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.