It’s a spoof 80s paranormal action show intercut with an equally spoofy retrospective commentary from the titular Garth Marenghi and his agent Dean Learner. Now, that might sound a bit convoluted. It’s not, I’m just bad at explaining things.
Matthew Holness plays Garth Marenghi, an egocentric horror writer who believes that he’s a genius. He made a TV show in the 1980s called Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace, in which he also starred as Dr Rick Dagless M.D. The show was cancelled but is now being broadcast 20 years later, intersected with commentary from Garth Marenghi, Dean Learner, and Todd Rivers. Dean Learner is Garth’s publicist and is played by Richard Ayoade. Dean Learner also plays Thornton Reed in Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace. Matt Berry plays Todd Rivers who plays Dr Lucian Sanchez. Maybe it is quite complicated.
Here’s a diagram:
There’s an old adage that says that only a virtuoso pianist can play a piano truly badly. This applies to TV too. Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace (the fictional Channel 4 show) is beautifully bad. It’s surreally ridiculous with its excessive slow-mo, synthy soundtrack, continuity cock-ups, and some great use of firearms. It manages to constantly surprise, just when you think that you’ve got the measure of the show, a man possessed by a demon explodes from several different camera angles, with enough blood to cover a corridor of the Overlook Hotel. The set pieces are fantastic and there aren’t not many things funnier than Matthew Holness and Julian Barratt (dressed as a vicar) blasting the living daylights out of a resurrected corpse that’s just leapt from its coffin in front of its grieving mother. The dialogue is also perfectly awful. The rampant sexism, faux reflective moments, and the laughing-too-long-at-a-joke-that-isn’t-funny are all so well timed and immaculate edited, yet at the same time maintain that feeling of spontaneity that comedy thrives on. The whole cast, especially Kim Noble’s Jim the extra, are excellent at bad acting. Richard Ayoade takes it to the next level as Dean Learner as Thornton Reed, whose delivery is so hysterical and perfectly combined with lines like “my arse is grass” that I can barely hear it over the sound of my own laughter.
The cast are from the ‘Velvet Onion’ gang, or as The Velvet Onion put it ‘The Boosh / Darkplace Crowd’. There are appearances from both Noel and Julian from The Mighty Boosh – Julian playing the recurring vicar character who Garth refers to as ‘padre.’ Graham Lineham, writer of The IT Crowd and Father Ted, pops up as a hospital porter. Stephen Merchant is another pleasant surprise as the chef in the second episode.
I haven’t even mentioned the second layer of the show. Amongst all the paranormal powers and hoards of Scottish ghosts, there are armchair commentaries provided by Garth, Dean and Todd. The juxtaposition of these bizarre scenes with their creators reflecting seriously and self indulgently upon them somehow elevates the farce to an even higher level of hilarity.
While he has appeared in The Office, Friday Night Dinner, Life’s Too Short, and Toast of London, rewatching Darkplace left me wondering when we’ll be lucky enough to see another Holness helmed TV Show.