In the last year or so, horror on television has become a lot more common. Some of it has been successful (American Horror Story) and others… not so much (Dracula. Why?) However, unbeknownst to the majority of Americans, some of the best horror on TV aired for the first time in 1999 on the BBC. The League of Gentlemen (not to be confused with The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, which was decidedly not extraordinary) offered up some of the funniest, sickest, most perverse material ever shown on the small screen on either side of the pond.
Royston Vasey is a small town in the UK populated with some of the sickest creeps ever to grace the airwaves. In the style of Monty Python and Benny Hill, Mark Gatiss, Steve Pemberton, Reese Shearsmith, and Jeremy Dyson play almost every resident of Royston Vasey, man or woman. (I hope you enjoy the bonus performance by writer Paul Hays-Marshall as transsexual cab driver Barbra Dixon as much as I do.) Unlike its predecessors, there is nothing charming or madcap about this league of gentlemen. With each character introduced, the viewer becomes more and more terrified about the prospect of ever venturing into the British countryside.
In a nod to the horror films the writers grew up on, the characters of Tubbs and Edward Tattsyrup (played by Pemberton and Shearsmith respectively) are perhaps the most deliciously twisted of the bunch. Tubbs and Edward are a married couple with more than just their undying love in common. As the owners of a “local shop for local people,” they are instantly suspicious of anyone who isn’t local and go to great lengths to keep such intruders out of their beloved town. Part backwoods hillbilly fable, part slasher, any story line featuring this local couple is sure to delight even those most discerning horror hound. (Pay special attention to Tubbs and her relationship with the pigs for an extra dash of squirm.)
Tubbs and Edward aren’t the only deliciously warped residents of Royston Vasey. Over the course of the series, you will be introduced to a butcher selling “special” meat, a couple obsessed with cleanliness and toads, their nephew who would like nothing more than to escape their clutches, and a veterinarian who you would do well to keep away from your cherished family pets. Some scenes will inevitably horrify you, you will be disgusted, but at the same time, you will find yourself attached to these insane characters in a way you would never has suspected. I may, or may not, have a poster of Edwards and Tubbs in my apartment.
A word of warning, however: the third season of The League of Gentlemen is basically a major disappointment. The format of the show drastically changed and many story lines were resolved that would better have been left alone. If you want to take my advice (and you must, because you’re reading this), watch the first two seasons and the Christmas special, and then stop. Otherwise you’ll find that you would have been happier letting your imagination run wild in regards to the “special” meat.
However, there is no question that when I need to be reminded of what truly warped, demented, and disgusting television looks like at its most perfect, I will always return to The League of Gentlemen. Because if you are the type of person to laugh at a little boy who says, "I once saw daddy beat a man until both he and the man were crying..." Well, then buy a ticket to Royston Vasey and be sure not covet the precious things in the shop. You don't want to find out what the local meat is first hand.