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Posts Tagged ‘Steve Pemberton’

This is a new feature I hope to be continuing, as the name suggests, on a weekly basis. It will give me the opportunity to write about my personal pleasure viewing rather than about the hot show of the moment on PBS, Netflix or the BBC. Over the past five years since I started this little enterprise, I’ve been given the opportunity to write for other blogs as well; some for pay and some for the exposure. I’ve tried to position myself as an American who is knowledgeable about British TV. But mostly, I’m just a fan – of dramas, mysteries, comedy of all descriptions and even the occasional documentary. So please join me as I share my favorite finds of the week.

This week I watched a series that has everything I look for in a British TV show; innovation, an element of the unexpected and something that is just plain well written. That is  Inside No. 9 in a nutshell.

If you’ve never heard of the show’s writing/acting duo Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith, you’ve definitely been missing out. They are one half of the dark comedy sketch troupe, The League of Gentlemen, and the creators of and performers in the horror sitcom called Psychoville.  They never fail to surprise and entertain me with their off-center, sometimes abhorrent, characters and comic misdirection.

So what is Inside No. 9 then? It is a series of vignettes that all take place in a number 9 of some description – a house, a flat, a cubicle, etc. The address is all these episodes have in common, that and the brilliant storytelling of Pemberton and Shearsmith. Like The Twilight Zone, or more recently Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror, each episode is a stand alone narrative, but unlike the aforementioned shows the time frame is shortened from an hour to thirty minutes. Also most of the No. 9 episodes have comic moments, but that doesn’t preclude the random violent act or tragedy. It’s as if an idea for a sketch has been drawn out to a fuller more satisfying story without being a sketch that goes on too long, if you know what I mean. Saturday Night Live, anyone?

As you can see I’m not having the easiest time explaining the concept, so let me share a few examples from each of the two series that have been produced so far:

In series one’s episode “Tom & Gerri”, Tom (Shearsmith) does a good turn for Migg, a homeless man played by Pemberton, who has selflessly returned his lost wallet. However, their blossoming friendship interferes with the domestic bliss Tom shares with his actress girlfriend Gerri, played by Gemma Arterton.

 

Also from series one is a brilliant dialogue-free installment called “A Quiet Night In” wherein Steve and Reece play inept burglars trying to steal a priceless painting while the owners are still in the house.

 

In series two, there are a pair of particularly outstanding stories. The first one is entitled “Cold Comfort” which is shown from the perspective of security cameras at a support line call center. New volunteer Andy (Pemberton) is settling in for his training, but nothing prepares him for what’s to come.

 

The other episode, one which literally brought me to tears, was “The 12 Days of Christine.” We follow the title character, played flawlessly by Sheridan Smith, in what appears to be a decade long fast-forward view of her life, seen in order from New Year’s to Christmas. But what is actually happening is something much more psychologically significant than a jaunt through time.

 

There’s something for everyone Inside No. 9 – a witch trial, a train journey, a children’s game at a country house and a back stage look at a Shakespeare production just to name a few. And if you’re like me you’ll love seeing all the familiar actors who make guest appearances. For British residents this series is not new and for Americans you may have to dig around YouTube or as I call them “cheat channels” to find it. But if you can, I recommend giving it a go, especially for fans of dark humor.

 

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I know I’ve mentioned more than once my strange fascination with men in drag  I’m not referring to men who want to dress as women for their own personal reasons, the Jared Leto/Dallas Buyers Club kind of thing. I mean more power to them and all that, but that’s not amusing. I’m talking about men who are obviously men, dressing and behaving like women for comic effect.

In my opinion, Monty Python’s Flying Circus always did this shtick the best. I never fail to laugh at John Cleese wearing a wig and a dress while employing a high screechy voice. The Little Britain guys have their moments as well. But after finally watching all three series of the comedy/horror sketch show, The League of Gentlemen (1999-2002), I have come to the conclusion that the females of Royston Vasey surpass the Python ladies.

Reenie and Vinnie, charity shop workers who love carrier bags, won't work Thursdays and can't stand that Merrill image credit BBC

Reenie and Vinnie, charity shop workers who love carrier bags, won’t work Thursdays and can’t stand that Merrill
image credit BBC

 

I think this is because they actually develop many of these “women” bringing them back in multiple episodes and letting their stories evolve, often to ghastly ends.

For example, let’s begin with Tubbs Tattysyrup who is brilliantly played by Steve Pemberton. Tubbs and her husband Edward are shopkeepers on the outskirts of Royston Vasey.  Murderously xenophobic, the couple strenuously defend their bizarre way of life and the precious things of the shop. Tubbs is unquestionably loyal and obedient to her husband and for that reason has the mind of a slightly deranged child.

 

Pauline Campbell-Jones (also portrayed by Pemberton) is a restart officer for the local government employment services. Your very first impression might be that she is a compassionate public servant, but you will quickly learn that Pauline is in this job for the sense of superiority it affords her. She slags off her clients on a regular basis and if anyone challenges her, she strikes back quite ferociously.

Which is why Pauline is in the predicament of being out of a job and having to be a participant in the restart course she used to teach.

 

Reece Shearsmith plays Reverend Bernice Woodall, a bitter,chain smoking clergywoman with a ubiquitous smear of lipstick on her teeth. Her sermons tend to have a bit of a fire and brimstone feel about them as well.

We later learn the source of her acrimony and resentment has to do with a childhood trauma that has scarred her, but an even more sinister fate awaits the reverend at Christmas.

The tall and willowy Val Denton is portrayed by the equally lanky Mark Gatiss. Mrs. Denton genially but enthusiastically enforces her husband’s strict cleanliness rules. She gleefully recites the color code for household items and thinks nothing of her husband’s obsessive assumptions about self-pleasuring.

The family is oblivious to the degree of their freakishness until their nephew Ben arrives in Royston Vaysey for what’s meant to be an overnight stay. Apparently this is the first time their weird ways have been questioned.

 

Homely cleaning lady Iris Krell (Gatiss) is employed by Mrs. Judee Levinson (Shearsmith) a wealthy housewife who has a workaholic husband – or does she? Judee tries to feel good about her empty life by bragging to her working class cleaner about her lavish holidays and expensive clothes. Iris knows that she has a better home life than her employer and isn’t shy about sharing the spicy intimate details of her marriage.

 

A majority of the female population of Royston Vasey belongs to a mysterious sisterhood called Solutions.  Stella Hull  (Shearsmith) constantly rows with her husband Charlie and wants to stomp on his happiness by preventing him from pursuing his most recent passion, line dancing. Stella appeals to the group to help her find a “solution” to her problem.

 

If you’ve never visited the absurd village of Royston Vasey, you can pay a visit  through Hulu or Netflix. Watch with an open mind, get used to the humor and rhythms of this show and you will be richly rewarded with series three – the crowning glory of The League of Gentlemen.

If you are already familiar with this extraordinarily bizarre troupe of characters, please tell us about your favorites.  Bonus points to anyone who can tell me which character said this, ” SKEWED BEEF, HAVE ANY BODY GOT ANY BOKKLE AV ARAN DOOVE?”

 

 

 

 

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