Category Archives: Television

Wednesday Watch: ‘Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace’.

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I had a cat once. I dropped a sofa on it. It was a write-off, so I stood on its head.” – Dean Learner

You would be forgiven for not having been aware of today’s recommendation. Criminally, this excellent and ground-breaking televisual feast was given a graveyard slot on channel four, subjected to a piss-poor marketing campaign and lost in amongst the dank fug of tripe being peddled out by mid 2000’s channel four.

Thankfully, in this case, quality lasts and inevitably shines through, and no other show that I can think of glistens with the comedic sheen that ‘Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace’ does. Broadcasted in 2004 ‘Darkplace’ was and remains a cult show that truly defines the term, clasped lovingly to the collective breasts of its loyal fan base and revered by many as the funniest show to grace UK screens of the last decade. High praise indeed when we consider this a time of relative success in terms of UK comedy – think ‘The Office’ and ‘Peep Show’.

There will be some reading this who know of ‘Darkplace’, and it is likely that they are already fervent fans. However, as mentioned earlier, this slipped under the radar of many. Mostly due to a minimal advertising campaign that failed to translate exactly what the show was about and also a late night slot apparently designed promote to failure.

‘Darkplace’ is the twitching brainchild of creator Matthew Holness and is presented as a lost classic: a television series produced in the 1980s, though never broadcast at the time. The presentation features commentary from many of the “original” cast, where characters such as ‘Garth Marenghi’ and ‘Dean Learner’ reflect on making the show.

The beauty of the comedy is how the entire debacle is played completely straight, the talking head interviews are note perfect and exhibit the acting brilliance of Holness as well as ‘editor’ Dean Learner (Richard Ayoade) and Todd Rivers (Matt Berry). What makes things massively hilarious is how terrible the original show was. ‘Darkplace’ parodies numerous aspects of ’80s low-budget television, including fashion, special effects, production gaffs, and music. The dubbing, jump cuts, wooden acting all create a heady mix of pure comedic genius, allowing for very little respite to collect air from guffawing so much. It’s that good folks.

In the eyes of ‘Marenghi’ and ‘Learner’ this was cutting edge, era defining television. The joke lies within how it most certainly was not.

Unfortunately, ’Darkplace’ only lasted a meager six episodes. In some ways this is probably the perfect way for the show to remain as each episode is a comedy classic with stories ranging from a mutated eye-child called ‘Skipper’ to Sanchez falling in love with a woman who turns in to a stick of broccoli. To continue would potentially have led to a drop in quality albeit unlikely with the talent involved. Channel four in an admission of their almighty balls up, re-ran the series and cobbled together a fantastic DVD package a couple of years after the show aired – definitely worth picking up for a few quid.

Since its release, Ayoade has moved on to ‘The I.T Crowd’ and directing with the brilliant ‘Submarine’ and recently starring in a Hollywood comedy with A-list big dicks Ben Stiller and Jonah Hill. Similarly, Matt Berry also starred in ‘The I.T Crowd’ taking over the enormous shoes of legend Chris Morris.

I cannot recommend this show enough, it is utterly exceptional and sits amongst greats such as ‘Alan Partidge’ and ‘Brass Eye’ in my personal, awesome opinion.

I will leave it to Garth sum up…

“Greetings traveler. I’m Garth Marenghi, horror writer. Most of you will probably know me already from my extensive canon of chillers, including Afterbirth, in which a mutated placenta attacks Bristol. Back in the 1980s, I wrote, directed and starred in Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace, a television program so radical, so risky, so dangerous, so goddamn crazy, that the so-called powers that be became too scared to show it, and gypped me. Much in the same way women have done ever since they sniffed out my money.” – Garth Marenghi

Enjoy pilgrims…

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Wednesday Watch: ‘Southland’.

Is there a more pillaged genre than the cop drama?

I’d wager my modest savings (half a curly-wurly and a full collection of Teenage Mutant Ninja turtles commemorative coins), that there is not. Either side of the pond, channels and networks are swamped with carbon copy Police guff, offering up the same trite, clichéd, grizzled tales.

There was public outrage and lynching’s post cancellation of ITV bull-shit fest, ‘The Bill’ – which only emphasises how starved of decent Police drama us Brits have been. Not only was it crap telly, ‘The Bill’ and similar shows were offensive to the regular bobby. With ‘creative’ liberties taken in order to shit out an easily digestible half hour of brainless television. This was not the Police – not at all.

Rarely, are we party to true brilliance on television, even more so when tales of the daily exploits of the Police are involved. The last evidence of this was HBO’s ‘The Wire’. Not only was this unrivalled in terms of its storytelling, character development and honesty, David Simon’s creation happened to be arguably the best television show ever committed to film -that or ‘The Sopranos’.

To stand tall amongst the dross takes a great deal of ingenuity and bravery. Thankfully, in the wake of shows like ‘The Wire’, a vibrant and more urgent approach has been adopted to television, and no more so than in the fantastic ‘Southland’.

‘Southland’ follows the capers of South LA beat police. Each hour long episode intertwines several narratives leading to a climatic finale, much like any drama, but it is the style in which this is delivered to the viewer that sets ‘Southland’ apart from the baying crowd.

The show is shot in a now familiar documentary style and the broken, bloodied streets of South L.A are comprised of a vibrant palette of colours. The production is slick and impatient, forcing the viewer in to the searing heat of the conflicts that are so readily and frequently pelted in the face of the officers.

It is uncomfortable at times, incredibly gory and also tremendously moving. The relationships are believable, with due diligence paid to the monotonous nature of modern Policing and the relationships that are built over long night shifts and brutal early turns. You are in that patrol car with the characters and therefore it is difficult to not empathise and become emotionally attached to them as a result.

This is cemented by a fine array of character actors making up the cast with no outright ‘stars’ to distract, but more a collection recognisable faces from this show or that film you have seen. This works in favour of the show, building upon the everyman nature of the characters.

Michael Cudlitz is the pick of a very talented bunch as veteran senior beat officer ‘John Cooper’ – a ruthlessly by the book officer who nurses a painkiller addiction and complicated private life. It may sound cliché on paper but on screen this is electric, important television and the characters are clearly defined and expertly drawn out.

As television continues to push boundaries and bleed into film, ‘Southland’ leads the charge. It is criminally under viewed but critically lauded. This is cult television at its strongest.

Yes, that is the chap from ‘The O.C’.

‘Southland’s’ footprint can also be seen in this week’s fine cinema release, ‘End of Watch’ (to be reviewed Monday), that also utilises similar cinematography and is stooped in an immediate and frantic style. It is unsurprising that David Ayer, the director adopted this style to the film, ‘the job’ needs to be documented that way for the sheer danger and unpredictability to be translated truthfully to the screen. Take note BBC.

Four seasons in and the show has survived massive budget cuts and countless threats of cancellation, similar to the heritage of ‘The Wire’. Yet, in the face of this adversity, ‘Southland’ has improved immeasurably, continuing to shock and move on a weekly basis. This is now important television and can be mentioned in the same whiskey soaked breath as ‘Hill Street Blues’ or NYPD Blue’. If you have the smallest interest in TV drama or Police, do get involved.

‘Southland’ can be seen on More Four or picked up on DVD/Blu-ray.

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