Many people haven’t seen Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace, but those who have seen it swear by it as one of the most creative comedies of the century. The show only aired six episodes in England in 2004, but the brilliance of those six episodes has lasted across generations. Darkplace was recently added to the Amazon Prime Video collection of shows, giving fans of the show a new reason to preach the gospel of a bizarre cult classic that sticks in the mind of every person who watches it.
Despite being canceled, there was enough goodwill toward Darkplace and its creators that they were allowed to make a spinoff show built around one of the side characters, that being Richard Ayoade’s Dean Learner. Both shows became platforms for incredibly talented comedic voices to embark on a full career that fans are still reaping the benefits of all these years later.
‘Garth Merenghi’s Darkplace’ is a cult classic of British comedy
Even well-regarded comedies don’t always age well, but the best stuff manages to find a way to withstand the test of time to delight people long after its initial release. Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace is a show that reaches that level of greatness.
The show, written by Matthew Holiness and Richard Ayoade, is a satire of 70s and 80s horror presented as a mockumentary about the titular Marenghi (played by Holness), a best-selling author modeled on Stephen King with more arrogance and almost none of the dedication to his craft. For example, in the first episode, he brags about writing more books than he has read. Marenghi is also the star of a low-budget television show he made with his publicist, Dean Learner (played by Ayoade) for Britain’s Channel 4. That would be Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace, which originally aired in the 1980s, although the show-within-a-show only made it to broadcast for a brief time in Peru.
The character of Marenghi plays Dr. Rick Dagless, a doctor in Darkplace Hospital, spending his time doing “day-to-day admin” and fighting against various supernatural forces – a portal to hell, a virus that makes the afflicted devolve into apes, a giant eyeball – alongside his fellow physicians Lucien Sanchez (Matt Berry) and Liz Asher (Alice Lowe), and hospital administrator Thornton Reed, who Learner/Ayoade plays.
The premise of Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace is more complicated than most prestige shows, but the conceit leads to some of the best laughs you can find. Since the show (within the show) never aired, the segments at Darkplace Hospital are filled with poorly dubbed audio and obvious editing inconsistencies, while interview clips with Marenghi and Learner lead to some hilarious moments completely lacking in self-awareness. For example, Marenghi claims the show was canned because of the interference of MI8, a British intelligence agency that does not exist.
For fans of ridiculous, deadpan humor, it doesn’t get much better than this:
One of the show’s characters got their own spin-off show
For all of its creativity and fun, Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace only lasted for six episodes. When the show was canceled, Holiness and Ayoade were asked to write a script for a file version by Channel 4’s film division, Film Four, but that project never materialized. Instead, they expanded the Garth Marenghi Cinematic Universe differently by giving Dean Learner his own show.
According to IMDb, Man to Man with Dean Learner is set as an interview where Learner speaks to his guests from the plush seats of his luxury apartment. Much like Darkplace, the show Man to Man is powered by the talents of Ayoade and Holness. They co-created the show, and all of the interviewees are played by Holness. The first episode is a conversation with the revived Marenghi character, who’s now missing an ear, to promote his new movie and discuss his new interest in painting.
Man to Man isn’t as seminal as Darkplace, but it’s well worth a watch. It’s not officially available on any streaming devices, but every episode is on Youtube. Like its predecessor, Man to Man only lasted six episodes before Holness and Ayoade moved on to new things.
The ‘Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace’ cast has created well-received work ever since
The cast of Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace have all gone on to have careers separate from each other, mostly in separate directions, but they have reunited on a few projects over the years, mostly through the work of Matt Berry.
Berry has been the most prolific creator of the Darkplace cast, and he’s taken many opportunities to link up with his friends for great results. Snuff Box, which Berry created with Rich Fulcher, had Lowe and Ayoade on as guest stars. They also reunited on The IT Crowd in 2006, another beloved comedy of the mid-00s that portrayed Ayoade as a peculiar comedy star.
None of the Darkplace crew would find time to work together again until 2012 via another Berry vehicle, Toast of London, where Berry played a smug and struggling actor, acting alongside Holness, who made his first appearance in front of a camera after two years as Max Gland, a legendary actor with questionable methods of preparation. While not being created by any of the principal voices behind Darkplace, The Mighty Boosh also deserves some acclaim here as an underground classic from the minds of Julian Barrett and Noel Fielding, both of whom made cameos on Darkplace, that features Ayoade and Berry as side characters.
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