An almost perfectly judged witches’ brew of comedy and the macabre, 2009’s Psychoville introduced a quintet of apparently disparate, unhinged characters and their sinister connection to an abandoned mental hospital. While there were obvious similarities between Psychoville and Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton’s earlier hit series, The League Of Gentlemen, its tightly wound, thriller format immediately set it apart.
It was unfortunate, then, that the final episode of Psychoville ended on such an inconclusive note. Reintroducing an apparently dead character, the evil Nurse Kenchington, and a further mystery in the shape of a locket in its final moments, even a large explosion couldn’t disguise what was a disappointingly weak ending to what was otherwise a pitch-perfect seven weeks of comedy and horror.
Meeting fan criticisms head-on, Shearsmith and Pemberton have even written an apology, of sorts, into this opening episode. “It was ridiculous,” one character opines. “Jolly did his big speech about revenge for someone killing his mother, and then out of nowhere, she bursts in, babbling on about her locket or something. Why did she wait two years for him to come back if she wasn’t dead? I’m sorry, but it’s a pathetic ending.”
Whatever you made of series one’s conclusion, it at least left the series with enough loose ends to entice the BBC to commission a second series, and it’s great to see Psychoville back.
Writing spoiler-free episodes is a tricky affair at the best of times, and writing about this season two opener is made more difficult still, given that the first series ended with much of the cast apparently killed in an explosion.
I won’t reveal who did or didn’t survive here, but Psychoville‘s writers have introduced some great new characters in this second series. The most obvious is Imelda Staunton’s icy investigator, Grace Andrews, whose unexpected reference to The Minority Report results in one of the show’s funniest lines.
Elsewhere, Steve Pemberton plays Hattie, a colourful dresser with a habit of smoking electric cigarettes, while Shearsmith plays what is perhaps the best new character, an oddball librarian tormented by what appears to be the ghost of Britney Spears. Strangely desperate to reclaim a missing library book (Great Coastal Walks of the British Isles volume two), he’s like a cross between Philip Larkin and the petulant Graham Lister from Vic Reeves Big Night Out, and his visions of the supernatural had me almost choking with laughter.
As ever, it’s not clear what the connection is between these apparently disparate, weird characters, but that’s precisely what made Psychoville season one so great, and it works here, too. What’s the connection between the haunted librarian and the missing book on coastal walks? Is the Scottish policeman in the black coat really who he says he is? And why is everyone still after that blasted locket?
Whether this second season can bring its mysteries to a satisfying conclusion remains to be seen, but at any rate, this series opener is as well written and funny as any episode of the 2009 run.
When it’s revealed which characters survived the explosive events of season one, I was surprised at how glad I was to see them back, a sign, surely, of just how well constructed and likeable these strange, grotesque figures are.
This first episode, therefore, is a sure-footed introduction to what promises to be a fantastic second season, and these first 30 minutes conclude in a manner that left me desperate to see what happens next.
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