Shine on (you) Crazy Diamond, other than being a not so subtle reference to the magnificent music of Pink Floyd, is also the title for this series of articles hellbent on making you discover underrated artworks that have nothing but passion and a heaping amount of psychedelics in them.
With that out of the way, let me now talk about: GARTH MARENGHI’S DARKPLACE.
“Greetings travelers”, welcome to the Darkplace! Please, turn the lights on. *click* There, that’s better, now we’re in the Lightplace. Each tome of forgotten lore has been piled up like the amount of dead actresses in Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace: 1. May her soul rest in the beaches of Barbados. Every time she appears, eyes weeping uncontrollably out of nowhere, I can’t help but sob a little, oh well. There were too many strong female characters in this show anyway: 0.
There was something about this show that had me loving its quick succession from Xavier: Renegade Angel. The problematic insults, low budget horror hilarity and ridiculous voices (I’m looking at you, Dr. Sanchez) served as a continuation of the psychedelic craziness from my second favorite Horseman.
*whisper in ADR* Never take drugs, kids.
But what is this even about, you ask? “I’m incredibly confused and have no idea what’s going on, just get to the fucking point”, you cry out in pain? Well, Jesus, fine, I’ll explain it for ya, calm down. The show takes place in the mansion of a Stephen King-like writer known as Garth Marenghi; one of the rare people who’s “written more books than I’ve read”. After attempting to release his first show ever, it immediately got shut down and blacklisted for years. Now, in this once in a lifetime opportunity, we’re able to explore the alternate dimension of Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace *alternate dimension noises like weeeeeuuuuu weeeeuuuuu*. However, this show is so disturbing that you couldn’t possibly just WATCH IT! (foreshadowing, the scariest of shadows…) without the accompanying commentary of Garth Marenghi and Dean Learner, both producers and actors within the show.
They intercut footage of the Darkplace with explanations, heart-felt emotions and the piercing gaze of a cigar-smoking man who isn’t afraid to look another man in the eyes. This adds both a complete release of tension from some gripping scenes (like the poor temp being pierced by tens of cutlery) as well as having you notice extra characteristics like. The. Constant. Use. Of. Slow. Motion.
I might also just have a thing for quips, puns and anti-heroes. The Darkplace is staged in a hospital giving the cast an avalanche of opportunities to bury you in the parody of classic medical shop-talk mixed in with the troubled protagonism of cop shows. Garth’s mind is full of Twilight Zone horrors and dark arts professors who aren’t Jesus: “I’ve come to accept that now”. Although, like Jesus, he hangs out with whores and lepers, objectifying all the women around him and having his friends and coworkers lose more limbs than this show has episodes.
A sit down interview in Dean Learner’s playboy mansion between the aforementioned and his friend, dreamweaver extraordinaire, Garth Marenghi, reveals that they’ve been working on other projects. Like War of the Wasps, a fictional movie whose snapshots are available to watch on the sort-of sequel show to Darkplace, Man to Man with Dean Learner. Matt Berry, who plays Dr. Sanchez, also makes music as himself. To stay in theme, an album of his I’ve been really enjoying is Night Terrors. Alice Lowe, who does her best as Madeleine Wool, is still presumed dead.
As someone who spends far too much time reading and watching what other people have to say about things, and finally having a platform where I can do the same with less talent, I wanted to mention the video essays by The Cosmonaut Variety Hour and Patrick (H) Willems. The Cosmonaut created a montage of great moments edited with perfect timing and the fine folk on Patrick’s channel had me bursting out in laughter during their opening bit. They both heavily laud the show-within-a-show idea; every time you are pulled out of the fictional space of the show to be introduced into yet another fictional frame, the inception level headache bombarding you with ALL. THAT. META. Another great point brought up by them is the precision of the cuts and framing of the show. How every awkward mistake and terrible decision is done with such accuracy that it feels incredibly genuine and that much more funny. For example, the characters in the show will often pause the scene, get up or walk around, in order to set up a crisp frame for the audience or, the glances that Dean Learner makes to the camera will be corrected shittily so that you can see the mistake and the pathetic attempt to fix it.
I can only spend so many tiny paragraphs talking about the show. In order to have you become actively immersed and show you that people actually can enjoy my recommendations I created this sub-segment called “WATCH IT!” where, in a similar style to my article “The First Drop”, I force fellow writers of Writer’s Block to watch whatever the focus of Shine on (you) Crazy Diamond is!
We all sat cosy in our houses, waiting for me to figure out how to start a group call on Discord, then waiting for me to figure out how to connect my headphones and finally. . .waiting for me to have my voice be heard by Eda, Sona and Alexandra. We had organized WATCH IT! to take place at around 10:30PM but by the time everything was set up and our feeling of isolation could be disrupted by the sounds of each other’s voice it had already been 11:20PM.
