Thursday, June 18, 2009 by

A gloved hand scratches at yellowed paper with a nib pen in the flickering candlelight. Black-bordered correspondence is placed inside envelopes, fastened with a wax seal, bearing the stamp of a raven.

Scary titles

Scary titles

Jelly not so Jolly

Jelly not so Jolly

And then a sudden pull-back and we find we’re in a suburban post office in the present day. It’s the first– and best – gag in this opening episode of Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton’s seven-part comedy thriller. While evoking the spookiest corners of Victoriana, it then turns the lights on and we can see everything’s actually a little bit silly.

So could it be that this half of The League of Gentlemen have outgrown their love for the macabre? Actually, no, because Psychoville is dripping with it. This early feint aside, it doesn’t feel like much has changed since 2002 when we said our goodbyes to Royston Vasey on TV.

Indeed, when we return to the action after the titles, we find Reece Shearsmith still got up as a spooky clown. Granted, “Dave” may not be “in” (rather than Papa Lazarou, Mr Jelly talks like Shearsmith’s permanently apoplectic factory worker Geoff Tibbs) but it’s brave to invite early comparisons with one of the League’s most iconic characters.

Although the comedy is set across different towns in the UK, everywhere, it seems is filthy. This is a dark world, of scurrying people and mounting terror. Joby Talbot’s musical score is ever-present, with urgent strings, and fingers scraping up the violin neck. Nothing of the modern world is really allowed in anywhere – midwife Joy (Dawn French) speaks of video tapes and “DBB”, while Maureen Sowerbutts (Shearsmith again) amuses herself on a Bontempi.

Psychoville feels like a pastiche of everything Pemberton and Shearsmith thrilled at when they were kids. For some reason, I had assumed they’d be done exploring their formative influences by now. But no. Thing is, I’m not sure I’ve got the stomach for this stuff anymore, and certainly not the fascination. Daubing “Fuck pig” on a wall in faeces, and spraying a kitchen with semen is actually, weirdly, a bit boring.

This reservation aside, some moments still shine through. It was always between the punchlines the League scored big, and so it is here. Mr Jelly arrives for a children’s party, insouciantly throwing his fag onto the lawn. After purloining a cup cake with his hooked hand, he asks “Where am I going?” as he ambles off down the hall, looking for the kids’ party. Meanwhile, blind Mr Lomax (Steve Pemberton) mumbles something about: “That blackie cleaner, she tries to trick me”, and the ringleaders at the murder mystery dinner cheerfully instruct their roomful of amateur detectives “Don’t forget your clue packs!” as they trot off to inspect a faux cadaver. It’s these tiny strokes that truly delineate the scene. They’re dabs of light on a murky picture.

So what next? Do we care what the blackmailer will do? Well, actually, I think, yes. Despite the unwelcome stench of familiarity hanging over the project, Psychoville does at least deliver us an intriguing premise and some strong cliff-hangers. David Sowerbutts (Pemberton) has “done another bad murder”, for one. But, if they don’t open the curtains – and leave them open – somewhere early in episode two, I’m not sure how much longer I’ll stick around.


15 Responses to “Psychoville”

  1. billy on June 19th, 2009 8:42 pm

    I thought this was pretty weak at first but then i cant wait to keep watching , i watched the second episode and it was a lot better than the first cant wait to see more really. it cant really beat the league of gentl;emen but its cool that there trying something new. A papalazarou cameo would truly convert me

  2. Mikey on June 23rd, 2009 10:52 pm

    I could not dissagree more with Mr Kibble-Whites review, i find it so boring that these cynics can critise true comedy greats such as Shearsmith and Pemberton or is comedy only a sucess when its broke America. “wow the office was so original they cry” unless you’ve seen spinal Tap. Why do we constantly cut down our comedy greats and then complain about the lack of talent on the BBC. All i want from my comedy is to make me laugh, and psychoville did this. signed Steve Pembertons uncle

  3. EMMA on June 27th, 2009 8:29 pm

    I think its GREAT. maybe not as laugh a minute as the league of gentlemen but then this is something completely different. the 2 buses and a taxi line had me in fits on thursday night. its also very intriguing as the 1st comment says. LOVE IT and if i could have a fantasy cameo it would be pauline!!!

  4. Nigel on June 28th, 2009 10:31 am

    Well I liked it. I think people are being too quick to judge.I thought the first episode was a good set up for whats to come and having seen the second episode I hope you agree.
    Personally I like narratives that unfold over time and actually build up a sense of suspense unlike a lot of programmes where the second epsiode is shown the day after.

