Over six seasons of Inside No. 9, creators Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton have taken aim at an assortment of occupations, from pompous writers and unhinged Samaritans to a horde of murderous magicians, doctors, lecturers and many more. However no profession has been quite so frequently targeted as TV production. Series two’s Séance Time features an entire crew who care more about ratings/props/compliance than the critically injured supporting artist lying on the floor, The Devil Of Christmas has a disaffected crew working at the behest of a deranged director, and in this latest episode a mild-mannered actor is ruthlessly pummelled by the unforgiving schedule of a TV production.
In Hurry Up And Wait, Shearsmith plays James, an extra in a procedural drama based on a true story. While waiting for his scene to come up, he has to rehearse his few lines inside a tiny house that’s serving as a green room for the production, much to the annoyance of the family who live there, while simultaneously digging into the true story that inspired the drama.
While Simon Says may have felt a little scattergun in places, Hurry Up And Wait is incredibly uncomfortable viewing precisely because of its pinpoint accuracy. The comedy is often quite broad, and the characters larger-than-life, but the mundanity of the filming schedule has a ring of truth to it, and the way Shearsmith is ignored and beaten down by every single character he encounters is painful to watch but all-too plausible.
Shearsmith is painfully relatable in this, and the script pulls no punches in showing his initially freshfaced, enthusiastic character getting worn down as he’s well and truly put through the wringer of TV production, here represented by Bhavna Limbachia‘s dead eyed production assistant. Limbachia is reminiscent of Alice Lowe‘s make-up artist from Séance Time; someone who completely disregards James, and considers him essentially a “warm prop” to be buffeted about from point A to point B, while pandering to the star – in this case Adrian Dunbar, playing himself!
Dunbar really throws himself into this preening, self centred version of himself, and his performance is refreshingly free of ego. His now iconic role as Ted Hastings from Line Of Duty is effectively mined for a lot of laughs – his indignant response to how distinct this new role is from Ted is hilarious and delivered perfectly: “Hastings parts his hair to the left, Childs is much more swept back, it’s very different!”
Pauline McLynn and Pemberton are great as the homeowners, both of whom have vastly different reactions to the filming. McLynn is brilliant as the enthusiastic fan, (often steering close to Mrs Doyle territory but never quite replicating her iconic character, even when offering James a cup of tea) while Pemberton is a coiled spring, barely tolerating the film crew in his home, and taking malicious enjoyment from needling James’ ego. But Donna Preston is even better as their anti-social daughter – somewhere between playful, vulnerable and a little unhinged- s he also gets the best line of the episode -“I haven’t got mental health, I’M JUST SHY!“
I imagine that anyone who has seen an episode of Inside No. 9 before will see straight through the big red herrings, but the final twist is still genuinely shocking. It doesn’t bear scrutiny if you think about it for too long but in the moment it’s a proper gasp-out-loud moment, and as with the very best episodes, the clues are all there if you know where to look.
Hurry Up And Wait is yet another excellent episode of Inside No. 9 – A largely comic story with a dark sting in its tail, and a performance from Shearsmith that is full of pathos. It’s a more overtly funny episode than usual and another great instalment in this series, which is proving to be one of the strongest yet. In any case, it’s nice to know that Line of Duty exists in the Inside No. 9 world!