Series 8 shows a great awareness for audience. Although predictable in places, it's still a brilliant mastery of dark comedy.
Bafta award-winning series Inside No.9 returned to our screens in April with its usual tricks and treats, showing us scenes which were hilarious, disturbing, and unpredictable. That’s the beauty of the dark comedy show, you just never know what to expect; with every episode having a completely new premise, set of characters, and sometimes even genre! You’d think after eight seasons, writers Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton would run out of fresh ideas, but they absolutely haven’t, and they still managed to pull off one of the biggest TV tricks of time (again!)
*Warning* contains mild spoilers!
Series eight officially started back at Christmas with a characteristically creepy festive special, ‘The Bones of St. Nicholas’. The episode uses many tropes of horror such as an abandoned creepy church owned by a bewitching Simon Callow, a ghost story, an unsuspecting goofy couple who clash with the protagonist over the credibility of ghosts, and also a sinister ringing phone with no one on the other end. It had all the terrifying tropes, and if I understood the ending, then perhaps I would’ve been really freaked out, but unfortunately this one went over my head. Inside No.9 is notorious for shocking and twisted endings; most times they work, occasionally they don’t, but I think that’s my problem. Occasionally in this episode the dialogue becomes cringey and predictable, particularly a story from Posy, played by Shobna Gulati, where she recounts a ghostly story of her mother’s creepy prediction of Shona’s motor accident, but we’ve seen these stories before where ghosts warn the protagonist that something bad is about to happen; it wasn’t as effective as it could’ve been. The stillness, however, from this episode allows for lots of jumpscares, increasing the tension and making this a creepy watch, so despite my lack of understanding, the episode still pulls off a classic Christmas horror.
After a few months, Inside No.9 shed the seasonal subject matter and went straight to a death in the second episode, ‘Mother’s Ruin’. Shearsmith and Pemberton excellently play two brothers who trespass into their deceased mother’s home while the new homeowners are away. As usual, Pemberton plays the more likeable, comedic character in this episode, whilst Shearsmith goes for the more serious, stricter role. The brothers are just about to summon up the ghost of their mother, Annie, until Frances and Reggie (Anita Dobson and Phil Daniels) return home early. Some very shocking secrets come to light and the episode gets insanely graphic, but also, surprisingly, it’s a really funny affair. Usually an Inside No.9 episode ends with the wrong person receiving misfortune, but this ending was deserved, which is always a satisfying feeling. Throughout the episode the writers toy with the suggestion that someone is definitely going to die, and you can see how the writers play with the audience’s presumptions of how the episode will end, and completely turn this on its head to create a shocking and funny episode. What’s also satisfying is that on the second watch, I’ve noticed clues and connected the dots. This was my favourite episode of the series, and on a side note, the special guests in this series have been brilliant!
Another fantastic episode was the final one, ‘The Last Weekend’, which just completely flips your view of the characters and leaves you questioning people’s morality and whether punishments are deserved. Similar to series one, episode one, Shearsmith and Pemberton play a couple on an anniversary retreat at their cleaner’s (played by Pemberton’s Benidorm co-star, Sheila Reid) Scottish getaway. The episode seems sentimental and emotional, but of course, things are not what they seem. The characterisation in this episode is built so masterfully and I think this will become one of the classics!
On the other hand, after 8 series, episodes are bound to become predictable. Third episode ‘Paraskevidekatriaphobia’ follows Gareth (Shearsmith), a man fearful of Friday the 13th who’s anxiety is tested to the limits. Usually there’s a subtle reveal that links to the twist ending, but the reveal here was so obvious that the ending was almost comical, but this could have been the intention. I guess it’s important to keep in mind that the writers are aware that audiences are constantly trying to foresee the plot twist, so perhaps going for an obvious one is, in turn, the least obvious option. This similarly happened in episode four, ‘Love Is a Stranger’ where we follow Vicky (Claire Rushbrook) and the perils of online dating. This episode promised a lot with its stellar guest cast; Asim Chaudhry, Mathew Honre, and Frances Barber, but the ending wasn’t surprising. It’s laid out early that there’s a serial killer on the loose who’s been meeting their victims online, and although there are moments that leave you questioning who the killer is, it’s pretty obvious who it’s going to be. On the other hand, Inside No.9 isn’t just about the twist, and actually, the set design, the editing, the acting, and the writing are all five stars, but the episode loses its edge when the audience isn’t left thinking about the ending days after their viewing. Inside No.9 is often quite the traumatising watch, but unfortunately not in these cases.
Since series two’s live episode ‘Deadline’, fans have been waiting to be tricked into a false sense of certainty again, and this deception came in the form of the fifth episode ‘Hold On Tight’. Publicity pictures and a synopsis were released where Shearsmith and Pemberton were joined by Robin Askwith in front of a vintage London bus. A tweet even surfaced where a fan captured the filming of this episode, but this was all fake. It turns out fans had been asking for a No.9 bus episode for ages, and Pemberton and Shearsmith saw this as the perfect pranking opportunity. When viewers sat down to watch the much anticipated episode, they were greeted instead by a ‘replacement’; a quiz show entitled ‘3 by 3’ presented by Lee Mack. When things take an absurd turn, it became clear Inside No.9 pulled off another incredible twist. To actively trick an audience and involve them in said twist is such an incredible idea, and it was pulled off excellently. It’s just genius, and it’s why I appreciate the show so much.
Despite some predictability, series eight of Inside No.9 was a success, and I’d suggest if you’re into shocking, thought-provoking TV shows, then you should give it a watch!
Inside No.9 is available to watch via BBC iPlayer