Features / Television

Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton’s Inside No.9 – Ranked [Part 2]

We’re into the home stretch of my countdown of all episodes of Inside No. 9 now, head here for Part 1, and suffice to say it’s tricky to find anything that negative to write about the remaining episodes – there’s very little in it, especially at the top, so please don’t be too upset if you disagree with me! The quality is just exceptionally high across the board, with some of the most memorable, best written British television of the last 20 years, and the variety in tone and subject matter is just staggering.

Well, here we go..!

16. The Referee’s A W***er

Proof if needed that not every episode has to be dark – the season 5 opener is a joyful tribute to the beautiful game, but it retains the mischievous tone the series is known for. (The number 9 in this episode is a particularly filthy joke) David Morrissey is a revelation in a rare comic role as a beloved referee on his last ever match, and the episode is one of the most fast paced so far, with lighting fast dialogue between Morrissey and his bickering linesmen. For once the ending is an infectiously happy moment, and it’s impossible to watch without a smile on your face.

15. The Riddle Of The Sphinx

One of the most unpleasant episodes the pair have produced, and all centred around a crossword puzzle! Steve Pemberton wrote this one largely on his own, and his love of cryptic crosswords is evident throughout. He gives a gleeful performance as the crossword writer who is surprised to find a student (Alexandra Roach) who has broken into his study, supposedly to get the answers for the weekly crossword puzzle. From there we dive into a macabre homage to Sleuth via The Cook The Thief His Wife And Her Lover. The way the crossword clues are deconstructed and used to further the story is brilliantly done, and the denouement is one of the most unapologetically dark of the series.

14. Misdirection

Anyone familiar with The League Of Gentlemen’s Dean Tavolouris knows about Reece Shearsmith’s interest in magic, and this episode serves as a reminder of this. He plays a young magician intent on learning an older magicians signature trick. In the same way that The Riddle Of The Sphinx is a love letter to crossword puzzles, this is very much the same thing for magic, and the similarities don’t end there. The revenge angle is almost identical to the earlier episode, (and just as nasty) but for me this adds to it’s charm, making them almost feel like companion pieces to each other. However for me this one gets the edge as it’s slicker, more fleshed out, and I have a soft spot for magic tricks too.

13. Empty Orchestra

In a refreshing departure from the darker tone of season 3, Empty Orchestra stands out for being less concerned with murders and plot twists. A work night out at a karaoke booth is rife with drama with office affairs and rumours of redundancies. The use of each song to highlight each character’s predicament may be a little on-the-nose but seeing Tamzin Outhwaite and Sarah Hadland belting out I Know Him So Well more than makes up for it, as well as Pemberton singing Since You’ve Been Gone in a brummie accent. The story might not be the most original ,but it remains the most feelgood episode, and the only one to end with a sing-a-long.

12. The Stakeout

An atmospheric and disquieting tale with a twist that’s hiding in plain sight. Just Shearsmith and Pemberton in this one, as new partners on a police stakeout in a graveyard. The horror references come thick and fast and considering the sole location is a police car there is some incredibly creative camerawork, with lots of closeworks and eerie use of lighting – the whole episode is drenched in shadow. Both actors are great in this one, whether they are discussing inner demons or playing word games to while away the hours.

11. Tom And Gerri

Not many people seem to like this one, but it’s an incredibly clever and disturbing take on home invasion. Focusing on a tightly wound teacher (Shearsmith) his actress partner (Gemma Arterton) and an enigmatic homeless man (Pemberton) who ingratiates himself into their home. Light on plot but thick with a foreboding, uneasy atmosphere, and a particularly surprising and cruel sting in the tale that makes you question everything that’s gone before. It would also be remiss to talk about this one without mentioning Conleth Hill’s flamboyant head swivel that is perfectly executed and really makes the episode.

10. The Trial Of Elizabeth Gadge

Potentially the most outright comic episode of the series so far, this is a mixture of Witchfinder General and Carry On Screaming, informed by the pair’s own interest in the infamous witch trials of the 17th century, and love of bad puns. It’s not especially subtle and the twist sicks out a mile, but the rapid fire comic wordplay is hilarious, Shearsmith and Pemberton are on top form as the sinister Mr Warren and Mr Clark, and David Warner gives the single funniest performance of the whole series as the guileless judge.

9. Once Removed

A clever, witty take on the Memento model of telling a story in reverse, one scene at a time, which manages to remain completely unpredictable despite the non-linear narrative. More concerned with structure than character, this is still undeniably one of the cleverest episodes, with all the loose ends tied up, and every line taking on a new meaning on a rewatch. The script even adds a nice play on the show’s title at the end, which is one of the most satisfying moments in the series.

