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BBC TV REVIEW – INSIDE NO. 9 (2020) – SEASON 5 – more hare-raising twists from geniuses Pemberton and Shearsmith!

BBC TV REVIEW – INSIDE NO. 9 (2020) – SEASON 5

Created and written by: Steve Pemberton & Reece Shearsmith

Directors (Season5): Matt Lipsey, Guillem Morales, Steve Pemberton

Original Network: BBC (available on BBC Iplayer and Netflix)

No. of Episodes: 6

***CONTAINS PROPER SPOILERS***



Inside No. 9 is written by and stars Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith. Both are brilliant comedic and dramatic actors, having appeared in many TV shows and films down the years. They are arguably most famous for beginning their careers in amazing comedic troupe The League of Gentlemen; however, their work on Inside No. 9 surpasses the ‘League’ in my view.

If you have never seen Inside No. 9 before, I urge you to do so. It is an exceptional anthology series with six standalone episodes per season. Individual episodes feature a whole host of different characters and actors each time. As per the prior seasons, the latest one is absolutely brilliant. It privileges tightly woven thirty-minute short narratives, which more often than not, feature a twist in the tale. Moroever the events usually unfold in one location with never more than a handful of characters. This makes the narratives feel more focussed, intense and intimate.

Inside No. 9 is also a surprising delight because you never know what kind of genre you will get. One week you could get comedy, horror, drama, crime, romance or musical; and sometimes a combination of all of them. They also take chances with their use of form and structure, with many episodes either paying homage or parodying different genre styles. So, here are some short reviews of each episode from Season 5. Usually, I mark my reviews out of eleven (in homage to This is Spinal Tap (1984)), however, for obvious reasons, I will be marking these reviews out of NINE.


EPISODE 1 – THE REFEREE’S A W**NKER

Cast: David Morrissey, Ralph Little, Steve Pemberton, Reece Shearsmith

The number 9 of this episode occurs in a football referees’ changing room before, during and after a critical final game of the season. Tensions rise between players, mascots and officials in what is the referee’s last game before retirement. David Morrissey is brilliant as the ultra-professional ref attempting to keep control amidst the chaos. Ralf Little also excels as the vain referee’s assistant, with Shearsmith and Pemberton offering fine comedic support. On the main this plays out as a comedy, but there are also serious moments. Indeed, The Referee’s a Wanker explores themes of corruption, gay footballers, and the obsessive win-at-all-costs nature of football fanatics. Fast-paced, funny and containing a great twist, this episode kicked off the season very positively.

Mark: 8 out of 9



EPISODE 2 – DEATH BE NOT PROUD

Cast: Jenna Coleman, Kadiff Kirwan, Steve Pemberton, Reece Shearsmith, Sarah Solemani

This episode was a joy on many levels. Firstly, it was a fantastic mixture of dark comedy and bloody horror. Most significantly, it contained a wonderful series of meta-cultural call backs to Shearsmith’s and Pemberton’s prior work called Psychoville. A grotesque and demented sitcom, Psychoville contained a gallery of crazed characters with many portrayed by Pemberton and Shearsmith. In Death Be Not Proud the opening is quite conventional. Young couple (Jenna Coleman and Kadiff Kirwan) get what they think is a property bargain. However, the flat was host to a grisly murder and something from beyond the grave is tormenting the new tenants. When the previous owner, David Sowerbutts returns things get even weirder. Only then do we learn about the horrific history of this murder home, to sick and hilarious effect.

Mark: 8.5 out of 9



EPISODE 3 – LOVE’S GREAT ADVENTURE

Cast: Steve Pemberton, Debbie Rush, Gaby French, Bobby Schofield, Reece Shearsmith.

Once again displaying fine writing and actorly versatility, Love’s Great Adventure plays out as a straight family drama. It’s of such high quality and hits such emotional and dramatic peaks, TV writers like Paul Abbott, Jimmy McGovern and Jed Mercurio would have been proud to have written it. Cleverly structured around an advent calendar, the Christmas setting adds texture to the financial struggles of one working class family. Trevor (Pemberton) and Julia (Debbie Rush) are devoted to each other, their teenage daughter and grandson who lives with them. They are even prepared to forgive their self-destructive addict son. Set mainly in the kitchen on various days leading up to Christmas day, the events unfold in a subtle, but powerfully realistic manner. These are ordinary, but compelling characters, who prove there is nothing stronger than family love.