I had decided to drop a tab of acid early in the day and though the effects were definitely not at their peak I could still blame the keys on my keyboard moving around in front of my eyes as a reason for my tech-illiteracy. My cocktail of alcohol, weed, tea and LSD was perfect for the extravagance of Garth Marenghi but I wondered what drugs would they recommend watching the show on?
Sona: I don’t take any drugs.
Eda: Weed could be a good time.
Alexandra: Weed could also be a very bad time for this show. I could see someone easily freaking out.
Despite Alexandra’s justified anxiety, I had an absolute blast watching this show on weed and LSD. Not freaking out in any way and being extra happy to hear them laugh uncontrollably at Garth’s antics.
Having started quite late and my day before the WATCH IT! already having been chock full of psychedelic craziness, I decided to have this intro to the show be encompassed by three of my favorite episodes. The pilot episode “Once Upon a Beginning” was the perfect way to establish the characters, the general vibe of the show, as well as the amount of bloodshed and violence that would be flung onto the screen at a moment’s notice. My favorite part of this series is going back to an episode like this with others and both notice new gags hidden in the frame and have the people I’m with point out new details for us to laugh at. The jokes spoken by the characters are a fraction of the entertainment delivered by the Darkplace. Scenes of an old best friend exploding into a million pieces had Sona almost choke to death as she exclaimed “look at the head!”, the head flying away before rolling back to the corner of the room and becoming the disembodied vessel of a tortured man begging to be swung at with a shovel conveniently placed within the hospital room. When the cast are present at his funeral Alexandra wonders in wonderment as to why they would bother stitching his body together? His flesh having been exploded into a million red splotches staining the ground, I took her observation and questioned how they could even stitch him back together in the first place?
I wasn’t the only one to notice how similar the rapid succession of jokes based on wordplay in the Darkplace were to Xavier: Renegade Angel. Eda was unable to repress the giggles that escaped her mouth as each terrible pun must’ve had her reminisce over her experience at the last WATCH IT! session. Sona was more reminded of The Room, the infamous movie by Tommy Wiseau, whose rooftop scenes, terrible acting and over exaggerated reactions to everything could definitely be put in parallel to the Darkplace. Alexandra talks about how she would have to (and wants to) watch it a thousand times. The first episode was already an intense introduction to the demented thoughts of Garth Marenghi but what about his coworker Madeleine?
The second episode we watched was the second episode, shocking, I know. “Hell Hath Fury” when the puffy hair circles her head like a lion’s mane, her face in an angry screech, wires tugging along flying office objects attacking Garth and piercing the flesh of Barbados action hero “Temp”. The commentary in this episode really emphasizes the way mistakes are left inside of the show. I asked Eda, Sona and Alexandra what their favorite mistake was and they had plenty of examples to offer:
Alexandra: In episode 2, when all the candles are blown out, you can see the shadow of a cameraman in the frame. And also when he says “two words: telekinesis”.
Eda: When they refer to the page number of the play instead of which act and scene. (“’This cold night will turn us all to fools and madmen.’ King Lear p.46”)
Sona: The strings that are referred back to in the commentary of episode 2, they swing about like pendulums.
Having recently written an article about the ending of The Good Place, Eda was able to compare the commentary style of Garth Marenghi with that of other sitcoms like The Office and Parks and Rec, saying they both serve as a form of modern soliloquy. However, in The Office it serves as an insight into the characters, whereas with Garth Marenghi it’s insight into the actors’ processes or approaches to a character. For Eda this difference enables the characters of The Office to grow and change throughout the show whereas Garth Marenghi is emphasizing the parody of classic character types as though in confrontation to the very idea that characters can be developed.
Sona and Alexandra, having written articles examining the question of identity and roots, fit perfectly well with the third episode of the night: “Scotch Mist”. An episode in stark contrast to the sensitive and well-informed approach to the question of race made by the two Writer’s Block writers. Replacing this is Garth Marenghi, embracing the idea that it takes a “bigot to beat a bigger bigot” and fills the script with ridiculous stereotypes and derision towards the Scottish. And his explanation for the episode at the first commentary cut is pure gold:
Garth Marenghi: The point is, I am not prejudiced. That is what I’m saying; I am not prejudiced but Joe Public is. *points at cameraman* You probably are, you look like a dropout. (pause) Point being, I wrote this to heal Britain.
This episode also ends in a perfect parallel to the ending of the first episode, Garth Marenghi ripping his shirt to just around his nipples, kneeling in a Powerslide and screaming out against his foe. The circle was complete and the circles in my eyes were returning to a normal size. I wished them all good night and turned off the computer to return to a much less colorful world in self-quarantine.