Channel: BBC Two
Recurring Cast: Reece Shearsmith, Steve Pemberton
Back when I was a teenager, ‘The League of Gentlemen’ used to be my favourite comedy. It is a bit of a weird won, set in a quiet, little town. It acted as a sketch show, but the sketches all had little character arcs and interweaving plots, making it a bit more intelligent that the likes of Little Britain. It was actually a really creepy show and a lot of people didn’t get the humour, because it was so dark and sinister. Let’s just say one of the funniest characters is a clown that goes around abducting women and using them as slaves – so while, it takes an insane amount of talent to make implied rape and kidnapping funny, it isn’t hard to see why it was cancelled after three seasons.
But with Inside No9, two out of the three of the creative geniuses are back (Mark Gatiss is too busy playing Sherlock – the sell-out!!!), and no one had any idea what to expect. The general gist of the show is that each episode is an independent thirty minute sketch and the only connection between the stories is that they happen behind doors with the number nine engraved onto them. While this might seem a little bit of a ‘get out of jail free’ card for writers Shearsmith and Pemberton, it does create this sense of the unknown about each episode. When a new sketch starts up, we have no idea where the story is going to go and that is what makes Inside No9 really great TV. The first episode, ‘Sardines’ really plays with this idea, giving us the minimal amount of explanation for what we are seeing and slowly letting us in on the story over the course of the thirty minutes. The amount of exposition and characters that episode gets through is phenomenal, writing at its best. Yet at the same time, it is never anything less than downright hilarious. As well, as laughing at the jokes, we are being amazed at how amazing writers the two leads are. What is even more impressive is that, despite the strongest point of ‘Sardines’ being the script, the second episode is done in the style of a silent movie. Not a word is spoken, yet it could be argued that it is even funnier, smarter and stylish than the one before it. No matter what Shearsmith and Pemberton try, they excel at it, having us rolling on the floor, laughing while they do so.
Sadly, the other four episodes aren’t in the same league. Don’t get me wrong, they are still well-written, funny and still show us how talented these comedians are, but the first two episodes were so amazingly perfect as a comedy, that it feels like a step-down. It becomes more of a character piece, where we are given a character and watch them get corrupted by the story. As far as comedy and drama goes, it is always guaranteed to be quite good, but I think I expected a little more. Sometimes, the comedy is so subtle (to my American readers, this is very British humour!), that it doesn’t even feel like a comedy for a few scenes. I think this is the same flaws that made ‘The League of Gentlemen’ eventually crash and burn. The writers kept trying new things and eventually, they were far more into their creations than the audience were. Yes, it is interesting, but I wanted something more along the lines of the first two episodes (seriously, if you have a spare half an hour, try and find those first two episodes online somewhere!). The final episode was quite good too. It actually was quite scary and acted as a lesson in how horror comedies should be made. I just wished they took their ideas further, as it seemed like we only ever got a glimpse behind the curtain of what these guys were capable of doing.
The impression I always got from this episodes is the connection with theatre throughout the entire season. Every episode could very well be performed onstage, usually taking place in a single location. ‘Sardines’ is set entirely in the master bedroom of a manor. ‘Tom and Gerri’ is set in a small flat in London. It is the smaller details as well as the setting that adds to their knowledge and respect for their acting origins. Gemma Arterton crops up as a struggling actor. In Episode Two, which as I said is a silent sketch, using physical theatre for the jokes and action, they cast Charlie Chaplin’s great grand-daughter Oona Chaplin in the episode, a reference to one of the greatest physical comedians of all time (you probably know Oona better as Robb Stark’s wife in Game of Thrones – yes, I just blew your minds!). One of the episodes throws away the subtle clues and literally gives us the story of Macbeth, but through the bodies of an actor and his struggling understudy. I never stopped liking this side to the show, as it made everything feel much more British and homely.
Despite the quality of the shop dipping in the middle, this is still one of the funniest shows I have seen from the BBC in a long time. I tend to stay away from their sitcoms, as they have gotten stuck in a rut and are rarely worthy of laughs. However, now Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith are back in the game, I think that British comedy might start to win me back.
Final Verdict: Excellent scripts and the return of two terrific British comedians help Inside No9 succeed as one of the new, exciting shows on English TV.