Saturday, March 10, 2018

Shear (and Pemb) genius

As a huge fan of The League Of Gentlemen, both long-term and of the recent 20th anniversary episodes, I don't say this lightly - but Inside No. 9 is the best thing Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton have done. Previous series have featured some stellar episodes, but the latest (the fourth) arguably raised the bar even higher.

Take the first episode, for instance, which set the tone through its sheer brilliance. 'Zanzibar' was the duo's take on classic farce, centred on a case of mistaken identity and accordingly delivered in Shakespearean iambic pentameter but bearing their own imprint (not least the recurrent references to golden showers). With all the action taking place in the same hotel corridor, the various characters and narrative threads were superbly choreographed. Of course, the fact that Kevin Eldon was among the ensemble cast only made it even better.

Of the other episodes, the most praise came for 'Bernie Clifton's Dressing Room', a poignant and beautifully observed dialogue between the show's creators, playing the members of an estranged comedy double act. To be honest, though, I thought 'Zanzibar' was just as good - likewise the third episode, 'Once Removed', a murder mystery told in short instalments, each one rewinding another ten minutes. We had to watch it again immediately to fully appreciate its genius, the various clues all set out in plain sight but unobtrusively and without a heavy hand.

After that initial trio of episodes, it was perhaps inevitable that the quality of the remainder would dip slightly. Even then, 'Tempting Fate' was a fine addition to their collection of supernatural horror stories, the plot revolving around the metallic hare prop that has been a running joke throughout every single episode of Inside No. 9 so far. And 'To Have And To Hold' had the most startling plot twist of any of the episodes, suddenly switching from an unflinching portrayal of a wedding photographer's marriage gone stale to something infinitely more disturbing. I'll never look at a Pot Noodle in quite the same way again.

For me, the only letdown was the fifth episode, 'And The Winner Is...', which - in taking aim at TV types and awards panels - felt a bit too much like an in-joke. That might have been excusable had it had the same razor-sharp dialogue as the other episodes or a more successful twist, and for once the big-name guest stars didn't shine (Zoe Wanamaker, as the bitter and superficial American diva, seemed miscast). However, to stress, 'And The Winner Is...' was only really a disappointment in the context of the rest of the series. Judged as a standalone piece and/or by standards of other programmes, it would be an undisputed triumph.

Shearsmith and Pemberton may have been merciless in their satirising of the awards process, but panels are surely going to respond to Inside No. 9 with enthusiasm and generosity (indeed, they've already started). It deserves to win everything going.

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