Why you should be watching BBC Three’s Murder in Successville
James R | On 16, Jun 2016
This review is based on Season 1 and 2 of Murder in Successville. Read our review of Season 3 here.
Nick Knowles is dead. There aren’t many TV shows that can begin with such a revelation, least of all DIY SOS. But this isn’t your average TV show: this is Murder in Successville. And BBC Three’s comedy isn’t afraid to bump anyone off.
How did they get Knowles to agree to be a corpse in the show? That’s the first inspired part: they didn’t. The show, which solves a different mystery every week, stuffs Successville with a host of famous people, all of whom are impersonated, and all of whom barely resemble their real life counterparts.
Season 2, for example, sees Paul Whitehouse appear as Len Goodman, who is kidnapped by the police in the hope of revealing some vital clues. Whitehouse sneers, snorts and spits out insults with glee. He may not be anything like the Strictly Come Dancing judge, but there’s enough of him to make it oddly believable – and, more importantly, stupidly funny.
“Bring back hanging for halitosis,” he cries at one point, mocking his interrogator’s bad breath.
The interrogator? That’s Tom Davis as DI Sleet, who growls hs way through the cliched script like Raymond Chandler on a bad day. “I brush my teeth with crime,” he declares, in a wonderfully absurd voice-over, before meeting his new sidekick.
That’s the show’s second inspired idea: recruiting actual celebrities to guest star in each episode. Every week, a different star is thrown into the grimy nonsense and left to fend for themselves – a bizarre blend between immersive theatre and improv class.
Season 2 opens with Vicky Pattison and, even though she’s clearly prepared, she’s still not sure what to expect. Davis and Pattison demonstrate just how good he is at striking up surreal banter with his co-stars – one prison sequence deviates into talk of monasteries, only for them both to end up giggling.
That’s the real joy of the series: watching these guests attempt (and fail) to keep a straight face. We’re in an age where celebrities on TV tend to be talking on chat shows or panel shows, where even the most outrageous stunt seems rehearsed and ready-made to go viral on YouTube. But by dumping them out of their comfort zone, Murder in Successville actually manages that rare thing: to show us the real person behind the celeb persona. Can they play along? Can they control they chuckles? With no direction and increasingly ridiculous scenarios facing them – Pattison moves from almost snorting drugs with ITV’s Lorraine to having shoot someone – we get to see what people are really like.
The fact that Davis corpses too – very rarely – at first might seem a failing on the production’s part, but they intentionally leave such moments in. The result is bad but good, trashy but smart, high-concept but lowbrow. With even more confidence in its second season to do its own thing, Murder in Successville only gets more and more successful. This is one of the most unique things on TV at the moment.