Parody is a strange craft. With so much genuinely bad art, and even more “ehh” art, it takes a lot of skill to be exceptionally bad. Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace is, in my opinion, the gold standard for parody television. It is so lovingly terrible, down to the smallest detail of camera work and sound editing, that it is timeless. Released in 2004, it is presented as lost episodes of a show made in the 1980s, playing on nerd nostalgia, and it spoofed medical dramas months before House MD premiered and a full year before Grey’s Anatomy. It is a hilarious series worth repeat viewings for it’s fantastic jokes. Let’s talk about some of its best jokes. In fact, I’ll go so far as to say all of these jokes are literally perfect.
Sanchez walks into a patient’s room to see that the patient has exploded, leaving a spray of blood and guts all over the room. To complicate matters, Dr. Rick Dagless is standing over the man’s severed head holding a shovel. Sanchez looks at his friend and calmly says, “I’ll get a mop.”
Garth Marenghi, wrapping up the first episode commentary for Darkplace, tells the audience, “I do not believe that any form of life, be it human, animal, or plant, should be hurt in the making of a television program. So I personally feel very bad about the cat we killed.” One assumes the dead cat in question is the same one who psychically warned Dr. Liz Asher to leave Darkplace Hospital. We might have never guessed the cat died after that scene.
Part of the comedy of Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace is Dean Learner’s inability to act while playing Thornton Reed. Especially juxtaposed to Dean Learner’s confidence in front of the camera when he is not acting. Richard Ayoade does some of the finest bad acting I have ever seen on this show, and a perfect example of this is whenever Thornton Reed has a phone call. He rushes through his dialogue after hanging up a call, and then, remembering he hung up the phone too early, awkwardly says, “Goodbye” to no one.
“What I couldn’t work out was how he’d managed to make another man pregnant. I guess we’d never know. So, just to restate, that is something we’ll never know. You’re not going to find out later.” In my head I hear Dr. Rick Dagless deliver this line every time I watch Quantico. It is the ultimate handwaving away of a plot-hole and I sincerely wish actual dramatic television shows would be as direct with their audience’s expectations.
When everyone in Darkplace Hospital is turning into apes, Dr. Rick Dagless goes to confront the hospital’s priest, Padre. “I’ll come straight to the point. Where does the church stand on the matter of evolution?” Nervously, Padre answers,“Monkeys were created by God to entertain us. That’s all we know, Rick.” “But surely-“ “That’s all we know, Rick!” The way Julian Barratt voice raises in that line is incredible. This scene also brutally rips to shreds so variations I’ve seen in science fiction where an enlightened scientist gets to act smug towards a strawman of their opposing viewpoint.
Dean Learner regarding the possibility that missing, presumed dead, actress, Madeline Wool, might still be alive. It is, in my opinion, the greatest joke of all time.
There are two absolutely perfect jokes in the scene where Dr. Lucien Sanchez sleeps with his patient. The scene opens with Sanchez pulling back the patient’s privacy curtain and boasting, “There goes my hippocratic oath!” It’s an incredibly brass way of addressing that he could lose his license, not to mention simply terrible pillowtalk. After some back and forth between the couple, the patient asks Sanchez to hold her in his arms. He protests, “We don’t even know each other’s names.” “Linda,” she tells him. “DR. SANCHEZ!” He answers her as he goes in for the hug. It’s worth noting, all of Sanchez’s lines are dubbed in after the fact.
Although it had been said several times in the episode that boiling is the only treatment for a woman turning into broccoli, actually seeing the hospital chefs solemnly take away Linda’s dead body is a gut punch every time. It is strangely sad, which makes how silly it is that much funnier.