NINE REASONS WHY INSIDE NO. 9 IS ONE OF THE BEST TV SHOWS EVER!
Having just finished watching Season 4 of the incredible anthology TV show Inside No. 9, I felt compelled to write why it is so good! So here are NINE reasons why it is one of the best TV shows I have ever seen.
- League of (Two) Gentlemen
Inside No. 9 is written by and stars Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith. Both are brilliant comedic and dramatic actors having appeared in many TV shows and films down the years. They are arguably most famous for beginning their careers in cult comedic troupe The League of Gentlemen; however, their work on Inside No. 9 actually surpasses the ‘League’ in my view.
Shearsmith and Pemberton, along with themselves, are able to cast well-known actors from stage and screen in supporting roles. Part of the fun of many episodes is spotting such guest appearances with, in many cases, the ensemble brilliance of the actors bouncing sparks of each other. Inside No. 9 has featured talented performers including: Timothy West, Fiona Shaw, Jack Whitehall, David Warner, Denis Lawson, Sheridan Smith, Rory Kinnear, Conleth Hill, Alison Steadman, Noel Clarke, Philip Glenister, Zoe Wanamaker, Keeley Hawes, Nikki Amuka-Bird, Derek Jacobi and many more.
Each episode is self-contained within a 30 minute one-off story. The challenge therefore is to create a compelling narrative which establishes: theme, character, setting and the drama quickly in order to draw the audience in and subsequently entertain. Like similar classic anthology shows such as The Twilight Zone and Tales of the Unexpected the writers do this brilliantly and conversely, for me, every script is a joy to experience again and again.
Shearsmith and Pemberton are experienced actor and performers with great range. They initially worked in comedy, however, The League of Gentlemen and Psychoville contained heavy infusions of horror and grotesque which scared and disgusted amidst the laughter. Inside No. 9 could be described as comedy but it crosses many other genres too. Episodes such as: The Harrowing (Season 1) and Séance Time (S2) and Devil of Christmas (S3) are firmly fixed in the horror genre; Tom and Gerri (S1) and Diddle, Diddle Dumpling (S3) and Nana’s Party (S2) are contemporary domestic dramas; The Trial of Elizabeth Gadge (S2) evoked historical dramas; and silent and slapstick comedy is represented by the sublime A Quiet Night In (S1). Every episode is beautifully devised within its set milieu and genre creating a rewarding viewing experience.
- Number 9
During the whole four seasons, as well as the writing being spot on, there is much imagination in the details. For example, the No. 9 is not just the house number of the story location it is also a: dressing room, sleeper car, barn, call centre, shoe-size, study, karaoke booth, gallery space and church hall. Such locations show the diverse imagination of the writers and various spaces of these wonderful stories.
Stories are nothing without compelling characters. Amidst the gags, one-liners, horror, drama and clever writing you have to care about what happens to the characters. Indeed, Inside No. 9 also delivers some compelling stories which contain much emotion and pathos. The 12 Days Of Christine (S2) is one of the most blistering dramatic arcs I have seen within a short form TV show. Similarly, Tom and Gerri (S1), Diddle, Diddle Dumpling (S3), To Have and To Hold (S4) and Bernie Clifton’s Dressing Room (S4) contain very powerful endings that shock the heart as well as the mind.
- Form and Style
Shearsmith and Pemberton are not only great actors and writers; they are also drenched in film, TV and cultural knowledge. As such, their work on Inside No. 9 is consistently reflexive and inter-textually referencing pop culture. In the: The Devil of Christmas (S3) they reference DVD commentaries and 1970s horror TV; in Once Removed (S4) they do a Memento (2000) and tell the story backwards; while in Zanzibar (S4) the characters deliver lines in iambic pentameter. However, stylistic or formalistic devices do not impinge on the narrative polarity but enhance the viewing experience.
- Twists in the Tale
Ah, I love a good story twist as I grew up watching shows such as: Hitchcock Presents, Tales of the Unexpected, The Twilight Zone, Armchair Theatre and The Outer Limits to name a few. Inside No. 9 follows in the tradition of these classic programmes by often flipping narrative expectations with delicious results. Much fun can be derived trying to work out the twist too and even if you can see it coming that still adds to the entertainment factor to me. But WHEN YOU DON’T see it the programme becomes something else altogether!
- Favourite Six Episodes
Tough one this but if I had to choose my favourite six episodes (out of 24 so far) I would go with the following (in production order):
- A Quiet Night In (2014) – two burglars try to steal a painting in silent comedy classic.
- La Couchette (2015) – a train sleeper car provides the setting for a hilarious night of comedy chaos.
- The 12 Days of Christine (2015) – Sheridan Smith shines in this haunting and beautiful character profile of a young woman.
- The Riddle of the Sphinx (2016) – ultra clever crossword dominated thriller set in a University study.
- Diddle Diddle Dumpling (2017) – Shearsmith and Keeley Hawes excel as a couple whose lives are impacted by obsession and a lost shoe.
- Bernie Clifton’s Dressing Room (2018) – two failed TV entertainers bicker as they prepare to perform their act one last time.