Psychoville episode 1 review

If you loved The League of Gentlemen's dark brand of humour, then the demented stylings of Psychoville might be for you...

So here it is, the new seven-part offering from The League of Gentlemen’s Reece Shearsmith and Mark Pemberton, both of whom are writing and starring, Psychoville (which is what The League of Gentlemen is called in Japan).

Action moves away from a central location, such as Royston Vasey in The League of Gentlemen, and now incorporates weird and wonderful (or wonderfully weird) characters from all over the UK. As you’d expect, the humour on display here is dark.

Salford-based clown Mr Jelly (Shearsmith) is a children’s entertainer who’s struggling following the loss of his hand. Bristolian midwife Joy (Dawn French) lives with her husband George (Mark Pemberton) and a doll Freddie that she’s convinced is real. Oscar Lomax (Pemberton) is blind and lives alone in a stately home in Yorkshire. Robert is a telekinetic dwarf who’s playing Blusher (can’t use Bashful because of copyright) in Christopher Biggins’ panto, Snow White. He’s in love with Kerry, the actress who’s playing Snow White. David (Pemberton) is a serial-killer obsessive who lives with his mum, Maureen (Shearsmith), in North London.

Each of them receive a mysterious, anonymous letter saying ‘I know what you did…’ and it’s clear that they’re all hiding a dark secret – but what is it? And how does it tie them all together?

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I’ve made the decision to describe the events of each character in turn, as opposed to how it appears in the show, since reviewing the episode as it’s shown would be a tad bit messy.

The episode opens with a black-gloved figure writing out the letters with a quill and sealing them with candle wax. The air of mystery dissolves once a number is called and it’s clear that the person is in line at a post office.

The first of the five main characters we see is Mr Jelly, who’s asleep on his sofa with an overflowing ashtray on his chest and empty bottles of gin on the coffee table. Later, Mr Jelly turns up at a children’s party in his dirty black van with his name printed on the side, in blood red, and a tagline of ‘Keeps kids quiet’.

When he arrives, it becomes clear that the parents were expecting Jelly’s rival, Mr Jolly. The mother asks if he does princess parties and Jelly informs her that he has one act – Mr Jelly and his 100 hands (well, 16 – but the kids are too thick to notice).

Not impressed with the entertainment Jelly provides, the parents ask him to leave and say they’re calling Mr Jolly – angered at this, Jelly removes his prosthetic hand and shows the room his stump and tells them that Jolly is responsible. He’s forcibly escorted out of the premises and is given his payment, cash in hand, literally, as his prosthetic is returned to him containing his fee. The last we see of Mr Jelly is towards the end of the episode when he’s seen scratching the side of Mr Jolly’s car with his hook.

Dawn French’s Joy is seen leaving her house for work all smiles – until she receives the letter, which she immediately discards in the bin whilst looking round to make sure that no one saw her. Someone did see her though; her husband George (Pemberton). We see Joy at work showing a gruesome sounding childbirth video to an antenatal class. She doesn’t react well to people using technical terms such as fontanel and reacts even worse when someone grabs Freddie. We later see George piecing together the letter that he retrieved from the bin. Joy returns home from work and prepares a ‘bocci’ for Freddie and asks George to change him. George leaves the room to do this and lets Freddie drop by his side and carries him by his leg.

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Mr Lomax is introduced in fantastic fashion; we see a young man cycling up to a huge house and enter into near darkness. He calls Lomax’s name a number of times whilst making his way cautiously through the vast property. As he approaches a door he’s startled by Lomax bellowing from the top of the stairs telling him to “get your claws out of my Holy of Holies”. 

Lomax constantly calls the young man “Tea Leaf”, despite his name being Michael. Michael is there to read to Lomax and do his paperwork as part of community service. He sets down to read Lomax his mail starting with the bank statement. Lomax has a fortune of £2,576,319.04 – “a lot of money, ain’t it Tea Leaf?” Lomax tells Michael that he earned the money by dealing in certain commodities. Later, Michael is reading the financial results to Lomax and says that he better get going as he was supposed to finish at five. Lomax escorts Michael out and asks him to check that the door to his Holy of Holies is locked. As Lomax lets Michael out, Michael sneaks back in unnoticed.

Michael lets himself into the room containing the Holy of Holies and it turns out that they’re a vast collection of Beenie Babies. Lomax catches him, and stands at the entrance of the door, trapping Michael, which is the last we see of this story in the episode.

The first we see of Robert is when he’s being teased by his fellow dwarves about his love for Debbie – as his anger reaches boiling point, a mirror cracks and the teasing soon stops. Robert delivers some letters to Debbie and asks her out for a meal that she says she’ll think about and hands him a letter from her pile. The letter read ‘I know what you did…’. Robert later confides in fellow actor Brian (Shearsmith) and tells him that he thinks that the letter might be about some dwarf porn he did when he was younger called ‘Whole White and the Seven Dicks’ in which he played ‘Stiffy’. Robert then goes to meet Debbie for their date and finds her watching his porno with Brian. Angered, Robert causes the TV to explode.

David is having his flaky back scratched by his mother whilst she quizzes him on Jack the Ripper. He discusses a new job he has at a hotel as a butler and he leaves for work following a lingering kiss with his mother and a rather awkward moment where he has his shirt tucked in. On his way out he grabs a meat cleaver and kicks his letter under the doormat. Later on it cuts to a murder mystery evening, where David is playing the butler.

You’d have thought this would be an ideal job for him – well, you’d be wrong. It turns out that David’s level of enthusiasm isn’t appreciated by the organisers.

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Hanging the disembowelled victim upside down, writing ‘Fuck Pig’ in excrement on the wall and covering the floor in semen is, apparently, a step too far.

When asked to leave, David reveals the identity of the murderer and menacingly advises all gathered that this would not be his last murder. The episode ends with David returning home, dripping with blood, apologising to his mum for doing a bad murder…

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from Psychoville, but I wasn’t expecting it to be this good. As an introduction to a series, this is one of the strongest, in any genre, I’ve seen in some time. As stated earlier, the humour is very dark and I suspect that it won’t be to everyone’s tastes. Those who do enjoy their humour dark, and liked The League of Gentlemen, will be in for a treat though. Although merely talking about Psychoville as a comedy wouldn’t fully do it justice, it’s more of a thriller than a comedy and the suspense is, at times, better than some horror movies I’ve seen. The multiple storylines are all engrossing and the show is edited brilliantly to show this. The level of detail on display is amazing and will reward repeat viewing.  In short, this episode was superb. I hope the rest of the series lives up to the standard seen here.