BBC Two’s Psychoville returns for a second series and, judging by the first episode, it’s as smart and confident as ever.
Now that it doesn’t have to introduce the main cast, the series can get straight into the story-telling. That it spends most of the time avoiding any actual revelations will either be a source of delight or frustration for the audience. The story begins a short while after the explosive events of the Series 1 finale, and pretty much ignores anything that happened in the Halloween special (which, like the Christmas episode of The League Of Gentlemen, appears to just a one-off joke with no real bearing on the canonical story).
Most of the opening episode is taken up with a funeral, which in itself is a very cute joke that manages to obscure what should be a very obvious punchline to anyone who’s been paying attention to a running gag during the first series. In fact, the joke works so well, they essentially use it again with different characters later on in the episode to absolutely no detriment. The love of mildly obscure film and television references continues to be alive and well, as the funeral procession appears to be accompanied by a severely warped version of the theme to Steptoe And Son.
Much of the familiar cast are present and correct – currently, Dawn French’s Joy Aston is no longer feeding a child’s doll, but her actions have taken a even darker route, if that’s possible. Now freed of the shackles of the sketch-originated League Of Gentlemen, there continues to be a much greater emphasis on plot and character development, which at times, such in the case of Steve Pemberton’s David Sowerbutts, can be genuinely moving. That said, the script can be deviously self-referential: there’s a moment when one of Reece Shearsmith’s characters pithily comments on the events of the last series, saying of the faked death of a major character: ‘Why did she wait two years to come back and tell (us) she wasn’t dead? I’m sorry, but it was a pathetic ending…’
Such is the remove from The League Of Gentlemen that the boys are confident enough to introduce characters that closely recall fan favourites from that series, such as a character that closely resembles (but is much less grotesque, and actually quite sweet) Tish from the League’s third series and live show.
However, by far the most promising character is one portrayed by Reece Shearsmith, a librarian who, on first glance, appears entirely normal – as normal as you can get in this series, anyway – but appears to have the gift of immediately and exactly recalling any book missing from his library. This being Psychoville, his power is not down to any form of ADHD or even extreme pedantry, but rather the sinister presence of a vision – also played by Shearsmith – known only as ‘The Silent Singer. Well, of course it is.
It’s sharp and confident, and promises great things for the series ahead, although it would be great if we could get another guest appearance from Mark Gatiss before this summer’s Sherlock kicks in. Psychoville is significantly funnier than much else on television at the moment – although anyone suffering from coulrophobia should probably avoid this episode. Dark, clever and brilliant.
Airs at 10pm on Thursday 5th May 2011 on BBC Two.