Mark: 8.5 out of 9



EPISODE 4 – MISDIRECTION

Cast: Reece Shearsmith, Steve Pemberton, Jill Halfpenny, Fionn Whitehead

One of my favourite ever TV shows is Tales Of The Unexpected and Inside No. 9 certainly owes a debt to that series of twisted genre narratives. Misdirection is a case in point. It is up there with the best Pemberton and Shearsmith plots, as a young student journalist, Fionn Whitehead, interviews Reece Shearsmith’s famous magician. Safe to say that as this is about magic there is much in the way of tricksy turns, bluffs and diversionary tactics. Shearsmith is on brilliant form as the arrogant traditionalist with a dark secret. He criticizes the inelegance of street magicians while a battle of wits ensues with Whitehead’s seemingly naive novice. Echoing the structural and stylish dexterity of Peter Schaffer’s brilliant Sleuth (1972), Misdirection holds all the cards when it comes to being a deviously clever and totally unexpected tale.

Mark: 9 out of 9



EPISODE 5 – THINKING OUT LOUD

Cast: Maxine Peake, Phil Davis, Ionna Kimbrook, Sandra Gayer, Sara Kestelman, Reece Shearsmith, Steve Pemberton

Before reviewing this season, I watched every episode twice. I’m glad I did because Inside No. 9 can be complex and pack a lot in thirty minutes. So, it proves in Thinking Out Loud, as we get seven seemingly disparate characters all unconnected. Or so we are led to believe. The episode uses the video diary format, which was something of a popular phenomenon in the 1990s, plus it echoes the “talking heads” style of Alan Bennett. Thus, we get a character in therapy, her therapist, a criminal on death row, a singer, a man suffering from cancer, a man looking for love and an Instagram influencer. All directly address the camera and as we cut between them, their connection slowly filters through until the incredible reveal. Owing much to films like Identity (2003) and Split (2017), this psychological thriller is very crafty with many chilling moments that bear up to multiple viewings.

Mark: 8 out of 9



EPISODE 6 – THE STAKEOUT

Cast: Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith

This virtual two-hander concentrates all of the action within the confines of a police car. Steve Pemberton portrays the jaded and experienced police officer obsessed with finding out who killed his partner. Joining him in the vehicle is new partner, played by Shearsmith. The latter’s character is a Special Constable who seeks to follow the book causing tension on a stakeout during a literal graveyard shift. The two clash over diet, riddles, word-games and police procedure, but over three nights they eventually find mutual respect. The bulk of the episode’s enjoyment comes from Pemberton and Shearsmith’s sparring and their performances are exemplary. The writing is also impressive as it plays with the tropes of the police procedural genre. Finally, it also sets up a suspenseful opening only to confound us by the bloody fiendish denouement.

Mark: 8.5 out of 9



NINE REASONS WHY INSIDE NO. 9 IS ONE OF THE BEST TV SHOWS EVER!

NINE REASONS WHY INSIDE NO. 9 IS ONE OF THE BEST TV SHOWS EVER!

Having just finished watching Season 4 of the incredible anthology TV show Inside No. 9, I felt compelled to write why it is so good! So here are NINE reasons why it is one of the best TV shows I have ever seen.

1. League of (Two) Gentlemen

Inside No. 9 is written by and stars Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith. Both are brilliant comedic and dramatic actors having appeared in many TV shows and films down the years. They are arguably most famous for beginning their careers in cult comedic troupe The League of Gentlemen; however, their work on Inside No. 9 actually surpasses the ‘League’ in my view.

inside_no_9

2. Cast

Shearsmith and Pemberton, along with themselves, are able to cast well-known actors from stage and screen in supporting roles. Part of the fun of many episodes is spotting such guest appearances with, in many cases, the ensemble brilliance of the actors bouncing sparks of each other. Inside No. 9 has featured talented performers including:  Timothy West, Fiona Shaw, Jack Whitehall, David Warner, Denis Lawson, Sheridan Smith, Rory Kinnear, Conleth Hill, Alison Steadman, Noel Clarke, Philip Glenister, Zoe Wanamaker, Keeley Hawes, Nikki Amuka-Bird, Derek Jacobi and many more.

sphinx

3. Writing

Each episode is self-contained within a 30 minute one-off story. The challenge therefore is to create a compelling narrative which establishes: theme, character, setting and the drama quickly in order to draw the audience in and subsequently entertain. Like similar classic anthology shows such as The Twilight Zone and Tales of the Unexpected the writers do this brilliantly and conversely, for me, every script is a joy to experience again and again.

