Essential Episodes: Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace

essential garth darkplace indexGarth Marenghi’s Darkplace started out as a stage show that its creators Matthew Holness and Richard Ayoade took up to Edinburgh along with star Alice Lowe, where it instantly garnered acclaim and when they returned with a different hour featuring these characters the following year it won the prestigious Perrier Award for Best Comedy Show. That led to Channel 4 sniffing around the trio, and a couple of years later it hit our screens as a six part comedy.

It had changed slightly from the stage show as Matt Berry had joined the cast, and became a mix of mix of footage from a supposed lost episode and interviews with the cast years after the show had become a cult classic. Holness plays author Marenghi as an egotistical sod who clearly has issues with women, Ayoade is Dean Learner, both his publisher and an actor in the series who has unwavering belief in Marenghi and thinks he’s the best thing since sliced or unsliced bread, while Berry is an alcoholic actor who plays the lothario role in a very over the top manner. Alice Lowe only gets to appear in the supposed series of Darkplace alas, and is missed in the interviews section as she’s proven herself to be an amazing comic actor over the years, but it’s heavily hinted that she wasn’t interviewed as she’s missing, possibly murdered by Learner.

Garth Marenghi himself is a spoof of many a ridiculous horror author and owes a debt to the likes of Stephen King, James Herbert and Shaun Hutson, but the show is also a direct parody of Lars Von Trier’s nineties series Riget (aka Kingdom) with both series set in a hospital which is surrounded by mist, contains all manner of unusual patients, and even features a main character driving around the bowels of the hospital in a golf buggy and chatting away on top of the roof. Annoyingly only six episodes were ever made, there was talk of a second series, and also a movie, but it sadly never happened due to the bastards at Channel 4.

If the world were to end in thirty minutes time I’ve no doubt that many people would want to spend it watching one last episode of the show, at least if they wanted to go out laughing. But which one should be watched? It’s an argument which has troubled humanity for many decades, or minutes, it’s definitely one or the other, but for my money if you’re a Darkplace fan your last seconds on this planet would be best spent watching the second episode, “Hell Hath Fury”.

That’s partially because Alice Lowe gets a lot to do in it, and it’s a show which really highlights just how fantastic she is, as her character Madeleine Wool gets unreasonably arsey over the smallest things. Her psychic powers first show themselves after an angry chef (a very fast talking Stephen Merchant) takes too long to cook a chicken and then has a go at Madeleine when she complains about this, and her anger soon causes a ladle to hit Merchant on the head and he’s down and out. Liz only gets angrier when Rick Daglass (Matthew Holness) and hospital chief Dean (Ayoade) insult her in a petty and cruel manner, and soon before we know it there are flying objects all over the place, and Liz is floating about looking somewhat insane. There’s also a subplot about a temp who Daglass thinks is possibly an android, and who might as well be wearing a redshirt as to how obvious it is that he won’t survive the episode, though what is unexpected is Daglass’s grief, with Holness bursting in to tears in an extremely over the top and funny way.

It’s an episode full of memorable imagery, and some of it is even genuinely quite disturbing, when Liz is lurching about in the air it’s a shot which could have come out of a really great seventies horror movie. The various floating objects come with strings attached, quite literally, and they’re so obvious it becomes a very funny running joke, with Leaner mocking those who might have noticed them. Also along those lines is a great ongoing gag about Dean being unable to use a phone properly, Sanchez (Matt Berry) becomes enemies with an iron, and there’s lots of fun gun play, especially when one turns on Sanchez, and if you’ve ever wanted to see Kim Noble scream in an unconvincing manner, and quite frankly who hasn’t, this is the place to come.

When it comes to the interviews side of things there’s some great one liners, with Dean’s “I call Garth the Orson Welles of horror, and that’s not just because of his weight” being one of the best of the entire series, there’s the explanation that there’s a lot of slow motion because “The episodes were running up to eight minutes under”, while Garth boasts that he’s predicted that by the year 2040 there would be a female mechanic, and “who knows, she might even do a decent job”.

Hell Hath Fury has many of the series trademark themes including Garth’s poor attitudes towards women, mockery of the idea of the auteur and egoistical obsessive writers, and the belief that supernatural genuinely exists and Marenghi is a visionary for predicting what will soon no doubt take place in real life. The dialogue is gloriously ridiculous, the acting absurdly terrible, and Ayoade here especially deserves kudos for turning in some really glaringly awful performances both in Darkplace and the interview segments.

Due to all of the above this really is the best episode to introduce people to the show, there isn’t a bad episode in the entire series though the final episode, The Creeping Moss from the Shores of Shuggoth, does feature all round horrendous person Graham Linehan so should be ignored, while the fifth episode Scottish Mist has the odd dodgy joke, whereas everything hits home here and will cause you to laugh a great deal.

It’s a real shame there wasn’t at least one more series of the show too as it is an enormous delight, the sort of sequel fake chat show Man To Man Dean Leaner does feature both Garth and Dean again but it’s mostly awful and so best ignored. Still, Darkplace is at least a show which is densely packed with an impressive amount of beautifully acted physical comedy and deliriously daft dialogue, and so for that reason alone can be watched time and time again with it only becoming funnier on each viewing.

★★★★★

Alex Finch.
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Related Link:
You can hear Alex talk more about the whole series on the podcast A Very British Horror here.
While you can watch Hell Hath Fury episode of Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace here.

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