Okay, so I know sometimes we delve into spoilers but I was hoping to avoid them in regards to Inside No. 9. As a show that often depends on surprise twist endings it feels unfair to give away what happens. However, I don’t think it’s possible to talk about last night’s episode, Death Be Not Proud, without giving away the big surprise revealed in the first five minutes. It’s a game changer for the show so, be warned, this review contains spoilers!
It all begins in fairly familiar territory for the show as Jenna Coleman suspects her new flat – previously the scene of a grisly murder – might be haunted. It’s well trodden ground, a homage to Repulsion, The Innocents and films that document a character’s descent into paranoia. But this is all upended with the surprise appearance of David Sowerbutts from the labyrinthine and insanely fun Psychoville.
It’s perhaps the most meta twist the show could do. “You thought you were watching Inside No.9? Surprise! You’re actually watching Psychoville!” How successful the subsequent episode is largely depends on how much you liked Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith‘s previous series, and the serial-killer-obsessed Sowerbutts in particular.
David and his mum Maureen were the breakout characters of Psychoville. The episode set entirely in their flat, shot in a single take (a tribute to Hitchcock’s Rope) was the inspiration for Inside No.9 – but it’s still jarring to see them encroach on the writers’ wholly more mature follow up. Up until now this show has always been self-contained, with each episode having its own theme and unique style. This one was the first time they’ve branched out, and the final result is a brilliantly funny episode, it’s just not Inside No.9.
There are some truly nasty reveals that I won’t go into here, but it’s also the show at it’s most playful, containing some of the all time best jokes of the series (“Did you make that up?” “No, John Donne” “It’s John did, David. John did.”) The attention to detail and continuity with Psychoville is also incredible. The characters look just how they always did, and Sarah Solemani and David Bamber even reprise their fairly minor roles. (Bamber’s philosophical examination of why he enjoys dressing as a baby – while wearing a nappy – was a standout moment).
However, by the end I couldn’t help but feel a little cheated. It’s potentially the funniest episode of the whole series so far, but it doesn’t feel like Inside No.9. Even the weaker instalments in previous seasons have been impressively self-contained, perfectly formed short films with each word chosen for a reason. This episode just feels like an excuse to spend more time with these characters. There isn’t much in the way of plot and Coleman, the ostensible lead, is criminally underused.
As it is though, this is probably the closest we will get to a third series of Psychoville, and it’s admittedly a lot of fun checking in with the Sowerbutts, as well as Shearsmith’s hook handed clown Mr Jelly (Don’t call him Mr Jolly). Death Be Not Proud is the most audacious gambit the writers have ever attempted and it largely pays off. It might not work as an episode of Inside No.9 exactly, but it’s still one of the funniest episodes the show has produced.