Inside_Harrowing

4. Genre

Shearsmith and Pemberton are experienced actor and performers with great range. They initially worked in comedy, however, The League of Gentlemen and Psychoville contained heavy infusions of horror and grotesque which scared and disgusted amidst the laughter. Inside No. 9 could be described as comedy but it crosses many other genres too. Episodes such as: The Harrowing (Season 1) and Séance Time (S2) and Devil of Christmas (S3) are firmly fixed in the horror genre; Tom and Gerri (S1) and Diddle, Diddle Dumpling (S3) and Nana’s Party (S2) are contemporary domestic dramas; The Trial of Elizabeth Gadge (S2) evoked historical dramas; and silent and slapstick comedy is represented by the sublime A Quiet Night In (S1). Every episode is beautifully devised within its set milieu and genre creating a rewarding viewing experience.

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5. Number 9

During the whole four seasons, as well as the writing being spot on, there is much imagination in the details. For example, the No. 9 is not just the house number of the story location it is also a: dressing room, sleeper car, barn, call centre, shoe-size, study, karaoke booth, gallery space and church hall. Such locations show the diverse imagination of the writers and various spaces of these wonderful stories.

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6. Emotion

Stories are nothing without compelling characters. Amidst the gags, one-liners, horror, drama and clever writing you have to care about what happens to the characters. Indeed, Inside No. 9 also delivers some compelling stories which contain much emotion and pathos. The 12 Days Of Christine (S2) is one of the most blistering dramatic arcs I have seen within a short form TV show. Similarly, Tom and Gerri (S1), Diddle, Diddle Dumpling (S3), To Have and To Hold (S4) and Bernie Clifton’s Dressing Room (S4) contain very powerful endings that shock the heart as well as the mind.

inside_Christine

7. Form and Style

Shearsmith and Pemberton are not only great actors and writers; they are also drenched in film, TV and cultural knowledge. As such, their work on Inside No. 9 is consistently reflexive and inter-textually referencing pop culture. In the: The Devil of Christmas (S3) they reference DVD commentaries and 1970s horror TV; in Once Removed (S4) they do a Memento (2000) and tell the story backwards; while in Zanzibar (S4) the characters deliver lines in iambic pentameter. However, stylistic or formalistic devices do not impinge on the narrative polarity but enhance the viewing experience.

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8. Twists in the Tale

Ah, I love a good story twist as I grew up watching shows such as: Hitchcock Presents, Tales of the Unexpected, The Twilight Zone, Armchair Theatre and The Outer Limits to name a few. Inside No. 9 follows in the tradition of these classic programmes by often flipping narrative expectations with delicious results. Much fun can be derived trying to work out the twist too and even if you can see it coming that still adds to the entertainment factor to me. But WHEN YOU DON’T see it the programme becomes something else altogether!

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9. Favourite Six Episodes

Tough one this but if I had to choose my favourite six episodes (out of 24 so far) I would go with the following (in production order):

  • A Quiet Night In (2014) – two burglars try to steal a painting in silent comedy classic.
  • La Couchette (2015) – a train sleeper car provides the setting for a hilarious night of comedy chaos.
  • The 12 Days of Christine (2015) – Sheridan Smith shines in this haunting and beautiful character profile of a young woman.
  • The Riddle of the Sphinx (2016) – ultra clever crossword dominated thriller set in a University study.
  • Diddle Diddle Dumpling (2017) – Shearsmith and Keeley Hawes excel as a couple whose lives are impacted by obsession and a lost shoe.
  • Bernie Clifton’s Dressing Room (2018) – two failed TV entertainers bicker as they prepare to perform their act one last time.

