About Psychoville‘Psychoville’ is a BBC dark comedy television serial, written byand starring Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton – thecreators behind similar comedy ‘The League of Gentlemen’.‘Psychoville’ series one focuses on an array of strange andsome unnervingly yet comical, psychotic characters – each whohave seemingly unlinked lives filled with odd occurrences andobscene situations – who are one day brought together due totheir shared association with an unknown and unseenblackmailer.‘Psychoville’ blends horror, slasher movies and surreal comedy.As well as this, Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton, thecreators – both play more than one of the main characters inthe show, some of which are female characters.In ‘episode 4’ of series one of Psychoville, we follow thecharacters ‘David and Maureen’ directly after they strangletheir fourth victim in his flat. Hilarity ensues after an inspectorpays the pair a visit –mistaking David as the deceased victim.Both David and his mother attempt to hide the truth. Theepisode is homage to Hitchock’s ‘Rope’ – much of his work is a Man-child ‘David’ (Steve Pemberton)notable and key influence on the comedy. Controlling mother ‘Maureen’ (Reece Shearsmith) Two of the 6 main characters in ‘Psychoville’
Pastiche and ParodyFrederic Jameson describes pastiche and parody as ‘the mimicry of other stylesand particularly of the mannerisms and stylistic twitches of other styles.’The episode’s opening shot directly mirrors the opening shots of ‘Rope’, whichinclude an establishing shot of the outdoors (it is Hammersmith, London inPsychoville rather than the US). This shot is then followed by a shot of a manbeing choked blue. The camera pulls out of this shot without cutting away, toreveal a medium shot of three figures – ‘David’ the man-child character in PsychovillePsychoville, his dominatrix mother ‘Maureen’ who assists the murder with hermarigold gloves and their unfortunate victim ‘Mr Pike’ who is being strangledwith David’s tie.The audience are also revealed to the setting – what appears to be the livingarea of a small but high-class and antique-furnished apartment. This is apastiche of the apartment setting of ‘Rope’.Like ‘Rope’, the entire course of the episode is set in the one room – the livingroom – though action appears ‘off-screen or offstage’ as it were, from the Ropeother rooms.
Pastiche and Parody Like ‘Rope’ – famous for being shot in entirely one take, Rope ‘Pyschoville Episode 4’ is completely shot in this manner, with the camera on a dolly track in order to provide a variety of movement and shots, without cutting away. Unlike most TV serials, this episode of Psychoville occurs in real-time. It is 30 minutes long, and the events of the episode are also the same length. It is edited therefore, in a realistic timeframe, rather than with the conventional Psychoville and Modernist Continuity Editing of Hollywood. Another reference to ‘Rope’ is the concealment of Mr Pike’s body in the wooden chest in the centre‘Psycho’ is also referenced multiple times. Maureen replies of the room.‘don’t talk wet, he wouldn’t hurt a fly...’ – directly a quotefrom the end of ‘Psycho’.The episode also directly uses the soundtrack to ‘Psycho’ –made famous from the ‘shower scene’. In Psychoville,however, the music accompanies the strangling of Mr Pikeand the audience is fooled into thinking that the music isnon-diegetic. However, it is soon revealed in a comedic waythat the music is incidentally playing out from a radio in theroom, coinciding with the murder.
Genre MixLike other Postmodern texts such as ‘Blade Runner’ by Ridley Scott andthe films of Tarantino, episode 4 of Psychoville is very much a hybrid ofvarious genres. Primarily the series is a dark comedy thriller – which iscore even in this episode. However, like ‘Blade Runner’, the episodecontains many elements of the film noir genre. The inspector character isdressed in the manner of the trilby-hat-wearing and high-collaredraincoat-donning police chiefs of the 1950s. He even carries with him aclichéd black briefcase. character of the actor playing the inspector is Mark Gatiss .The big reveal of his cameo appearance when the door is opened to reveal him is a nod to the Shearsmith/Pemberton universe they have created. The episode also contains horror elements, particularly prominent when David advances on the inspector with a huge kitchen knife from behind him. The episode is also a Christie-esque ‘whodunnit’ as the inspector is investigating a series of murders – though David and Maureen do not realise they are part of a role- play and think he is genuinely investigating their murders from before.
Flattening of AffectJean-Francis Lyotard a postmodern critic, describes the loss of moralrelativism in postmodern works, and the ‘flattening of affect’ – alsodiscussed by Jameson. Lyotard argues that postmodern texts do notabide my moral laws which have been established from conventions.The murder of Mr Pike in the episode is not only portrayed as a normalactivity, the murders are made comedic by their handling of Maureenand David. After the strangling has been committed, Maureen exclaims‘Well should I put the kettle on? I’m absolutely gaspin’!’ to which herson David replies; ‘so was he’ – indicating to the corpse in the chest. Maureen rewarding herself and her son with a cup of tea after the murder Flattening of affect and another postmodern element; ‘the identity-based struggle’ is also brought into the episode. The creators deceive the audience into thinking the scene is touching by playing non-diegetic, slow and mournful music. The emotional moment is then shattered by flattening of affect when discussing how her husband used to abuse her, Maureen states; ‘he used to beat me inspector... it’s what people did before they had tellies’. From this humorous comment, the tragic natures of her previous words have lost their emotional depth.
Bricolage: High & Low ArtThe postmodern technique bricolage is incorporated into theepisode. The setting seems to be an earthy-colouredapartment belonging to a cultured person, through hisantique furnishings. It is almost a Christie-esque who-dunnitsetting – despite the fact it is set in present day.The idea of mixing high and low art to create a classlesspiece of art is also present. Maureen is played by ReeceShearsmith, as is the style of their comedy. Despite the factShearsmith is technically in drag, his performance cannot bedeemed ‘trashy’ like the grotesque characters of Matt Lucas Make-up , wigs and ‘drag’ – typicallyand David Walliams. Shearsmith’s performance is convincing, considered low brow comedy.yet retains an element of the grotesque for comedic effect,however the audience could easily forget who is playing her. Elements of CONSUMERISM: “I knowThe use of wigs and make-up for the character can bedeemed low art (such as the works of Little Britain creators) what you’re like with your dandruff,however, with the high-art nature of the Hithcockian ‘shake and vac’”episode, the episode becomes classless. Shake and Vac – a popular carpet cleaner from the 70s – referenced by Maureen.
Hypereality and ConclusionBaudrillard’s hypereality theory is less prominent in‘Psychoville’, however there are elements of it. Though set inpresent day Britian, the series has almost missed the markon normality. The characters portrayed by Shearsmith andPemberton are strange and sometimes of opposite gender totheir performers – yet this is all accepted in their world. David and Maureen and other characters in Psychoville live in the same world as ours, albeit with the threat of punishment still relevant, yet seems to have made exceptions out of them. To conlude, Episode 4 of Psychoville is postmodern due to its blatant pastiche and homage to the works of Alfred Hitchcock, it’s unnerving and obscene subject matter which is flattened in affect through dark comedy. The episode works unconventionally in its narrative format, rejecting the usual continuity editing and the jumping of time. It also blends high and low art, creating a classless piece of television and contains references to Shearsmith and Pemberton’s previous work as well as successfully blending a mix of genres into a hybrid.