As a fan of British TV programming, I’m often searching for new things to watch based on word-of-mouth alone. It was one such search that led me to Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace and I was puzzled. The promotional copy described the series as a cult horror program deemed too racy for the public. Banned in the United Kingdom, it only saw the light of day in Peru. The only clip I could find involved a man shooting ‘flying dishes’ with a shotgun. Being a fan of Doctor Who, I couldn’t decide what to make of Darkplace based on this clip alone. Imagine my delight when I learned that it was a tongue-in-cheek parody of high-octane American action TV series such as TJ Hooker, blended with Stephen King’s version of Kingdom Hospital.
Created by Matthew Holness and Richard Ayoade, Darkplace is one of the most amazing comedies I have ever seen. The Darkplace program on its own is hilarious enough. Set in a hospital constructed directly over a gateway to Hell, the only person standing between the demonic hordes and his patients is Dr. Rick Dagless, MD. Wearing cowboy boots, an action mullet, leather jacket and a sidearm, Dagless answered to Darkplace Hospital Administrator, Thornton Reed (played by Mareghi’s publisher and agent, Dean Learner), his best man Sanchez (played by ADR-d actor Todd Rivers) and bearer of the biggest hair ever Madeleine Wool, who is also psychic.
Each episode of Darkplace is preceded by an introduction by Marenghi reading from one of many slasher novels. He speaks in flowery intelligent language made up of archaic and bizarre word choices. Marenghi heaps it on heavily, gearing the viewer up for a truly chilling experience. What follows is an ingeniously shoddy production with bad edits, poor acting, embarrassing special effects and a script that makes no sense, all filmed in Dean Learner’s garage.
Viewers may think that all of this sounds far too familiar to the Zucker Brothers projects Airplane and Police Squad but in my opinion this is miles better. The parody is spot on, the self-assuredness of actor/author/director Marenghi is spotless and the result is just magical. It is a program that is as much about TV as it is a comedic piece in itself.
One of the weirdest moments in Darkplace has to be the decision to include a dream/music video sequence in which Todd Rivers laments his passion for Madeleine Wool. Words fail me… just watch…
‘One Track Lover’
Complimenting the program are intermittent breaks in which the cast members have reunited to provide commentary and behind-the-scenes information, often more entertaining than the program itself. The cast appear to think of Darkplace as a misunderstood masterpiece, the likes of which had never been witnessed on TV before or since.
Actor Todd Rivers gives his two cents on method acting and such while swishing a glass of Scotch that never leaves his hand. An embittered actor, he speaks with such gravity and character that he comes off as a kind of fallen star, a la Doctor Who’s Tom Baker. Marenghi and Learner, meanwhile look back with a more philosophical eye toward the fantastic and horrific. There is no mention of Madeleine Wool’s life after Darkplace, leaving her history darkly tragic (and possibly marked by the Devil).
The behind-the-scenes portions are just amazing and you get the impression that each actor could just go on forever in character. In fact, the DVD has hours of additional commentary that supports this.
Darkplace had a very brief run on Channel 4 but proved to be a cult hit with viewers who demanded more, forming a ‘save Darkplace’ movement online. A sequel never followed with the exception of a spin-off Man-to-Man With Dean Learner in which Marenghi’s agent hosted a variety show from his estate in the vein of Dean Martin.
If you are a fan of the IT Crowd and have not seen Darkplace, you owe it to yourself to seek it out. There really is nothing else like it.