A new style of television that is part horror, part sci-fi, part drama and part comedy, Psychoville represents a huge artistic step forward for the makers of the League of Gentlemen. Of course, when we use the word “artistic” in connection with something by this group we don’t mean “beautiful” or “aesthetically pleasing”; but a step forward it undeniably is. They have taken the basic comic horror format of that original (brilliant) show and developed it to a new level of drama. This new drama combines the creepiness and horror of the original League of Gentlemen with poignant human drama developed between carefully constructed characters, whose motivations unfold in great detail over the course of just six episodes. The characters are developed in great depth over a mere 6 episodes, some (like the fag-hag Hatty) drawing on classic stereotypes to build classic horror characters; while others, like Mr. Jolly (“keeps kids quiet!”) show a depth of creative talent that is hard to believe is possible in such a short format. Simultaneously repulsive, engaging and affecting, Mr. Jolly the failing clown is a leap forward in comic horror. For examples of his brilliance, see the Clown Court (poor quality) or the Clown Funeral. The Sourbutts (mother and son) show the true creativity of this team, though. They are very, very disturbing in their closeness and their hobbies, hilarious in their stupidities, very touching in their human warmth, and ultimately a great example of a sad and close familial relationship. I think this is a new form of television, in which the grotesque and classically horrific is combined with comedy and real human drama. The development of the Sourbutt relationship over two short seasons – a total of only 12 episodes – shows, I think, really tight and carefully developed writing, as well as extreme acting skill.

These achievements are made all the more memorable by the fact that most of the main characters are played by the same three (?) people. Occasionally the make-up breaks and you can see what they’re up to but mostly it’s brilliant. But in this show – unlike League of Gentlemen – they have not used excessive levels of macabre to hide the effects. The differences are carried by the acting, and the careful mixing of the separate stories across the series so the viewer never becomes accustomed to any single person in the play. The plot itself is also very clever, drawing together disparate stories and mixing in new ones where necessary to bring a group of seemingly completely unrelated people together into a very carefully integrated story. In both seasons the climax is very clever and complete, drawing together even the smallest parts of the previous episodes to make a complete whole. Anyone who GMs regularly knows how hard this is to do, and a lot of screenwriters have failed in this task at the last hurdle, but the creators have done a sterling job of drawing the threads of the story together to a satisfying end.

This style of television is definitely not to everyone’s tastes. It’s by turns disgusting, pathetic and disturbing; sometimes the make-up fails and the viewer is left depending on their own willingness to suspend disbelief. But if you can stomach the terrible characters and the occasional excesses, you will witness something new being created for television. The whole thing is on youtube, and I recommend watching it if you have the chance, if only so you can watch masters of plot and acting in the fullness of their craft – or alternatively, just for the clown court…

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