Basic cable’s Sci Fi Channel is piping hot these days, with no less than four mega successful original series on its current schedule: the recently unveiled smash Eureka and the classic sci-fi triple threat of Battlestar Galactica, Stargate Atlantis, and Stargate SG1. How, then, did Sci Fi execs come to decide that the super cheesy, gleefully low-budget, 2004 cult horror-comedy spoof Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace would be an appropriate import from the United Kingdom? I have absolutely no idea, but whoever greenlit the transfer deserves a six-pack of beer, a 5-pound bag of chips, and a tub of Cheez Whiz to reward their shrewd thinking.
In case you don’t already know—and I’m fairly sure that’s the case—Garth Marenghi is the hammy alter ego of British actor/comedian/writer Matthew Holness. A famous and prolific horror writer by his own account, Marenghi was nonplussed to see his groundbreaking television series Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace banned from the tube in the mid-1980s because network execs were too cowardly to air material “so radical, so risky, so dangerous, so goddamn crazy.” However, twenty years and one “artistic drought” later, this buried masterpiece finally gets the chance to debut in all its glory.
The plot of the 1980s horror soap opera is fairly tame for a spooky show. Doctors Rick Dagless (Holness), Lucien Sanchez (Matt Berry), and Liz Asher (Alice Lowe), the last of whom is also psychic (and we all know you can never have too many mind-reading MDs), unite to thwart an ancient evil force that surfaces at Darkplace Hospital, intent on bringing utter devastation to mankind. Yet, their quest to rid the world of this formidable threat is often hampered by the intervening hand of their stalwart boss, Thornton Reed (Richard Ayoade).
The kicker of the series—the real series, not the show in the show—is that each of the four main players has dual roles as the assorted Darkplace Hospital employees in the resurrected series and as the actors who portray them. Thus, the “action” that unfolds on the show-within-the-show is spliced with mock interview footage of the characters’ actor counterparts providing “insightful” commentary on the inner series’ creation.
The honor of Most Deadpan and Dead Funny goes to the brooding author Marenghi. His earnest observations effortlessly evoke amusement as he expresses his conviction that his masterwork was the victim of a malevolent, Big Brother-ish conspiracy determined to keep its dark genius from the gullible public, rather than the target of smart TV executives doing their job by saving unsuspecting viewers from the cruelty of a badly written piece of schlock filled with abominable acting, directing, dialogue, wardrobe, sound effects, special effects, and everything else.
Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace, which was canceled in the UK after just six episodes due to poor ratings, emerged from the twisted minds of Holness and Richard Ayoade as a send-up of the horror genre, the pulp fiction writers who have traditionally populated the field, and those beloved 1980s television shows that we are so pleased to call cheesy today. The parody consequently provides three layers of potential entertainment.
If the premise of the series is not your cup of tea, then you’ll likely remain busy while identifying which classic ’80s-era TV shows are being spoofed at any given moment or deciding which genre writers Marenghi reminds you of most. No matter which way you go, however, Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace is certain to tickle your funny bone in one spot or another.
The Verdict: A
Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace currently airs Thursdays at 10pm and 10:30pm EST on Sci Fi
Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace photo courtesy of Channel 4 (United Kingdom)