Deft, dense writing as funny as it’s surprising and darker than the inside of a cow. Kiri Pritchard-McLean could yell about Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton’s compendium of nightmares until her throat’s raw.
Why would people keep returning to an anthology series? There’s nothing for them to invest in.
That’s what Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton were told when they pitched Inside No. 9. Luckily for us they were allowed to make this idiosyncratic slice of BBC Two class and as the critical acclaim and awards will attest, that commissioning ‘gamble’ paid off.
Drenched in Shearsmith and Pemberton’s black comedy, we simply arrive at a number 9 each week with no idea what will unfold and who is inside. What we do know is that there will be deft, dense writing that’s as funny as it is surprising.
A temptation when switching settings so frequently might be to return to stock characters but this isn’t the case behind these particular doors. No character will rest on an archetype too long as we feast on the multiple facets of everyone we’re introduced to.
The writers (and sometimes directors) aren’t shy with sharing the action or the funny either. For each episode, they’ve hand-picked a superb cast and furnished them with the gags and twists befitting of their talents.
Each episode sneaks up on you wonderfully and although their sensibilities are rooted firmly in the comedy world, they’re not afraid to break your heart either.
If you haven’t seen any Inside No. 9, I recommend you hang your head in shame – and then watch the following:
‘Sardines’: This cast packs more talent into a wardrobe than X-Factor manages in a series. The episode has the sensibilities of a play and still manages to be actually funny, not just theatre funny. Don’t go into the episode looking for the knife twist; just enjoy it when you feel its pinch in your side.
‘A Quiet Night In’: The audacity of it! Having a speechless episode that’s laugh-out-loud funny. Just try not to get invested in these two hapless thieves’ plight. You can’t not. I always love it when you’re gunning for the bad guys.
‘The 12 days of Christine’: I should just write ‘Sheridan Smith’ here and move on, but this episode was one of the best things on telly last year so I feel like I have to say more. Eerie and touching, it had me squeezing my dog’s head for comfort at points. Also, Sheridan Smith.
‘Cold Comfort’: full disclosure, my ace sketch group, Gein’s Family Giftshop was kindly asked to be in this episode so obviously after a day of watching my best friends film something with my heroes, I’m going to have a soft spot for it. Luckily for me it’s a superb, gripping story, innovatively filmed with a Jane Horrocks-shaped cherry on top.
Truth is, the beauty of an anthology series is you can leap in wherever and not miss anything. You don’t have to worry about missing an important series twist because you thought your phone was going off in your pocket but it was actually just your leg vibrating and then you had to Google whether that was a serious medical problem. (Turns out it is a problem, it’s just not serious.)
You won’t fall out with your partner because you watched ahead on a series you were “watching together”. Or at least you were before they decided to not watch it for two weeks and you had loads of time off so now you have to pretend you haven’t seen the episode and watch it again even they know you’ve watched it because Netflix is a little grass like that.
See, anthologies are actually brilliant and perfect for modern watching habits, none of which apply to me and have been plucked totally at random from overheard conversations on the bus.
The new series is gearing up*; its first episode aired on 27 December and is currently available on iPlayer. It’s a painstakingly recreated love note to horror that makes you glad it’s Christmas but simultaneously has you sleeping with the lights on.
If this bold 30 minutes is anything to go by, this will be the strongest series yet. What are you doing reading this? Get watching! And remember, it doesn’t matter which one you watch, or in what order – that’s the beauty of an anthology.
*The BBC is currently playing coy as to when the rest of the third series is set to air.
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Kiri is a Welsh stand up comedian and one fourth of sketch group Gein’s Family Giftshop. She is also a Farmer’s daughter. The subtext to all this? Great at swearing. @kiripritchardmc