BBC iPlayer: Psychoville (Halloween 2010 Special)

on Saturday, November 06, 2010
Words: Saam Das

One of my favourite TV shows, if not my actual favourite, from last year was 'Psychoville'. The series was written by and starring Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton, most famous for their work on the oddball comedy series, 'The League Of Gentlemen'. 'Psychoville' managed to be both comedic and thrilling, with a fantasy/horror element steadily emerging throughout the series. That element is seized upon in this hour-long Halloween special.

There will be spoilers ahead (but nothing too explicit) so I'd advise watching first then returning. If you haven't already seen it, seeing as it aired was quite a few days ago now. Or if you want to relive Halloween, 'Night Of The Living Dead', 'Day Of The Dead' and 'Halloween' are also on the iPlayer for a limited time.

Oh and if you want to learn more about the history of horror, then Mark Gatiss (who worked with Shearsmith and Pemberton on 'The League Of Gentlemen') is doing a horror retrospective on the iPlayer too. I probably should watch that Gatiss series before reviewing this Halloween special but regardless, I'm not that big a fan of horror. Thankfully, 'Psychoville' is as much about the comedy as it is the horror.

The episode is framed by the experiences of a young man (Drew), who as a young boy visited Ravenhill Psychiatric Hospital and was scarred by his visit. He returns there with the location manager for a new TV series that sounds an awful lot like 'Most Haunted' but apparently isn't - Shearsmith plunders this for jokes plentifully. Together, they relive his experiences and share stories about four of the former patients.

We hear about Mr Jelly's (Shearsmith) story first, which is perhaps the scariest of the four characters' stories. Not only because of the cockroaches but the eerie references to films like 'The Orphanage' and 'The Ring'. However, a wonderful sense of joy filled me up as I saw Mr Jelly being as miserable and deadpan ("It's Halloween everyday for some people") as ever.

The next story saw the return of Joy (Dawn French) and her husband George (Pemberton), with Joy still acting like her baby doll is an actual baby. Indeed, this scenario results in the most horrifying moment of all (in my mind, at least) involving Dawn French and a breastpump. The final image, too, was haunting. Not so sure about the recycling gag though, I don't think it's much bother at all to recycle plastics, newspapers etc.

Onwards to my favourite pairing - Oscar Lomax (Pemberton) and Tealeaf (Daniel Kaluuya). This piece pays homage to Japanese horror 'The Eye', with Lomax inheriting eyes which allow him to see more than he bargained for. It also includes a Golliwog, which Lomax has pursued by means which may or may not be legal, leading Tealeaf to claim that Lomax is "worse than Madonna". Harsh words.

The final story covers David (Pemberton) and his mother (Shearsmith) on the way to a fancy dress party, before borrowing the transformation scene from 'An American Werewolf In London'. Nice chat about David being Frankenstein's monster rather than just Frankenstein and a witty pinhead/skinhead joke was thrown in for good measure.

In and amongst all this, Nurse Kenchington (Eileen Aitkens) saunters in and out of the narrative in a somewhat terrifying manner. This ultimately leads to a brilliant exchange between her and Drew (Alex Waldmann) where she repeatedly demands to know who he works for. His reply: "Sainsburys". It's a fairly simple joke but it's effective and 'Psychoville' manages to recreate these moments several times per episode.

Admittedly, this reads more like a boring run through but being a special one-off episode, it needn't be too much more. Simply put, the Halloween special was a suitable introduction for new viewers to the wonderful brand of humour of 'Psychoville', and ended up something like the Halloween specials on 'The Simpsons'. With one big exception....Shearsmith and Pemberton managed to tie the special into what is now going to be the second series of the programme. It can't come soon enough.

WATCH until 10:59pm, Sunday 7 Nov 2010. UK users only.

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