If you’re familiar with the works of League of Gentlemen collaborators Steve Pemberton and Reese Shearsmith, you may think you’d know what to expect from their new effort, Inside No.9. And you’d be totally wrong.
Their last effort Psychoville had the pair separated writing wise from Mark Gatiss who now spends his days in Sherlock and writing crap episodes of Doctor Who (though still popping up for cameo appearances). It was twisted, warped and viciously funny, but it also bore all the hallmarks of their previous work – ensemble of crazy characters, an arching plot which all the stories tied into, though more explicitly than League. I personally preferred Psychoville to LOG, but it definitely bore the mark of it’s predecessor.
I’ll concede that I expected more of the same from Inside No.9, and in a very minor way that is slightly true. The creators have always very much worn their thematic and stylist influences on their sleeves, demonstrating innovation mostly through their characterisation. Inside No.9 is no different in that respect. Episode one, and indeed the show in general feels like a massive homage to Roald Dahl’s Tales of the Unexpected. Episode two was a very clear tribute to silent comdey heroes like Chaplin and Keaton. In terms of their characterisation, one criticism I could level is that Shearsmith’s camp character’s longevity is wearing very very thin.
Overall though, the show has compounded my expectations and three weeks in a row has delivered funny, surprising, shocking, horrifying, unsettling and refreshing stories that I can not wait to see what they have in store for the rest of the run. In the age of the received wisdom of the overarching binge watching friendly arc, an anthology based approach is delivering something like nothing else currently on our boxes.
The show’s twists have been garnering a lot of attention, but they aren’t the be all and end all. The third episode “Tom & Gerri”, had a twist that was pretty obvious and very heavily foreshadowed. As such it was a testament to the craft, the acting and the dizzying production that when the ending came it still kicked like a mule into a totally devastating and emotionally confusing conclusion.
“Sardines”, the series’ opener, was a reverential acknowledgement of the long standing influence of Tales of the Unexpected on the pair’s writing, but none the poorer for it. It bubbled with tension and intrigue under what was actually a pretty ludicrous premise before taking a sharp right turn for misfortune.
But it was “A Quiet Night In”, the middle effort thus far which has been the stand out of the show’s run to date. Without a word of dialogue until the closing moments, it divided opinion. For this reviewer however, I thought it was absolute masterful. Full of slapstick, bathos, twists and turns in addition to a humour that disguised the impending horrors to unfold, it was one of the best things to grace our screens for some time. I coudl wax lyrical about it all day, but as I want you to watch if you haven’t I’ll keep it spoiler free.
You can catch up on iplayer right now, and there are 3 more episodes to come on BBC2 on Wednesdays at 10pm. Highly recommended.