Friday, 27 May 2011

PSYCHOVILLE, 2.4: the Nazi and the nursing home

Friday, 27 May 2011

I've been frustrated with Psychoville because recent episodes haven't develop the backbone of the storyline much, they just brought a few of the characters' lives to grisly ends. A few new characters were introduced with no clear connection to the show's big concerns, and the central mysteries showed no signs of being explained after three weeks. It's indeed a problem with episodic reviews that you're effectively appraising "a chapter of a book" every week, so hopefully my overall opinion will change when all six episodes have aired. And fortunately, episode 4 remedied many of my previous complaints and could be the catalyst for a more focused, illuminating half.

Following the "suicide" of frugal Oscar Lomax, home help Tealeaf (Daniel Kaluuya) was summoned to the Hoyti Toyti toy shop by fey retailer Peter Bishop (a brilliant Jason Watkins), who's noticed that ex-patients of Ravenhill Psychiatric Hospital are dying in unusual circumstances. Even stranger, Peter reveals that Hoyti Toyti's is a front for his real passion--trading in Third Reich memorabilia he keeps in his basement--and that a notorious Nazi war criminal founded Ravenhill after emigrating to Britain with his daughter Edwina Kenchington as part of "Operation Paperclip."

It's a promising step forward that adds another layer to the show's creepy asylum back-story, but we'll have to see where it goes from here. What kind of crazy Nazi experiments were being performed on the patients? Do they explain why dwarf Robert had psychokinesis? Is Grace Andrews (Imelda Staunton) having Detective Finney (Mark Bonnar) kill people to prevent them remembering something about their treatments? What hold does Grace have over Finney, getting him to kill people?

Kenchington's locket also returned, now in the possession of vapid actress Debbie (Daisy Haggard), whom we caught up with preparing for a TV interview with Richard Bacon. Hattie (Pemberton) was also embraced into the main story, at last, as it was revealed she's Debbie's makeup artist and helped her open Kenchington's locket to find a silver powder inside that smells like "sugar puffs", which was swiftly emptied down a sink. Was that some remains of Kenchington's Nazi father? Has Hattie unwittingly released his spirit from captivity?

Hattie's own story was brief but amusing this week, taking a cue from Misery as her husband-of-convenience Shahrouz (Elyes Gabel) woke to find himself shackled and unable to leave Hattie's house--told there are prying eyes outside who are suspicious about the legitimacy of his sham marriage. I have to mention Gabel's performance, which makes me smile because he plays Shahrouz as a someone who knows Hattie's unhinged but just can't control her. Pemberton plays these monstrous women very well, and it's easy to sympathize with Shahrouz as he's dominated by Hattie's personality. In some ways it's another take on the Herr Lipp/Justin relationship from League Of Gentlemen.

Elsewhere, David Sowerbutts (Steve Pemberton) went to a retirement home to kill the great-aunt of Simon (James Holmes), the man he agreed a Strangers On A Train-esque murder pact with. It didn't go according to plan, naturally, as Detective Finney was also on the scene and killed the old woman before David got a chance--suggesting the great-aunt was a Ravenhill patient on Finney's hit-list? Simon's attempt to kill Maureen suffered a setback, too--as he wound up in dismembered in Maureen's bathtub, having clearly underestimated his elderly target. Great scene with Maureen indifferently asking if David wants to keep Simon's penis as a trophy, too. He agreed, of course. Where will he keep it?

And finally, crazy librarian Jeremy (Shearsmith) became a more serious threat to the family of the woman who hasn't returned "50 Great Walks Of The British Isles Volume 2', goaded by the specter of the Silent Singer to kidnap the family's dog and threaten its life. There's still no sense of a connection to the major plots for Jeremy, but it's feasible he's another Ravenhill patient we weren't made aware of last series--or perhaps he ran the asylum's library and went mad because of the horrors he witnessed? Anyhow, it was great to see Jeremy involved in an actual story, instead of sinister sketches of dwindling impact, and it gave Shearsmith a great opportunity for a subtle Norman Bates-esque performance. As much as I enjoy his angry Mr Jelly and irritable Maureen, it's nice to balance the ghoulish cartoons with a character who's more recognizably human.

Overall, episode 4 was very satisfying and did a good job handling its many storylines. The only residual complaint is that I'm not finding series 2 as laugh-out-loud funny as series 1, perhaps because the majority of characters have lost their element of surprise. But I chuckled more regularly here: at Hattie demanding a window kiss from Shahrouz, Mr Jelly stumbling on an old lady using a vibrator, the Sowerbutts' bathroom aftermath, and David trying to lie to his mother ("I'm going to Madagascar to see a friend.") I'm optimistic the remaining two episodes can continue in this vein, with less need to fly in a holding pattern...


  • Do you think Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton are fans of Fringe, hence Peter Bishop's name? Or is this just coincidence?
  • The show's tendency for real-life celebrity cameo's continued with radio/TV broadcaster Richard Bacon, following Christopher Biggins and John Landis.
  • I really like how the Sowerbutts' flat often feels like a sparse theatrical set, with dark corners and backdrops. It sometimes feels like they're performing on a half-empty stage, with the faces of a quiet audience just off-camera watching. This must be intentional, given David's affection for musical theatre, right? The Sowerbutts also starred in series 1's splendid fourth episode, the Rope-inspired experiment that felt very much like a one-act play being performed.
written by Reece Shearsmith & Steve Pemberton / directed by Matt Lipsey / 26 May 2011 / BBC Two