Friday, 3 June 2011

PSYCHOVILLE, 2.5: say oops frozen head

Friday, 3 June 2011

This penultimate episode of Psychoville retained the momentum of last week and increased the revelations, which made for a very satisfying half-hour. I'm still not finding series 2 as funny as series 1, but I'm glad the story has taken shape recently (after a frustrating post-premiere slump), and looks poised to end on a high next week...

"Did you masturbate into my tea?" -- Edwina Kenchington
This week, David (Steve Pemberton) took his terminally ill mother Maureen (Reece Shearsmith) "zorbing", having misremembered one of her life's ambitions, before an oddly touching scene with Maureen dying with her devoted son by her bedside. It was a moment played straighter than expected, which worked well, lightened by the bizarre sight of David gesticulating his mother's dead body on the bedroom carpet to the sit-down choreography of The Gap Band's "Oops Upside Your Head." As two of the show's most developed characters, it was surprisingly sad to see Maureen pass away, although given some plot developments elsewhere I wouldn't be surprised if she's magically resurrected next week...

My suspicions were confirmed regarding librarian Jeremy Goode (Shearsmith), who was taken in for questioning by Detective Finney (Mark Bonnar) and indeed revealed to be a former patient of Ravenhill Psychiatric Hospital--originally admitted for mild exhaustion but recruited by Nurse Kenchington (Eileen Atkins) to help her crack "the secret of life" after she noticed his genius-level IQ, in shades of Good Will Hunting. In fact, Jeremy became so obsessed with his work that he faked seeing "The Silent Singer" hallucination in order to stay on at the hospital and complete his research, only for the fanged phantom to become a real issue a few years later--the psychological embodiment of all Jeremy's frustration.

Elsewhere, Peter Bishop (Jason Watkins) and Tealeaf (Daniel Kaluuya) formed an unlikely double-act, tracking down idiot actress Debbie (Daisy Haggard) at a book-signing because they know she owns Kenchington's locket, only to discover she's given it to her makeup artist friend Hattie (Pemberton). Hattie's storyline appeared to reach an end this week, with her drugged "husband" Shahrouz (Elyes Gabel) forced to pose for wedding photos, before being rescued from this ordeal by returning boyfriend Chris (Tom Andrews). I've actually rather enjoyed Hatti's story, as the fact she's only marginally connected to the main mystery meant she offered moments of respite, and her story has actually progressed noticeably every week. And it goes without saying that Pemberton's terrific playing grotesque, weirdly sympathetic women--going back to the days of Pauline the Restart Officer in League Of Gentlemen.

Mr Jelly's (Shearsmith) story was also very revealing and fun, as he disguised himself as dead rival Mr Jolly to gain access to a company dealing with frozen body parts--discovering that Jolly kept his missing hand on ice, together with a decapitated head belonging to Kenchington's Nazi father. I enjoyed seeing Jelly team-up with the old lady from the nursing home, codenamed "Mrs Ladybird Face", as it gave him someone to bounce off and she was very funny in her own right. Jelly's one of the most isolated characters on the show, after Jeremy, and the writing of Psychoville always improves whenever it involves duos--like Oscar/Tealeaf and the Sowerbutts.

In a change to the formula, Finney didn't actually manage to kill anyone this week--as Maureen's death was of natural causes and, in a surprise twist, Peter revealed himself to be a Nazi determined to resurrect Kenchington's dead father, and shot Tealeaf dead after he'd helped him acquire the numinous locket. We seem to be headed towards a finale where the locket's contents (the elixir of life?) will be used to bring Kenchington's father back to life, but obviously Peter's unaware the contents were tipped down the sink by Hattie. Has that ruined his plan? Will Jeremy come to the rescue in some way, or is he on Kenchington's side? Will Peter need Jeremy's help to bring that frozen head back to life? And I'm still unclear about why Grace Andrews (Imelda Staunton) wants the locket, and why she's having Finney kill Ravenhill patients who clearly have no knowledge of it anyway. Hopefully the series finale will explain all, but I'm disappointed Staunton's been tucked away in a few small scenes every week, replaying the same joke that she's easily distracted by gadgets and technology.

Overall, I enjoyed episode 5 because every subplot pushed things forwards, there were some juicy explanations of events via Jeremy's back-story, and finally a clearer idea what the stakes are--as the surviving characters have to stop Kenchington's Nazi father coming back to life. I wish some of this information had been delivered earlier, as some of the earlier episodes just felt disconnected--with no clear sense of what series 2 was doing. Series 1 had a much simpler direction you could immediately invest in (we meet a group of oddballs, each received mysterious letters from a "blackmailer", and they gradually come together as their connection is revealed), but series 2's lacked a story of similar elegance and sense of classic tradition. Only in the last few weeks have we received enough clues to get a sense of what the aim is this year, which has built some much-needed excitement about matters, rather than amused bewilderment.


  • A few familiar faces guest-starred in this episode: Katherine Parkinson (The IT Crowd) as the manager of the frozen body parts company; and character actor David Cann as Maureen's doctor, who notably played a truly unnerving doctor in Chris Morris' disturbing comedy Jam.
  • It's the last episode next week, so do you think it'll end the show or leave a door open for a third series? I'd like to see more from this show, but hopefully the Ravenhill storyline will be concluded. I'd love to see the show come back with brand new characters and a fresh story to tell. The deaths of so many of the characters should make that more likely, although it's not impossible the magical locket will somehow bring everyone back to life next week. What do you think?
written by Reece Shearsmith & Pemberton / directed by Matt Lipsey / 2 June 2011 / BBC Two