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Inside No 9: Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton unnerve viewers
Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton in Sardines. Image. BBC
Inside No 9 is BBC2's new comedy-horror anthology series created by Reece Shearmsith and Steve Pemberton (League of Gentlemen, Psychoville). Over several episodes, they'll take us inside various residences whose front doors are all marked with a number 9...
The interplay of the finely-drawn characters kept things ticking along very nicely, and each was delivered into the story at the exact right moment.
What didn't work
The ending had a sinister twist you expect from shows of this nature, which worked very well in terms of narrative, but perhaps it landed with too much softness.
Inside No 9 contains six separate half-hour stories, loosely linked by the fact each concerns people living somewhere with a sole "9" in the address.
"Shearsmith and Pemberton doing something fresh and different."
Sardines, the first instalment, concerned an engagement party held for lovers Rebecca (Katherine Parkinson) and Jeremy (Ben Willbond), where the assembled guests had decided to play the titular game, a hide & seek derivative.
As a dyed-in-the-wool fan of The League of Gentlemen (I even attended their live shows), I can't help but approach the comedy troupe's subsequent projects with goodwill that I hope doesn't slip into outright bias.
I enjoyed Psychoville (the previous BBC comedy Shearsmith and Pemberton created), although I still maintain it should have been a single series - as the second took its time to come together, although its concluding episodes were undeniably strong. A third series would have been pushing things so part of me welcomed the decision to axe it.
This "tough love" has ultimately resulted in for their second project as a creative duo, abandoning the multiple plot lines and overarching story of Psychoville, and instead focusing on bringing the outmoded "anthology" format back into style.
It's been done before (also by League of Gentlemen cohort Mark Gatiss in 2008 series Crooked House), but I can't remember too many laughs in the likes of The Twilight Zone, Tales of the Unexpected, and Hammer House of Horror.
Inside No 9 - much to love
Having perhaps satiated their love of grotesque characters and extreme weirdness in Psychoville, what stood out about Inside No 9's premier instalment Sardines was how grounded in reality it was - effectively a one-act theatre play being televised.
It never strayed from the confines of a mansion's bedroom and its large yet claustrophobic wardrobe where most of the party-goers eventually found themselves standing inside, crushed awkwardly together (like sardines, geddit?). It became the perfect environment for irritations to grow, resentments to deepen, and dark secrets to emerge.
The cast were clearly enjoying themselves, each played their roles to perfection: Tim Key as IT bore Ian, Shearsmith as the flamboyant lover of Pemberton's Carl, Ophelia Lovibond as pretty Rachel, Julian Rhind-Tutt and Anna Chancellor as a snotty couple, Mark Wootton as a social pariah nicknamed "Stinky John", Anne Reid as Geraldine, and Timothy West (star of arguably the most memorable episode of anthology classic Tales of the Unexpected) as the fussy patriarch.
Inside No 9 played with familiar themes Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith have dealt with in the past, but it had a sustained air of maturity about it that's felt only fleeting in their previous work. Given the nature of anthologies, the remaining episodes will hopefully be entirely different in tone and style, but I hope this premiere's air of sophistication will be Inside No 9's unifying ingredient.
- Verdict: A wonderfully written twisted-tale by the masters
What other reviews say
The Telegraph - "Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith's new comedy is a top-notch, twisted tale."
The Independent - "Part of the genius of the League's work has been the weaving together of the morbid with the laugh-out loud."
What people on Twitter said
@Seeds_ONE - "Inside no. 9. Brilliant cast. Brilliantly written. Dark brilliance. Brill."
@MurdieAmy - "Inside no 9 was absolutely brilliant, so excited for the rest of the series but gutted we won't see any of those characters again."
@mj_hewitt - "So..thoroughly unnerved by Inside No. 9. Bravo, @ReeceShearsmith and Steve Pemberton."
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