8. Séance Time

The League Of Gentlemen always had a slight leaning towards horror, but Inside No.9 has largely steered away from it (There are only 5 bona fide horror episodes in the entire run) this is one of the better horror pastiches, with some genuinely creepy moments, and a brilliantly cold turn from Shearsmith as the sneering host of a haunted house prank show. An efficient, tightly constructed story that drip-feeds the audience information and builds the suspense expertly until the final spine chilling set-piece.

7. A Quiet Night In

Going ambitious from the second episode onward – A Quiet Night In has a brilliant hook. The whole episode plays out in silence, as Shearsmith and Pemberton play cat burglars attempting to steal a rare painting from Denis Lawson. The conceit works because there is no reason for the characters to talk in this situation. One of the most innovative episodes of the show, it’s also an excellent showcase for the two creators’ physical comedy. The novelty of the plot unravelling like a silent movie never gets tired, and most importantly never feels contrived. Funny, shocking and even a critique on modern art – what more could you want?

6. To Have And To Hold

Potentially the most uncomfortable episode to watch, and that’s saying something! Pemberton and Nicola Walker are incredibly moving as the central couple, believably conveying the sadness of being stuck in a passionless marriage with Pemberton especially standing out in a very difficult role. The moments of forced intimacy are excruciating to watch, and the heel turn halfway through is truly chilling. Another example of needing to pay attention to the smallest detail, as the discomfort and awkwardness between the couple gives way to something much more disturbing in the second half.

5. The Harrowing

The first genuinely scary episode, and one that still sends chills up my spine. The much missed Helen Mccrory and Shearsmith play a pair of creepy gothic siblings who hire Katy (Aimee Ffion-Edwards) to watch over their invalid, bedridden brother Andreas. One of the early criticisms of Inside No.9 was the perceived reliance on twist ending, and this effectively silenced these critics, proving that you don’t need a twist to thoroughly traumatise your audience. The final minutes are deeply unsettling, with the dreadful inevitability more harrowing than any clever twist.

4. Bernie Clifton’s Dressing Room

I’ve definitely got a soft spot for the more poignant episodes, and this story of a comic double act reuniting for a one off show is full of pathos. Essentially a love letter to a bygone form of entertainment, Pemberton and Shearsmith have a ball as the rusty vaudeville act and prove to be adept at recreating old fashioned routines, some of which have dated better than others. Both actors are excellent adopting two diametrically opposed characters: Pemberton is all gung-ho and enthusiastic while Shearsmith is reserved, and embarrassed by their old act. They’re both great but Shearsmith in particular has never been better, showing an impressive range as he adroitly jumps from aloof to incredibly moving in a matter of seconds.

3. Sardines

The first ever episode essentially serves as a mission statement for the series; a meticulously constructed, perfectly written 30 minutes of television. Every throwaway line of dialogue and quirky character trait is there for a reason, but none of it feels shoehorned in. The whole ensemble is great as they all cram into a cupboard for a interminable game of sardines, but Tim Key and Katherine Parkinson stand out, as the perpetually dull work colleague and the naïve bride-to-be.

2. Love’s Great Adventure

As close to a straight drama as the show has ever attempted, this is so full of warmth and humanity that in places it feels like a Ken Loach film. There’s no witty dialogue or knowing winks, it’s just painfully raw in places, and everyone raises their game. (Debbie Rush in particular gives a touching, natural performance) A resonant, heartwarming story about a family struggling with money in the run up to Christmas, with the days counting down on an advent calendar throughout the episode. There is a twist but it’s a lot more subtle than usual (to the extent that many missed it when it first aired) and it’s much less important than the beautifully observed family drama at it’s heart.

1. 12 Days Of Christine

This deservedly celebrated episode features a stunning central performance from Sheridan Smith and is a beautiful piece of television. The writers play their cards very close to their chest throughout, as we see snapshots of the titular Christine’s home life – initially feeling like a ghost story before turning into something more profound. Structurally this is the show at its most clever, playing around with narrative techniques, and making use of subtle sound effects and visual cues to devastating effect. However, the cleverness of the storytelling never gets in the way of the emotional core of the episode, and the ending packs a hell of an emotional punch.

All episodes of Inside No. 9 are available to watch on BBC iPlayer – The show returns to BBC Two on 10th May, click here for Part 1 of Nick’s episode rundown!

Find the series on the iPlayer bbc.co.uk/iplayer/inside-no-9

2 thoughts on “Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton’s Inside No.9 – Ranked [Part 2]

  1. Pingback: Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton’s Inside No.9 – Ranked [Part 1] | critical popcorn

  2. Good list but “Zanzibar” should be higher and you forgot “The Inventors” (don’t worry – so has the BBC).

    Like

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