Hattie.) And that's a shame, because the show really comes alive when they're together on-screen.

This Sowerbutts' dining sequence was rather broad (Robin was given flatulence and diarrhea rather than a death sentence), but it was worth it for the deliciously bizarre moment when Maureen did her party piece -- a lilting rendition of "Simply The Best", while dressed as Tina Turner (brown tights pulled over her head, white ping pong balls for eyes, giant wig.) It was a wonderful example of the weird, surprising hilarity Psychoville can deliver.

Series 2's something of a mish-mash so far, though. The old characters haven't proper;y settled into their storylines yet, with Mr Jelly (Shearsmith) just given another incompetent demonstration of his act in a dingy pub, and Lomax (Shearsmith) theorizing about who's sent him some mysterious packages. In some ways it feels like Psychoville's remaking itself (the Sowerbutts have even received another anonymous message that's freaked Maureen out), and it's not yet clear what anyone's direction is. Nobody's even aware of the locket's significance (including the viewers at home), and so it's a little hard to get engaged with scenes featuring the covetous Grace Andrews. That said, Imelda Staunton is fabulous in this role, as a character who appears to care more about the high-tech gadgetry supervillains should have, rather than the task at hand.

All the new characters also seem to exist in their own little bubbles right now. Jeremy Goode (Shearsmith) is a wonderful little character, but this week he's given a brief scene that's just a retooling of last week's (a visitor to the library feels the sharpness of his tongue, before the frightening "Silent Singer" apparition makes another herky-jerky appearance.) There was an amusing scene for Hattie (Pemberton), who's taking a marriage of convenience with a gay friend's lover to heart, and believes she's found true love, but it's again hard to see what anything has to do with the original characters, the locket, Grace Andrews, or the homicidal detective. Not that I truly doubt there's a masterplan at work here, but it might be nice to get a sense of where the story's taking us, seeing as next week's episode marks the halfway point.

Overall, episode 2 was an improvement on the enjoyable opener, but I hope the wider story starts to take shape and the new characters begin to feel better connected. But while I'm still unconvinced Psychoville should have brought back so many of last year's character, I love the "Ten Little Indians" idea that one's going to be killed by Detective Finny as every week's climax. That's actually a better way to give each one a personalized send-off, and puts you on edge knowing some of your favourites' days are numbered. Who could be next?


  • You may not have recognized Emily was played by Sarah Solemani, best-known for co-starring in BBC Three's bedsit comedy Him & Her with Russell Tovey. Quite a transformation! Do you think her character's a love-interest for David, and a way to get in-between Maureen and her son?
  • John Landis made an obvious cameo appearance (did he meet Shearsmith on the Burke & Hare set?), but stand-up comedian Andi Osho also appeared as the registrar of Hattie's wedding.
  • We knew Debbie was stupid, but since when did she acquire the memory span of a goldfish?
written by Reece Shearsmith & Steve Pemberton / directed by Matt Lipsey / 12 May 2011 / BBC Two