Friday, 20 May 2011

PSYCHOVILLE, 2.3: Hitchcock's half hour

Friday, 20 May 2011

We've reached the halfway mark and I'm worried Psychoville's proven me right and should have ended after one series. We're still no closer to seeing how the new characters (Jeremy, Hattie) relate to anything (if they even do, as I have doubts), and each of the returning characters are stuck in minor epilogues to series 1--punctuated with their murder (Joy, Robert, now Oscar.) The mysterious locket and covetous Grace Andrews' (Imelda Staunton) mission to find it remain on the back-burner when they should be more central, too. I'm beginning to lose patience because there's no sense of what Psychoville's actually doing this year. Series 1 had multiple storylines to tell and a mystery to reveal, but series 2's just a hodgepodge at the moment.

This week, petulant clown Mr Jelly (Reece Shearsmith) arrived at a fancy mansion to "entertain" the adult guests of a dinner party, only to find himself quickly ushered to a bedroom and told to remove a stout foreigner's kidney with a scalpel and no anesthetic! Weirdly, the donor box was marked with the late Mr Jolly's credentials, hinting that Jelly's nemesis survived the asylum explosion after all? There were some great moments here (Jelly interrupting a dinner party by tooting a childish pirate ditty, and the sheer lunacy of Jelly faking a successful kidney-removal operation with a half-chewed plum), but what the HELL IS GOING ON? Didn't Jelly think it strange to have been summoned to perform an operation? Why was he summoned? I just don't see any logic here. If there are indeed satisfying answers to be revealed later, okay that's fine--but it felt like a random nod to Dirty Pretty Things, and Jelly's blasé reaction was so bizarre it was distancing.

As mentioned, Hattie (Steve Pemberton) and Jeremy's (Shearsmith) storylines have no obvious connection to anything else going on, which is strange and increasingly irritating. I wish I had faith there's a masterplan that's being slowly revealed, but nothing's given me that impression yet. Still, I am quite enjoying Hattie's storyline, as she can't accept she's in a marriage of convenience with her gay friend's lover Shahrouz (Elyes Gabel), and in this episode conspired to sleep with him. The sequence where her "husband" woke up to find Hattie quietly masturbating beside him was exactly the kind of bizarre, distasteful, shocking, hilarious moment Psychoville should be serving us more often.

On the flipside, Jeremy appears to be a one-joke character now: a creepily assiduous librarian who seemingly has to appease horrifying visions of the pigtailed "Silent Singer" by ensuring all overdue books are returned. Lovely idea, but there's not much more to it than that. In this episode, Jeremy broke into a little girl's bedroom and demanded the return of a book (um, that actually belongs to her parents!), as the Silent Singer floated by the window in a nod to 'Salem's Lot. I adore the visual of the fanged Silent Singer twisting around and snarling at Jeremy, but so far we've been given a handful of scenes that follow a very familiar pattern. Is there an actual story to tell with Jeremy, or just a spooky staccato visual to indulge?

If you thought Mr Jelly's storyline was weird this week, Oscar Lomax (Pemberton) trumped it. In a surprisingly quick resolution of clues dropped last week, it was indeed proven true that Lomax fathered a long-lost son who's now trying to get in touch. Even stranger, his connection to British comedy great Tony Hancock is about as bonkers as you can get: Oscar Lomax actually is Hancock, having faked his suicide in Australia! Full marks for an audacious and unpredictable development, but it was so bizarre as to feel oddly forgettable. The fact Oscar became the latest victim of murderous Detective Finny (Mark Bonnar), now confirmed as Grace's hitman, also means that character's reached its end.

Reece Shearsmith is on record as saying he and Steve Pemberton felt they had more stories to tell with Psychoville's characters (which is why series 1 ended with a controversial cliffhanger), but I'm not sure I agree that these are worthwhile stories being told.

More engaging, as usual, were the grotesque Sowerbutts. Maureen (Shearsmith) is now aware she has cancer, and son David (Pemberton) has found himself caught in a Strangers On A Train situation--asked to kill a man's great-aunt for the inheritance, or risk having his previous crimes exposed to the world. Although owing a clear debt to Alfred Hitchcock, at least this is a story with potential and, as I said last week, the fact it means Shearsmith and Pemberton can interact on-screen can't be underestimated. They're a great double-act, so it remains a huge pity Psychoville keeps them apart most of the time. I'm really puzzled by that decision, as there can't be too much of a logistical reason for it.

Overall, episode 3 was the weakest episode of series 2 so far, and one that did little to annul my fear Psychoville should have been a miniseries. Series 2 is almost impenetrable to newcomers, too. Psychoville first aired two years ago, so why didn't the BBC repeat it before this new series began? Each episode has also done a poor job reminding audiences of what happened in series 1, so only committed fans have a hope of understanding what's actually going on.

There are some fun and freaky moments to savour along the way, but I can't deny my general disappointment--speaking as a dedicated fan who's willing Psychoville to succeed. It just doesn't feel like there's a clear, strong idea at the heart of series 2--just some weird plots, disconnected characters, and a frustratingly hazy mystery concerning a locket. I hope the remaining three episodes pull things together quick, before things fizzle out.

written by Reece Shearsmith & Steve Pemberton / directed by Matt Lipsey / 19 May 2011 / BBC Two