After last week’s game-changing episode, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton would revert back to the standard Inside No.9 format. That of a creepy story with a sting in its tail. Instead the pair change gear yet again, to create one of the most moving episodes of the whole series.
A Ken Loach style slice of life drama, Love’s Great Adventure is set in the home of a struggling family in the run up to Christmas, with each day marked by the opening of a window of an advent calendar.
On paper this might not sound like the most adventurous premise, but the way the episode captures each day in a minute or so is beautifully done that it never feels laboured. The family dynamic is set-up effortlessly, with no unnecessary exposition. All of the required information is gradually revealed to the audience as the story unfolds, and the character work is so well observed that by the end, you feel like you’ve been with the family for a whole series.
Pemberton and Shearsmith have a tendency to make their writing a little broad (last week was a prime example) but here it’s incredibly subtle. They play the drama straight, and the comedy comes from nicely observed moments we can all relate to (the reference to Christmas food being “not for eating” struck home for me!) While there isn’t a twist to speak of, the nature of the episode’s structure means there are still numerous little touches put in specifically for repeat viewings. If anything, I think it resonates more on a re-watch, where the nuances of the plot and the central theme of doing anything to protect the ones you love become more apparent.
As the parents / grandparents, Pemberton and Debbie Rush have great chemistry together and Rush especially gives a beautifully natural and understated performance playing a character who is at once warm and vulnerable but also formidable where her family are concerned. Both demonstrate the extremes parents will go to for their children in dramatically different ways, and the final scene sums up their relationship perfectly. Shearsmith is less of a presence this week, but he does get a touching little moment towards the end that is sensitively handled.
One of the most quietly devastating episodes the pair have ever written, and brilliantly directed by series stalwart Guillem Morales, Love’s Great Adventure often doesn’t feel like Inside No.9 in tone, (The family dynamic could be straight out of Mum) but the structure and the conclusion are very much in line with what has come before. There are several genuinely suspenseful moments where the writers could have gone down a much more sinister, on-brand route but they resist each time, and the result is something a lot deeper and more emotional than I was prepared for. It shouldn’t be surprising, not after episodes like The 12 Days Of Christine and Bernie Clifton’s Dressing Room, but this one still caught me unawares.
Simultaneously modest in it’s story and deceptively ambitious in it’s structure, Love’s Great Adventure is perhaps the warmest, most natural and heartfelt episode of Inside No.9 yet, but still feels cut from the same cloth as the rest of the series. It demonstrates that the writers don’t need a shock twist to produce a powerful half hour of television and makes for one of their very best episodes.