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The Late Great

The Horror Comedy of Crazyhead Had a Distinctly Millennial Heart

Howard Overman's series is a clear descendant of Buffy, but with a subversive take on fighting one’s demons.
  • Susan Wokoma in Crazyhead (Photo: Everett Collection)
    Susan Wokoma in Crazyhead (Photo: Everett Collection)

    In The Late Great, Primetimer staffers and contributors revisit shows that were cut short but still cast a long shadow over the TV landscape.

    It’s a tough job saving the world. As many a TV show has proven, apocalyptic doom wreaks havoc on your social life. Being a badass woman takes its toll. Buffy Summers had her struggles, while the Halliwell sisters saw familial strife intertwined with paranormal dangers. Television loves itself a heroine who kicks demonic/vampiric/alien butt, although it doesn’t always have the same interest in showing the pain of such duties. The British horror comedy Crazyhead offered a curiously grounded approach to the fantastical terrors of demonic possession, with an empathetic portrayal of millennial mental health malaise amid the exorcisms. 

    Amy (Cara Theobold) is your typical 20-something British woman with a crappy job and dying social life. After a miserable shift at the bowling alley she works at, she is attacked by what looks like a demon. Only she can see him, so of course she thinks she's losing her mind. But then Raquel (Susan Wokoma) enters the scene to dispose of this devilish threat. She too can see demons and has made it her job to get rid of every single one she comes across. Everyone thinks she's unwell, a loner who makes up fantasies to compensate for her own anxieties. That's what her therapist tells her, anyway. But Callum (Tony Curran), a seemingly kindly doctor, is concealing his own dastardly plans to take over the world, and he needs both Amy and Raquel to make it happen. 

    Following the success of Misfits, another speculative comedy about outcasts crashing headfirst into the realms of the unreal, TV writer Howard Overman returned to E4, the channel that gave him his biggest hit, with Crazyhead. A co-production between Channel 4 and Netflix, it seemed like the perfect heir to Misfits, a sparky but grounded story about young Brits whose outsider statuses are exacerbated by the unwelcome introduction of the impossible. 

    Crazyhead definitely has a lot of Buffy the Vampire Slayer energy, particularly in its blending of horror tropes with a sardonic tone. Our reluctant demon slayers are consistently waylaid by supernatural jackassery that leaves them irritated and exhausted. You could easily imagine Raquel and Amy joining the Scooby gang and offering their blunt quips in the face of Sunnydale’s weekly apocalyptic doom. 

    Where Crazyhead differs is in its willingness to bluntly subvert some of the more optimistic inclinations of Buffy in favor of a bleaker exploration of trauma. It’s ruder than American network TV would ever allow, as evidenced in one scene where Amy tries to overpower a demon by pissing on his face. But take out the exceedingly British profanities and you still have a series willing to go to some very dark places. 

    Crazyhead is full of misdirections that keep you on your toes. You expect it to follow the Buffy route, or at least more conventional paranormal fiction of this era, but then it takes a harsher swing into the cruel. Callum, Raquel's kindly psychiatrist, seems like a Giles-figure-in-waiting with his calming voice and pragmatic advice, right up until he's revealed to be a powerful demon who is willingly manipulating his patient for his own means. A hot demon named Sawyer (Luke Allen-Gale) turns up, leather jacket and all, to fight on Raquel's side, so of course he must be the tortured love interest, right? Nope, he's Raquel's demon father, who has possessed the body of a man close to her age with whom she has a not insignificant amount of attraction. 

    Even the actual romance that is eventually set up is more interested in dissecting the genre’s well-worn themes than playing it straight. Raquel starts dating a mysterious young demon hunter named Harry (Charlie Archer), who spends most of the season following her around "to keep her safe." Raquel is into it, ensuring Amy that "it's more sexy stalking" than anything sinister. Make him sparkle and he'd be right at home with the Cullens. 

    But then the truth comes out: Harry is also a demon, and he's been following Callum's orders to trap Raquel in an emotionally unstable state he can use to open the gates of Hell. Harry eventually falls for her and feels bad about his betrayal, but he still does it. For Crazyhead, this isn’t the setup of a tragic romance; it’s a thoroughly millennial plight to be deceived by a jerk who should be binned as soon as possible. 

    It’s in the agonizingly human nature of Raquel’s struggles where Crazyhead wrings most of its emotional trauma. Anyone who has ever dealt with mental illness issues of any kind will know the bind of wanting to get help but feeling distrustful of institutions that claim to support us while treating women as being inherently “crazy.” Raquel being lied to and gaslit by her own psychiatrist hits too close to home in that regard, as does her opening her heart up to a boy only for him to reveal his sinister intentions. 

    Wokoma, who you might recognize from Enola Holmes or the most recent season of Taskmaster, is brilliant as the troubled Raquel, a woman who has made herself as prickly and “unlikable” as everyone perceives her to be as a security blanket from both demonic and human cruelty. This is her show, and it’s disappointing that we didn’t get more seasons of her putting her talents to good use. Imagine Raquel dealing with some of the twists and turns of Buffy Summers’ life in those later years of the show. 

    Like Buffy, though, this is also a story about friendship. The real love story is between Amy and Raquel, two lost young women who find a safe port in the storm with their unique bond. They’ve had to put up with so much nonsense (mostly from men, it must be said) together and their experiences are so specific to them while remaining thoroughly relatable to many a millennial woman looking for a solid job and non-scrub boy. What stops the annihilation of the entire planet is the undeniable love of two women whose friendship has saved them both from an endless series of abusive systems and patriarchal control. The world told them they were broken and they fought back in style. Boys suck. Girls rule. 

    Crazyhead was canceled after only six episodes, but at least its sole season ends in a conclusive manner. Fans never got to see the further demon-slaying adventures of Amy and Raquel, which we could have had for many years — and still hunger for more — but what we got is a complete arc with a potent message. Everyone has their demons to battle, literal or otherwise, but it's a lot easier to do so when you have someone by your side.

    Kayleigh Donaldson is a writer of film and pop culture features for Screen Rant and Pajiba. Also seen at SyFy Fangrrls and Bright Wall Dark Room.

    TOPICS: Crazyhead, Channel 4, Netflix, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Cara Theobold, Howard Overman, Susan Wokoma