  5. Mack on July 2nd, 2009 11:36 pm

    Love it ! Its fucking ace why am i writing on this. first time for everything and maybe it because think its wicked

  6. Gavtronic on July 4th, 2009 1:04 pm

    WIthout Gatiss, Shearsmith and Pemberton appear to have lost a surprisingly sobering influence – we are no longer introduced to these sideshow freaks from a base of reality, we are fully expected to have joined the club now – so we side with David when he tries to add his personal touch to the fake crime scene and are as perplexed as Jelly is as to why the kids don’t like him.
    Post many a ‘League’ rip-off (‘The Mighty Boosh’, ‘TittyBangBang’ and, let’s face it, whole swathes of ‘Little Britain’.) the “surreal” and “random” (I will kill the next Shoreditch twat that squeaks that adjective!) is a viable commodity. It is Tim Burton syndrome all over again – there was a time when ‘Edward Scissorhands’ was actually shocking – now every half-arsed children’s picture book exploits the style.
    I’m rambling, but I think ‘Psychoville’ is a response to the trendy nature of the grotesque character comedy – and the reference to Tony Hancock in the first episode supplied a clue. You have to have lived, smelled, been vomited upon by these characters to truly inhabit them – for example, the ‘League’ knew a Papa Lazarous whereas ‘The Mighty Boosh’ invented ‘The Spirit of Jazz’ as a piss-weak laugh-inducer. If there is no real misery or joy or reality behind the observations of the bizarre, you just have Happy Meal toys for the generation of WInehouse and Doherty-esque, prefab shock.

  7. Jackal on July 4th, 2009 2:48 pm

    As a professional comedian myself I thought the show was fantastic. Clearly one of the best things British comedy has to offer at the moment (which I suppose isn’t saying much). aside from peepshow I can’t see anything better.

    The show was similar to league of gentlemen and obviously there will be comparisons with the characters voices but I mean christ almighty they’ve created about 200 unique voices between them, no-one bollocks mitchel and webb for only having one.

    While it may not be as good as series 2 of the league of gentlemen. I feel it’s a lot better than seires 3 and the film. they coul have made us actually “care2 a bit more about the blackamailer too.

    Aside from this I thought it was brilliant. A solid piece of comedy work, from two of the greatest comedy writers of all time.

  8. Dan on July 6th, 2009 12:57 pm

    Fan-bloody-tastic. As crazy as it is, its always the little things that get the biggest laughs – the mystery man filling out the midwife’s crossword with You Killed Her and the OAP sat behind him telling the Mrs “3 across is ‘you’”..

    by the way, worst review ever. you should have given it a chance before writing this pompous bullshit.

  9. Nick H on July 6th, 2009 6:58 pm

    Psychoville is Fithy, Rich and Catflap to TLOG’s Young Ones…

  10. Steffyboy on July 14th, 2009 11:27 am

    And what was wrong with Filthy Rich and Catflap ??? It was a veichle that led to bottom !! Sure wasn’t as good but it had its charm .

  11. Nick H on July 14th, 2009 6:23 pm

    There was nothing wrong with Filthy Rich and Catflap. My pint about Psychoville was that its from some of the same writers stroke performers and will always be compared to its more impact-making parent…

  12. MrKelly2u on July 17th, 2009 11:48 am

    Aside from having loads of great jokes, brilliant character acting and a neat plot device – this is just top draw TV. Whilst it was inevitable that people would compare it to League of Gents, the comparison seems redundant. Yes, it’s based around a collection of strange freakish characters but the fact is, it is yet another piece of original TV from 2 very talented writer/performers.
    It definitely feels like a bigger canvas (not just in the geographical sense), largely due to some great casting and high production values.
    Last week’s ‘Rope’ homage was just brilliant.

    You are right – Psychoville isn’t Royston Vasey and that’s the point: It’s somewhere new and a great place to spend half an hour on a Thursday night. Oh, and it’s bloody funny as well.

  13. Gargantuan on July 19th, 2009 1:20 pm

    I’m glad the comments reflect my sentiments about the show. It’s an inspiring work of originality; a truly unique brand of humor. It’s the perfect antidote to the blitzkrieg of formulaic serial dramas on telly, disguised as a formulaic serial drama.

    To echo the words that lept forth from my mouth after the very first episode… “that was f**king awesome.”

  14. Bobby Peru on July 19th, 2009 10:32 pm

    I would love to read an update on GKW’s article adding his thoughts on the series. After watching the opening episode i shared most of his concerns but i have to say having watched it since then i have grown to love it.

    It’s a fantastic series.

  15. Anonymous on August 22nd, 2009 10:19 am

    League of Gentlemen was a far superior series. The writing was superb. It blended macabre with funny comedy and I was gagging to watch every episode. I even went to watch them live

    ………..however……psychovile???? I feel bad for such a talented group to end up writing something like this. Its like they are ‘going down’ in their careers not upwards. Perhaps League was so good, that it cannot be bettered. Perhaps they should have chosen something different to comedy-horror and then made their mark there too.

    I find Psychoville boring and predictable. Its not comedy anymore, just dark black crap. Sorry boys, but League was much better.

    P.S/ Glad someone mentioned that Little Britain is a League rip off, Little Britian ripped off so much of the League’s material its disgusting! Shame on you David Walliams and Matt Lucas!!! True talent isn’t plagerism.

    Lets hope the League of gentlemen get their act together in the future, scrap this unsuccessful series and reinvent themselves again. I have faith in them as they are talented, they’ve just temporarily lost their way. Good Luck!