The League of Gentlemen Series 2 (2000)
Written by Mark Gatiss, Steve Pemberton, Reece Shearsmith & Jeremy Dyson
Directed by Steve Bendelack
Benjamin Denton escapes the clutches of Edward and Tubbs but with trauma-induced amnesia from his experience. Edward and Tubbs are on the search for a bride for their son David which involved the attempted abductions of women from Royston Vasey. Pauline is trying to get her position back with the jobs program but has to deal with Ross lording his new position over her. House cleaner Iris reaches a breaking point with her employer Judith, and a shocking secret about the two is revealed. There are also new arrivals to Royston Vasey, including the homicidal Herr Lipp and the grotesque circus ringleader Papa Lazarou.
The second round of The League of Gentlemen continued the same format of part-on stage, part=on location filming. There was also a shift in the focus to more horrific stories and more pathos from individual characters. Pauline and Mickey are standout of characters that are developed much further than their original portrayals in series one. Pauline reaches levels of violence and personal darkness that will continue on into the third series, but also we see the tenderness begin to develop between her and the simple-minded Mickey. Her story becomes serialized throughout the series, one of the first skits that go from one off to multiple parts.
Arguably the overarching plot of the season is the outbreak of sickness in Royston Vasey. Beginning with the spontaneous eruption of townspeople bleeding out of every hold in their head during Lazarou’s circus to all-out martial law declared in the finale, the plague storyline is the spine. The plague appears to be connected to butcher Hilary Briss’ “special meat” that many of the town leaders have become addicted to. This leads to some of the most overtly horrific scenes of the season. Mark Gatiss never plays Briss for laughs, he is always a demonic figure pushing on people’s weaknesses to keep them on a short leash.
Papa Lazarou is probably the most iconic thing to come out of these episodes, even more, resonate than Edward and Tubbs in that he only shows up for the first episode. Both Lazarou’s appearance and demeanor feel like something out of place in a comedy show, but in true League fashion, he blends the grotesque and the absurd. In some ways, Lazarou is more a commentary on the English fear of “gypsies” or travelers. He storms into private residences asking to use the restroom, then he follows up by gaslighting the “lady of the house” into agreeing to become one of his wives. I think the humor in this character is deeply rooted in absurd xenophobia. I can’t speak specifically for the United Kingdom, but I know in parts of the United States there is a fear around interracial relationships and foreign “invaders.” The over the top ugliness of Lazarou is both a nod to horror tropes but poking fun at ridiculous cultural fears.
But for all the vile, monstrous characters I have a soft spot for the more grounded characters. They feel more developed and nuanced, ultimately more tragic. The ongoing strife between couple Charlie and Stella seesaws between stinging barbs to outright hatred so quickly. Neither character is the bad guy, and the anger is intentionally exaggerated, yet they feel so real. They are a middle-aged couple, a couple decades into marriage who have sunk into total apathy and rage. Les McQueen is another, continuing his odyssey of finding the fame and fortune that eluded him in his youth. The ending of his story in this series marks yet another humiliation and another bout of his forced grin, an attempt to shrug it off as no big deal, but knowing it cuts to his core. Alvin Steele, the proprietor of a local bed and breakfast, is introduced this series as well. Steele is a beautiful contradiction, married to a woman who is genuinely into the swinging lifestyle, which Steele rebels from by focusing on things like bird watching and landscaping.
The League of Gentlemen’s second series spends most of its time developing previously introduced characters to give them multiple dimensions. The creators want to put the audience in a place of tension where they begin to find characters who should be considered monsters and evil as sympathetic. This would be the last series with on stage scenes and a canned laugh track. Series three would be a dramatic shift in style and even tone.