Say what you like about Inside No.9, it’s not a show that does things by halves. It’s actually pretty commendable that writers/creators Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton never talk down to their audience. When they take on a subject close to their hearts, like cryptic crosswords or magic tricks, they commit wholeheartedly. Whether this works for you or not depends entirely on your opinion of the subject in question – I for one absolutely loved Wuthering Heist, their take on commedia dell ‘arte, but I can completely understand if the very specific references passed audienced by, or put them off the episode entirely. Likewise, I didn’t enjoy Last Night Of The Proms for the same reasons; it’s an episode that is rewarding for those who have previous knowledge of the history of the proms, but disappointing for everyone else.
This rather long winded introduction is all to say that while Paraskevidekatriaphobia didn’t really appeal to me, my issues lie almost entirely with the nature of the genre the episode pays homage to (namely, farce) rather than the execution. In purely objective terms, it’s a loving tribute to the comedy of manners you get in plays like See How They Run or What The Butler Saw, with a superstitious twist.
Gareth (Shearsmith) is a very nervous man. He’s nervous because it’s Friday the 13th, and he suffers from the Paraskevidekatriaphobia of the title – an irrational fear of that specific date. He does his best to insulate himself from the bad luck associated with this date, calling in sick and planning on staying indoors all day. However, fate has different ideas, and what ensues is a chaotic day of unexpected mishaps, as increasingly surreal characters arrive on his doorstep, all of whom seem oddly ignorant of superstitions, from walking under ladders to black cats crossing their path and broken mirrors.
Anyone who has seen an episode of Inside No.9 before will probably be able to predict where this is going, but the masterstroke from Pemberton and Shearsmith is how they drop so many red herrings along the way, toying with our expectations, leading to what is for my money, the best visual punchline of the whole series.
Unfortunately other things didn’t work for me, and it seems apparent from far too early that there is something false about this set-up. The supporting cast play their roles way too broadly, and though this may be intentional given the overall tone, it’s often unbearable to watch, as the various caricatures invade Gareth’s house, from a postal worker who seems to have wandered off the set of Dinnerladies (Samantha Spiro) to a parody of a locksmith (Pemberton) complete with cloth cap and overalls. The characterisation is exaggerated to an absurd degree, apart from Shearsmith’s character, which leads to a jarring disconnect – the mannered performances of the supporting cast clashes with Shearsmith’s nicely judged turn, and while he is depicted as being unreasonable, he acts entirely rationally throughout. Even when the other shoe drops and it’s made apparent what has been happening, I was still entirely on his side, and by the end I just wanted these insufferable people to leave him alone!
At least the episode recognises just how irritating these characters are, and Shearsmith’s understandably exasperated reaction to the smug twist provides one of the few genuine belly laughs of the episode – Pemberton and Spiro’s pompous faux humility is hilariously undercut by Shearsmith’s furious swearing – something you don’t often hear in the farces the episode emulates!
Shearsmith’s performance just about keeps the story grounded, and makes his character’s fears feel real, which is often at odds with the farcical tone of the rest of the episode. His reaction to the single magpie in his garden is a brief moment of real pathos, his vulnerability all-too plain as he goes through the routine of saluting the magpie and reciting the superstitious rhyme. His later joke about the cat is also a highlight of the episode, both the punchline of the joke itself and the physical gag provide a great payoff.
Amanda Abbington joins the likes of Sian Gibson and Siobhan Redmond who gamely turn up to play a part in one of the most interesting UK series, only to be somewhat wasted in a thankless role. Abbington has the unfortunate job of trying to make Gareth’s phobia much more of an issue than it really is (surely being paranoid two days a year isn’t that big a deal), only appearing at the very start and turning up at the end to deliver some clunky exposition.
As you’ve probably gathered, Paraskevidekatriaphobia didn’t work for me this time, but if you are a fan of broad comedy and slapstick, this may well be right up your street. Shearsmith’s nuanced performance and a couple of genuine laugh out loud moments almost – but don’t quite – save an episode that is just a little too knowing for its own good.
For me the cat burst the bubble firs to all. I was trying my best to go with the farce until the Cat scene. The ending was well executed as you said. I’ll give it that but the internal logic and extravagance of the concept was too flawed and all the actorly stuff irritates as much as it does anywhere else it appears.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Pingback: Inside No.9 – 8.4 Review: Love Is A Stranger | critical popcorn