Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace (2004)

Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace is a British dark comedy show made for Channel 4 by Matthew Holness and Richard Ayoade. Following on from Garth Marenghi’s Netherhead, which won the 2001 Perrier Awards, the show revolves around fictional horror author Garth Marenghi (played by Holness) and his publisher Dean Learner (played by Ayoade).

Darkplace is presented as a lost classic: a television series produced in the 1980s, though never broadcast at the time. The presentation features commentary from many of the “original” cast, where characters such as “Marenghi” and “Learner” reflect on making the show. Darkplace parodies numerous aspects of ’80s low-budget television, including fashion, special effects, production gaffs, and music, as well as the widespread practice of including commentary tracks on DVD releases of old films and television shows.

Darkplace was broadcast in a late-night timeslot, with very little advertising, and met with poor viewing figures. The show nonetheless built up a significant internet following, leading Channel 4 to swiftly repeat the series and produce a DVD release. It was also reported that Channel 4’s Film Four had asked Holness and Ayoade to write a script for a movie version of their program.

The show was later broadcast in the United States on the Sci-Fi Channel and Adult Swim.




PLOT SUMMARY

The comedy series, released in 2004, lampoons 1980s television drama, particularly horror, sci-fi, and “the rampant egotism of self-appointed ‘mastermind’ authors.”  The show presents Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace as though it were a real, low-budget television series, produced in the 1980s, and now getting its first screening; this hoax is the basis of the show’s fictional frame. Darkplace’s fictional show-within-a-show includes deliberately poor production and special effects, sub-par acting, and storylines that are “severely flawed and open-ended.” This is interspersed with ‘present-day interviews’ with the ‘cast’.

The series’ fictional premise is that some time in the 1980s, best-selling horror author Garth Marenghi and his publisher/publicist, Dean Learner, made their own low-budget television series with a single intent: “to change the evolutionary course of Man over a series of half-hour episodes.” Set in Darkplace Hospital, “over the very gates of Hell,” in Romford, Essex,Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace shows the adventures of Dr. Rick Dagless, M.D., as he “fights the forces of darkness while simultaneously coping with the pressures of day to day admin.” Within this fictional context, Marenghi wrote 63 teleplays from which 50 shows were produced; however, Channel 4 was eventually forced to reject the show due to its “radicality.” Though, Marenghi also cites possible government suppression: “MI8, which is actually three levels above MI6, pulled the plug. And they did it because I knew the truth.”

In 2004, due to the “worst artistic drought in broadcast history”, Channel 4 decided to air six of the original episodes.

The makers of Darkplace endeavoured to make the show seem authentic. From “the retro Channel 4 logo at the start to the distortion of the analogue music track at the start of scenes”, “the fashion, … the texture of film stock,” “[the] deliberately poor continuity, cheesy lines, wooden acting and cheap special effects”; it is delivered “in such a pitch perfect way you can’t help but laugh.” As a result, despite the show being a parody, it succeeded in sporting a very authentic and realistic ’80s feel, to the point that many people who see the show for the first time initially believe that Darkplace really is an ’80s relic. Also included are “present-day interviews”, in which the character ‘Marenghi’, with co-stars ‘Dean Learner’ and ‘Todd Rivers’, comment on the show-within-the-show. The recurring theme of these interviews is that Marenghi is seen as an egotistical fool who overrates his own talent and has no idea how foolish he comes off as.

As with promotion for their earlier Perrier Award-winning stage show, Darkplace’s creators confounded media by producing promotional material in-character. The official website speaks of Garth Marenghi, and other characters as though they were real people, while making no mention of the real actors. Press releases also contained “realistic looking fake back stories for Marenghi and the other characters instead of making any mention of what the real cast have appeared in”, and an article by ‘Garth Marenghi’ appeared in The Telegraph discussing his “groundbreaking television series”. “More than a few people”, and “media outlets” alike were caught out by this fictional framing.

The show’s musical soundtrack parodies the same subjects as the writing, and gained its composer Andrew Hewitt a BAFTA Nomination as Best New Composer for Film and T.V. (2004).

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