Beware the Broccoli: Garth Marenghi's Darkplace
I have a soft spot for any story that breaks the fourth wall. I chuckle at Deadpool and Community remains one of my favourite television shows of all time despite its ups and downs. Any idiot can break the fourth wall, any character at any moment can turn to the camera and start talking directly to the viewer, but that isn't where the excellence of Community and a little British show called “Garth Marenghi's Darkplace” comes from. They use their medium, the frame of the picture that we are looking at, as a part of that picture. Not in the simple manner of a found-footage film with its weak misdirections that try to make fiction appear to be part of reality. They make a story appear to be one thing while secretly being another.
Garth Marenghi's Darkplace is framed as an 80's horror show but is obviously a comedy. It is the product of the swollen ego of fictional horror author Garth Marenghi who firmly believes that his comically poor stories are works of genius. In a move reminiscent of Stephen King's own hospital based horror tv series but riddled with far more hubris, Marenghi casts himself in the role of the impossibly perfect hero and confronts the dreadful dangers of his horrific world. The acting is deliberately awful, the writing is hilariously bad and the characters have all of the depth of a puddle. That is the surface level of the show and it is very easy to enjoy it on that level along with the kitschy electronic soundtrack. However, that is not the depth of the show. While it had a limited run on Britain's Channel 4 most people will encounter Darkplace on DVD and by watching the full breadth of the material available you slowly come to realise, through the interviews and commentaries, that there is a real horror story lurking under the farcical facade of horror and the subversive humour. Just as Hearts of Darkness was a superior film to Apocalypse Now, so too is the background material the source of the most entertainment in Darkplace.
The “actors” interviewed in the supplementary material slowly reveal themselves to be a disgusting and misogynistic boys club. The one female actress, who is treated consistently like a joke both in and out of character, is mysteriously absent from the interviews. Mixing the offhand comments about the ways that accusations of sexual assault can ruin an actors career with the other characters' outright hatred for her, the astute viewer will begin to worry for her safety. After all of the material has been absorbed it is hard to deny the cold truth that these buffoons that you have been laughing at through the course of the series most likely murdered this woman in cold blood to cover up their other crimes. Slightly darker than the silly stories about evil broccoli from outer-space that you thought you were watching.