There’s always a fault somewhere. I’ve blamed a lot of different things for the demise of the shows I’ve been praising in Cultelevision: the American people, network executives, poor scheduling, and programme cost, among other things. But, finally, I get to blame someone not American for the demise of one of my favorite programs.
People of Great Britain, I blame you for there being only six episodes of the amazingly brilliant series Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace.
I shouldn’t have to explain the premise of this brilliant Channel 4 series to you, but I will anyway. Set in Darkplace Hospital, Dr. Rick Dagless, M.D., is the brainchild of horror visionary Garth Marenghi and the star of Marenghi’s 80’s supernatural drama series. He’s also played by Marenghi, and is without a doubt the smartest, best-looking, and most appealing doctor on the staff, because that’s how it is written in the script.
Dean Learner, Garth’s publisher and one of the few who worked on Darkplace who hasn’t died or offended him, is the incredibly wooden Thornton Reed, who spends most of his time petrified of the camera or reciting his lines in as robotic a voice you’ll hear outside of community theater. Which, of course, means he has some of the best lines in the programme. Todd Rivers played Dr. Lucien Sanchez, a man whose voice and mouth never quite match up, and despite being a doctor, he carries at least two guns at all times. Liz is, as they might say, a woman who just so happens to have menstrual-activated psychic powers.
The entire show is cheaply made, poorly synced, cheesy as hell, and endlessly entertaining because of it. During a chase through the hospital grounds, a man in an ape suit and Dr. Dagless ride bicycles that make dirt bike sounds, fight through an obstacle course, and crash into a pile of stunt-worthy cardboard boxes randomly in the middle of a field. In the same scene, clocks will change time randomly, glasses will appear and disappear, and things randomly explode. Actors either miss their cues, look at the wrong camera, or stare directly into the camera when they shouldn’t. In order to fill time, everything is considered for inappropriate slow motion, or when an episode runs long, entire scenes are covered with voiceovers to explain away the unsolved events of an episode.
There are allusions to a variety of sources, concentrating on the rich vein of comedy that was 1980s culture. A brilliant synthesizer-heavy score, a lesson built into every episode, anti-Scottish stereotypes, and even allusions to Maximum Overdrive and E.T. There’s even a nod to Lars Von Trier’s Danish series, which was remade for America by Stephen King as Kingdom Hospital. One of the many folks I’ve turned onto the show commented on it immediately.
Just watch this clip and tell me this isn’t brilliance.
Where does Dagless get the flame thrower? Why does Sanchez think karate will stop a zombie? Where does Reed get that shotgun? Why does Dagless fire 18 shots out of a 6-shot .357 Magnum? Why is Reed shooting a shotgun at nothing in particular, and just how does he get away with fondling Liz’s backside in the middle of the scene?
If you don’t laugh at this, you’ll never laugh at anything. Most of the principles have gone on to be in other programs, like The Mighty Boosh and The IT Crowd, but for my money, Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace is still their crowning achievement.
It’s good to have friends in dark times like these.