CLASSIC COMEDY REVIEW – 6 HILARIOUS MONUMENTS FROM PSYCHOVILLE

CLASSIC COMEDY REVIEW – 6 HILARIOUS MONUMENTS FROM PSYCHOVILLEC

Following the third season and movie version of the League of Gentlemen, Reece Shearsmith, Steve Pemberton, Mark Gatiss and Jeremy Dyson would find a cornucopia of acting and writing work on radio, film, TV and the theatre. In fact, their respective talents would make them very much in demand as they appeared or wrote for work such as: Doctor Who, Sherlock, Whitechapel, Marple, Benidorm, Poirot, Happy Valley, Ghost Stories (stage), Spaced, A Field in England (2013), The Widower, The World’s End (2013), High Rise (2015) and many, many more.

On top of that Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith collaborated on a fraternal relation to the League of Gentlemen called Psychoville. Here they committed another gruesome set of original characters each with their own mysterious past. They brought together, over the crooked path of two seasons and a Halloween special,  programmes involving all manner of murder, comedy, telekinesis, mental illness, mistaken identity and disgusting deeds.

If you haven’t seen it then I urge you to do so as it is insanely clever and darkly funny. Here are SIX clips which highlight the genius of the show. You can still catch all the episodes on Netflix, if you have the stomach for it.

psychovolle

**THESE CLIPS CONTAIN SPOILERS**

SEASON 1 – MURDER MYSTERY SCENE

David takes the Murder Mystery evening a tad too far!

SEASON 1 – “ROPE” PARODY

This is an insanely clever and silly homage to Alf Hitchcock’s masterful “one-take” thriller.

SEASON 2 – CREEPY LIBRARIAN

Reece Shearsmith plays an obsessional librarian perfectly!

SEASON 2 – TINA TURNER KARAOKE

Probably one of the funniest and bizaare impressions of Tina Turner ever!

SEASON 1 – THE JOY OF BIRTH

Unhinged midwife Joy speaks very honestly about the “glory” of birth.

HALLOWEEN SPECIAL – MR JELLY ORDERS A PROSTITUTE

Bitter clown Mr Jelly calls a lady of the night who does “specials”!

CLASSIC COMEDY REVIEW: TWELVETY MEMORABLE SKETCHES FROM THE LEAGUE OF GENTLEMEN

CLASSIC COMEDY REVIEW: TWELVETY MEMORABLE SKETCHES FROM THE LEAGUE OF GENTLEMEN

Reece Shearsmith, Steve Pemberton, Mark Gatiss and Jeremy Dyson are utter geniuses! Having won the top comedy award at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 1994 they successfully took their surreal and grotesque character comedy from the radio to the TV. Thus, in 1999 they brought an array of wonderfully drawn comedic characters, both funny and horrific in equal measures, to the small screen.

The show ran for three brilliant seasons and here are some the best moments I could find on YouTube. If you’ve never seen the show then you should as it retains its ability to shock, horrify and more than anything else make you piss yourself laughing.

Please note: these are the best sketches I could find online and there many more throughout the show, so do catch up with it on Netflix if you’ve never seen it. Once you start watching the inhabitants of Royston Vasey – YOU’LL NEVER LEAVE!

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“YOU’RE MY WIFE NOW, DAVE!”

The circus comes to town with strange occurences!

JED HUNTER’S COMMERCIAL AUDITION

An audition doesn’t quite go according to plan!

ATTACHMENTS DATING AGENCY

A dating agency with a less than tactful interviewer.

GO JOHNNY GO GO GO

The weirdest card games known to humanity.

LES MCQUEEN

“It’s a shit business!” Poor Les just can’t get a break!

IRIS AND MRS LEVINSON DO “BATTLE”

The duelling cleaner and “boss” continue their bickering!

“I WON THE MUMS”

Jeff gives the worst “best-man” speech ever!

KES PARODY

Mr Chinnery releases a Kestrel into the wild!

“THEY’VE GOT PENS!”

Pauline meets a vicious nemesis!

“WE’LL HAVE NO TROUBLE HERE!”

Tubbs “cracks” under questioning!

