Once again, British television offers a clever, bite-sized television program that takes a well-worn form and subverts it. In this case, the target is poorly-made horror anthology shows.
Introducing, 'Garth Marenghi's Darkplace.'
The show operates under the assertion that in the 1980's there was a television show called 'Darkplace' that came from the mind of hack horror author/actor Garth Marenghi. It was produced but unaired until it was revived from the vaults in modern times. We see the episodes rebroadcast with interview excerpts from the creator and a select few from the show.
Dr. Rick Dagless (Marenghi, as played by Matthew Holness) is the head doctor at Darkplace Hospital. His best friend is Dr. Lucien Sanchez (Matt Berry) and they both work under administrator Thornton Reed (Richard Ayoade). Dr. Liz Asher (Alice Lowe) is the new addition to the hospital staff and her psychic powers often exacerbate the spirits (ghosts, demons, etc) that populate the hospital.
Each episode, the doctors identify and rectify whatever ghostly happenings crop up.
It's one thing to reference an era of television but it is quite another thing to recreate it with such care and attention to detail. A picture that looks like it was recorded to video tape, distorted music, horrible acting, incompetent editing and cheap sets. It's all here, folks.
The true genius of this is that, in all likelihood, the show probably wasn't that expensive to make, so the limitations may have further helped the authenticity. One particular highlight is a motorcycle chase in the woods which is clearly the actors pedaling bikes and motor sounds dubbed over.
The interviews that are interjected throughout the episodes could throw things off track in other shows, but here, they are used to add faux information and to help drive home the point that the episodes lack substance.
Ayoade and Berry have gone on to do higher profile work, but they are both stellar here. The real star of the show is Holness. Merenghi has such a huge personality, it is impossible for him not to dominate the show. His delusions of grandeur, expressed even in details of the show's credits, are amusing rather than irritating and it is implied that the character's rampant misogyny is happily accepted by all. Sometimes unlikable protagonists are the most fun to watch.
Keep an eye out for the 'Mighty Boosh' fellows in a few episodes.
There could be any number of reasons why 'Garth Merenghi's Dark Place' got a limited amount of exposure in the U.S. (it did have runs on the Sci-Fi channel and Adult Swim). Perhaps it was because it came from across the pond, perhaps because it was very early in Richard Ayoade's career (before he blew up), and perhaps because the humor is so specific in its target that a lot of people couldn't relate.
All the same, this examiner is grateful to have caught up to it.
This is heartily recommended, especially since you now know what it is going for, even if you don't have firsthand experience with the kind of television it is having fun with.
Not Rated 144 minutes 2004