INSIDE NO. 9 IS A COMEDY-HORROR TV SHOW WRITTEN AND STARRING STEVE PEMBERTON AND REECE SHEARSMITH. WITH 6 EPISODES PER SEASON, IT IS CURRENTLY ON SEASON 3. Every episode is available on BritBox.
At Vulture Festival 2017, Edgar Wright said that horror movies and comedy movies are written and shot the same. They are both aiming for surprise. It is not a coincidence that horror film directors call the scares “gags.” A body falls out of a closet and scares the audience: that’s a gag. Marrying the two genres is a lot more natural than you might think.
True to the first two seasons, Inside No. 9 season 3 gives creators Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith the opportunity to mimic a variety of genres in their claustrophobic anthology TV series. Genres this year include a cheap 1970s Christmas horror episode and a traditional slasher flick. In both of these cases, the comedy comes from the schlockyness of the chosen genres. Then you get something silly like “Empty Orchestra,” which is a glorious revenge tale done in silly costumes, the plot told largely through the subtext of karaoke songs. This episode is definitely worth a second viewing. On the other end of the spectrum is “The Riddle of the Sphinx,” which dares to push the series darker and more disturbing than ever before. The plot on this last one gets less and less believable as it goes, however; though I should watch what I say because we all know what happens to the arts critic in “Private View.”
Where the writing really succeeds in Inside No. 9 is the slow unveiling of the characters’ secrets. While this should be utilized in all storytelling, much of today’s television rolls out everything you need to know about a character up front and then drags that character you know so well through hell and back. You don’t know much about the characters in Inside No. 9 at first. In “Diddle Diddle Dumpling,” you sense some form of mental illness but cannot explain the protagonist’s actions: becoming obsessed with finding the owner of a lost shoe he discovers in front of his house. The mystery is in the unveiling of the character’s past, not in the shoe. Similarly, in “The Bill,” a real highlight of the season, we’re given that familiar premise of arguing over a restaurant bill, but the characters are so passionate about who should pay the bill, you wonder what is driving each of their manias. One by one, we are given reasons why each wants to pay the bill, along with red herrings and rising tension.
The Gentlemen leave no favors left unasked when it comes to casting. They seem to have hired half of the alumni of Ashes to Ashes with Keeley Hawes, Philip Glenister, and Montserrat Lombard. Also making appearances are Sir Derek Jacobi, Psychoville‘s Jason Watkins, Peter Kay, and songwriter Johnny Flynn. And of course, the two writers themselves appear in every episode wearing a variety of different wigs. If this is your first exposure to the horror duo’s work, you’ll be forgiven for not recognizing them in all of their roles, given different accents, costumes, and makeup.
If you enjoy Inside No. 9, you might also enjoy Psychoville (Pemberton & Shearsmith’s horror sitcom), The League of Gentlemen (a dark sitcom/sketch crossover series by P&S as well as Mark Gatiss and Jeremy Dyson), or Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror (another horror anthology series, this one without the jokes).