Fifteen years ago, I was hanging out in a London flat with some friends from university. We’d met in a film history class, and so we’d all brought something to watch for movie night. I’d come armed with my favorite episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000.
My best mate, though, had picked something far stranger. Something that would haunt my brain for years to come. A show so obscure–especially back home in the US–that I sometimes wondered if I’d dreamed the whole thing.
Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace
Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace is as difficult to describe as it is to spell. Created by comedians Richard Ayoade and Matthew Holness for Channel 4, it ran for just one season of six episodes in 2004.
It’s a puzzle box of a show, framed as a documentary about a lost television series from the 1980s based on the work of iconic horror writer Garth Marenghi.
Holness and Ayoade, along with costars Matt Berry (What We Do in the Shadows) and Alice Lowe, play dual roles on the show. In scenes from the “original” series, they ham it up with cheesy 80s cliches, stilted delivery, and low-budget special effects.
During the documentary portion, the cast reflects on the experience of making Darkplace, a show that was dropped by Channel Four and never aired… except in Peru.
Ironically, Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace would be dumped by Channel Four after it failed to pick up viewers in its overnight timeslot. The failure of the show added another layer of self-parody–a canceled TV program about a documentary of a canceled TV program.
The Appeal of Cult Classics
When people talk about cult classics, they usually mean a movie or TV show that’s so terrible it comes back around to being great. Manos: The Hands of Fate (1966) is a prime example. So is Tommy Wiseau’s The Room (2003).
Darkplace is a self-aware parody of cult classics. Yet its small-but-dedicated legion of fans treated it like a cult classic in its own right, passing around bootleg DVDs of the show and hosting YouTube viewing parties long after it was canceled.
It’s easy to see why Darkplace failed to pick up a bigger audience, Channel Four’s refusal to advertise it aside.
Although the mockumentary has a special place in the hearts of comedy fans–hello, This Is Spinal Tap–Holness and Ayoade’s creation was so convoluted and carefully crated to be as terrible as possible that it wasn’t easy to tell where the jokes ended and the cheese began.
Should You Watch It?
Now that the show is finally available to (legally) view in the US, audiences should brace themselves. Darkplace is not for the faint of heart. For all its brain-melting complexity, it’s also often crude and sometimes downright icky. Violent and weird, hilarious and high-concept, it’s not for everyone.
And honestly, isn’t that the point of cult classics? If they were popular, then fans would no longer be part of an exclusive club.
The best way to enjoy Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace is to watch it with someone who is already a fan of “the most significant televisual event since Quantum Leap.” If you can’t find one of those, then grab your favorite adult beverage, turn down the lights, and settle in for the weirdest 25 minutes of your life. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.