HELL IS. . .!

Bernadette’s damning sermon!

“SEEN! SEEN! SEEN!”

Morons at the local video store!

“WAS IT SOMETHING I SAID?”

A very awkward confrontation!

BEST OF BRITISH TV REVIEW

BEST OF BRITISH: TELEVISION REVIEW

Having grown up with three (and then four channels) on British television I was always used to a high quality viewing experience.  As a kid TV shows were an event and something to look forward to and plan an evening’s routine around.  British shows from my youth that I loved were:  The Comic Strip, The Young Ones, The Singing Detective, Fawlty Towers, BlackAdder, Edge of Darkness, Play for Today, Pennies From Heaven, Doctor Who, Only Fools and Horses, Monty Python, Boys From The Blackstuff, Dad’s Army, Steptoe and Son, Prime Suspect, Spitting Image and many more. But with the subsequent invasion of high-end overseas televisual product and the introduction of digital and satellite channels I have at times lost sight of some best shows around at the moment.

Thus, I took a break from watching loads of US imports and movies (still watching Game of Thrones as it’s amazing!) and had a trawl through 4OD (called All 4 now), Netflix, YouTube and other outlets to catch up some of the current Best of British TV shows you can watch online or DVD. Obviously there are hundreds of other great British shows available but here are some of the ones I’ve watched recently:

BLACK MIRROR (CHANNEL 4)

Black Mirror is a dark, horrifying and mind-bending drama which gets into your mind and under your skin; tapping into the perils of technological advancement and effect the media could have on our future lives.

FRESH MEAT (CHANNEL 4)

I watched the first season of this University-based comedy and there’s an attractive young cast, fun performances, knockabout humour but also a bit of heart too as our Fresher’s come to terms with life on and off campus.

FRIDAY NIGHT DINNER (CHANNEL 4)

A simple premise of a Jewish family dinner but a lot of laughs as Mum, Dad, their boys and weird neighbour get into all kind of scrapes.  Hilarious stuff especially from eccentric father played by Paul Ritter.

GARTH MARENGHI (CHANNEL 4)

This is an absolute stonewall comedy classic. I watched this under-appreciated gem again for inspiration for a comedy script I’m writing and it fantastically parodies horror and sci-fi TV of the 70s and 80s.

GREAT EXPECTATIONS (BBC)

This Dickens adaptation from 2011 starred Ray Winstone as Magwitch plus David Suchet, Paul Ritter and Douglas Booth.  But, the standout was Gillian Anderson as a spectre-like Miss Havisham ghosting through her scenes with eerie grace.

INBETWEENERS (CHANNEL 4)

I watched all 18 episodes of this and then the films and while I used to think it was just rude, smutty, uncultured, lowest-common-denominator comedy it is also hilarious with great comedy moments plus the occasional bit of pathos.

INSIDE NO. 9 (BBC)

Cracking, dark and funny half-hour stories from Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton who once again craft some fiendish narratives with a sting in their tale. All episodes are great but I loved the dialogue-free (pretty much) one A Quiet Night In.

LAW AND ORDER (ITV)

A very good adaptation of the American show. I watched the first two seasons and the formula follows the Police and CPS crime process from arrest to conviction (or not depending on the case.)  Some great British character actors pop up throughout and compelling social commentary too.

LUTHER (BBC)

Idris Elba as Detective John Luther prowls the screen like a caged lion enacting furious justice on the killers of London town. Ruth Wilson as his cold-blooded sidekick is also a treat in a formulaic but compelling crime show.

NATHAN BARLEY (CHANNEL 4)

Go http://www.trashbat.co.ck/ and check out the original hipster prick as this hilarious TV satire parodies the Shoreditch gang-star fashion victims in all their gory!   Still well Jackson even ten years down the line. Peace and fucking. Believe!

PEEPSHOW (CHANNEL 4)

Two blokes share a flat.  Oh, and they are romantic and social fuck-ups!  That’s the premise in this brilliantly written classic sitcom from Jess Armstrong and Sam Bain.  I rewatched all 8 seasons in close proximity and it just gets funnier and funnier making great use of the Mitchell and Webb humour-chemistry-combo.  Genius.