Halloween 2021: Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace

What do you get when a cutting edge pediatrician ex-warlock Vietnam veteran leads a ragtag team of health care professionals and an emotionally unstable psychic through the nightmarish day to day operations of a hospital sitting over a portal to Hell? You get Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace, that’s what. Come in, traveler. Embrace the infinite.

Halloween is my favorite holiday, but I was not exactly feeling it this October. I was so detached, in fact, that earlier this month I was seriously considering giving the whole Halloween season a pass this year. But then I discovered Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace.

It’s a fake 1980s horror TV show punctuated by fake behind the scenes interviews with a fake bestselling horror author plus actor. And it is goddamned PERFECT. The “look back” segments, which highlight Marenghi’s narcissism and incompetence, exist to make increasingly ridiculous excuses and justifications for low budgets, terrible acting, bad writing, awful special effects, visible microphones, overt sexism, xenophobia, you name it. There are few 21st century character flaws that the 20th century hack Marenghi doesn’t celebrate as personal strengths. In one particularly brilliant portrayal of narcissistic reasoning, an actor manages to find a way to blame the audience for seeing the plainly visible puppet wires in a poorly filmed scene. It’s one of the smartest, funniest, most well informed and tightly written spoofs I’ve seen since Black Dynamite.

“One Track Lover” Written by Rivers/Marenghi/Leaner, courtesy of Dean-O-Disc Records Ltd.

One of the many bright spots in this masterpiece is the music. Credited as “Music by Stig Baasvik. Based on melodies originally whistled by Garth Marenghi,” the soundtrack is both a perfect lampoon and masterful pastiche of 1980s synth cheese. Though meant to be farcical, the score is unexpectedly good. And like every great ’80s television drama, it wouldn’t be complete without highlighting the lead actors’ attempts to break into the music industry. Garth sings his own maudlin tunes, but the musical zenith of the series is the backdoor music video in episode six. “One Track Lover,” sung by Matt Berry (playing actor Todd Rivers playing the perennially badly overdubbed Dr. Lucien Sanchez), featuring a rap bridge by Richard Ayoade (playing publisher Dean Learner playing hospital administrator Thornton Reed), is an absolute treasure.

The only complaint I have about Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace is the brevity. Like many British television shows, they made confusingly few episodes. Six, in fact. That’s all. I’m not even sure how they can afford to build sets for shows that short. With a total running time of about three hours, it would barely qualify as a miniseries here. But the short run does mean that there are no clunker episodes. Every scene, every line, is comedy gold.

“Larry Renwick will be remembered for his wit and laughing eyes, and for being, above all, a good friend. I’m sure we all feel that he exploded too young, but the Lord moves in mysterious ways. Sometimes He’ll come in at an angle. Other times He can hover or swoop. Sometimes He can even come in from beneath, like a worm or mole. Lord, it’s His call how he chooses to maneuver.”

If you’re having a bum Halloween like I was, check this show out. It’s currently on Amazon Prime, but who knows how long it will be there. It was never released on DVD in the States, but if you have a region free player you can get the UK DVDs. It’s well worth your time. To quote Dean Learner, Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace is “the most significant televisual event since Quantum Leap. And I do not say that lightly.”

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