Now known better for their work on Inside No.9 which has just finished its fifth series, Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton’s best work is still Psychoville. The story follows a small group of, quite frankly weird, people from around the country who have received mysterious letters simply stating ‘I know what you did.’ It’s relatively obvious from the start that something links these oddities, but the story rarely operates in ways you would expect. It is perhaps these odd unsettling characters that made the show slightly less popular, but equally, it is these characters that make the show fantastic.
The most normal character is perhaps Mr. Lomax, a crotchety old blind millionaire who’s sent a caretaker from the government to assist him around the house. This assistant is none other than Daniel Kaluuya, made famous by his central role in 2017’s Get Out. The assistant is (for some reason) referred to by Mr. Lomax only as ‘tealeaf’ and he enlists him on his quest to obtain the final piece in his collection of Ty Beanie Babies, Snappy the Crocodile. Much of the humour from Mr. Lomax comes from his lack of vision, somewhat insensitive by today’s standards but still hilariously well-written. It’s these character parts, mostly played by Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton that really make the show what it is, they’re all mildly upsetting and riotously hilarious. Their greatest role in the show is, without a doubt, David and Maureen Sowerbutts. Shearsmith dons a wig and skirt to play the mother of this mother-son duo obsessed with serial killers, whose obsession goes a little too far.
Psychoville even takes the opportunity to poke fun at its own plot. The central ‘hooded character’ who sends the aforementioned mysterious letters is routinely mocked. At one point he sends around a VHS tape, only to be moaned at by one of the recipients that he only has a DVD player. The tension in the plot and the slow unraveling of what links together these characters together works because the tone of the show is quite dark. Much of the humour comes from unsettling areas, Maureen babying David a little too much, Mr. Jelly being a depressed one-handed clown. In darker areas the humour creeps away or takes a background role, to serve the plot of the show.
One point of interest is that Psychoville has a rare example of a bottle episode. An episode set entirely in one room, likely necessitated by a lack of funding. It’s reminiscent of a stage play, especially as it seems like it’s filmed on a set, not a real location. It’s a testament to Shearsmith and Pemberton’s writing talent that the episode never gets stale. This episode also features David and Maureen’s ridiculous dance to Superman by Black Lace, a highlight of the series. Overall Psychoville is a delightfully dark comedy show that never quite got the attention it deserves. Shearsmith and Pemberton knock it out the park with ridiculously funny characters you’ll have a hard time forgetting.