The weird world of Psychoville returns to BBC Two this week for a brand new six-part series that will fright and delight in equal measure with a whole new world of mystery and intrigue.
Co-creators and writers Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton discuss the reaction to series one and the challenges of writing a second series.
How did the second series come about – did you already have an idea what the plot would be after the end of the first series?
Reece: Well we didn’t know if we would get a second series but we had to dare to think that we might, so at the end of the first series we put something in that we thought could work as a springboard for a story in the second series.
Happily we did get the second series and so the thing which infuriated a lot of people at the end of the first series, which was Nurse Kenchington coming back from the dead looking for this mysterious locket, becomes the driving force for the second series.
At the beginning of the second series you have an investigation into who died and what was happening at Ravenhill Hospital before the explosion. And there is the new mysterious figure of Andrews played by Imelda Staunton, who is after the locket. We don’t find out why she wants it but she obviously has a link to Eileen Atkins’ Nurse Kenchington character. And we introduce new characters into that and you don’t know if they will be part of the story or if they will be self-contained characters with their own stories.
Steve: We built the second series up episode by episode, finding a way to keep the characters together. In the first series the characters weren’t aware of each other but they were all being blackmailed in their own separate houses, so it was finding another device where you could keep going back to characters and they would all end up being part of the same plot. We do work very hard on story lines and plotting but sometimes the idea you have in the room is far stronger than the story that you might have thought of several months ago.
Were you pleased with the reaction to series one?
Reece: League Of Gentlemen was such a success and then we came back together to do something similar playing various characters with Psychoville, so we were quite nervous to see what the reaction would be like. The comparisons were favourable and Psychoville is its own thing and it has been embraced by people, which is great. We were really happy with the reception – back with a vengeance and critically acclaimed!
Steve: One of the big differences between now and when we were doing League is that now you get an instant response from viewers while the show is still on. When the first episode went out a friend rang me up and said you’re trending on Twitter. I couldn’t believe it – I didn’t know what it meant that’s why I couldn’t believe it! There were lots of messages, the vast majority in support of the programme and it made me very cheerful actually because we had spent such a long time working on the show and it meant such a lot to us and people were just saying how amazing it was.
What can viewers expect from series two?
Steve: We knew it would be important to have another overarching mystery for the second series. We have a character called Grace Andrews, played by Imelda Staunton who is desperately trying to track down Nurse Kenchington’s missing locket and she believes that, rightly, one of the former Ravenhill patients has the locket. The mystery is why she wants it and what is she going to use it for? All of that will become apparent but hopefully not in a way that people could have predicted.
Reece: In the midst of that we have new characters who are seemingly not related to anything which is going on and who are eventually brought into the story as the series progresses.
Can you tell us anything about who may have survived the fateful blast at Ravenhill?
Steve: No. If we had our way we wouldn’t want to reveal anything at all before the show airs but we are going to have trailers and pictures, so it is quite tricky.
Reece: There are more characters than you would expect who survive.
Steve: Yes, we haven’t killed off the entire cast. That would have been a whole different show then.
Reece: That’s what we should have done!
Steve: We’ve always enjoyed those big dramatic set pieces and that’s why we decided to end series one that way and we don’t apologise for that – it is part of what the show is. We thought it was a very special way of getting a second series commissioned!
While all the characters have a grotesque or ridiculous element to them you seem to balance this with a sense of pathos, is this intentional?
Reece: Yes it is very deliberate. The characters might initially start out being in a scene or a situation where they could be in a sketch show, but then I think the thing which starts to bloom within our characters is the way which we take them from that initial situation and develop their story. That can be harder to do, but if you do it you start to have a real person, however mad they might be.
Steve: The depth of the characters is something which develops as you are writing them. Take Joy as an example. You are not on her side at the start of the first series. She treats her husband very badly, she is very horrible to the people in her class and then we decided that some tragedy had happened to her in her past which we alluded to. Then at the end of the first series when she drains the blood out of Nicola, she opens up about the child that she lost and by that time you feel like you’ve earned the opportunity to have this moment with the audience to find out a little bit more about her and perhaps understand why she is like she is.
Do you ever worry about pushing boundaries and going too far?
Steve: We are aware of it but I don’t think we had many of those discussions on series two. You have to be careful with language, I think very often it is language which gets you into trouble and you know what those words are to avoid.
Can you tell us about some of the new characters in series two and where the inspiration for them came from?
Reece: I play a new character called Jeremy Goode, who is a librarian who becomes very pedantic about a book not being returned to the library, which is a funny situation at the beginning because of how exacting he is about it. The lengths he goes to to get the book back become more and more extreme.
And there is also another character the Silent Singer, again played by me, which is Jeremy’s alter-ego. He is kind of this ghostly apparition which he sees when he is under great stress and the book not being returned triggers his first visit from the Silent Singer. It is very us to do this quite ordinary situation which becomes very skewed and very dark and more and more extreme. But there is great humour in it – in the absurdity of it all.
Steve: And then we have the character of Hattie, who is a make up artist who becomes embroiled in a fake wedding to keep her gay friend’s Iranian boyfriend in the country. She seems all sweetness and light as if she is happy to participate in the wedding but she takes it rather too seriously even though it is a sham wedding. I don’t think she has many redeeming features, I think we forgot to do that with her!
There is a new online experience for fans once again – what can people expect this time round?
Reece: Yes, we’ve done the same if not more websites for the second series in a similar vein to what we did for the first series, which viewers can discover at bbc.co.uk/psychoville. The second series is very much an investigation so we ran with that online.
There is a new web page to go with a character or part of the mystery to unravel each week and there are questions to be answered and along the way there’s a lot of content – exclusive videos and other things. For the first week there is a website for FOCCE – the Federation of Clowns and Children’s Entertainers.
Thursday 5 May, 10.00-10.30pm BBC TWO and BBC HD