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Inside No. 9--Review Thread

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I've been watching this show and wanted a place to put down some thoughts about it. Short reviews, nothing fancy. I actually have some very mixed feelings about the show as a whole, but in that way where you kind of want to parse out your reactions.

I will be using spoiler text to discuss any major plot twists/turns, and I would appreciate everyone else doing the same, as I'd like to watch the remaining episodes unspoiled.

Okay? Great! Onward!






Sardines, Series 1, Episode 1, 2014

Rebecca (Katherine Parkinson) is celebrating her engagement to Jeremy (Ben Willbon) at her family's home in the country. The entire party is playing a game of sardines, and Rebecca stumbles on Ian's (Tim Key) hiding place in a large wardrobe. As the game goes on, and more and more guests end up in the wardrobe, awkwardness takes a turn into serious discomfort as several dark family dynamics and secrets come to light.

Of the episodes I've watched so far, this first episode is probably my favorite. I really love the way that it begins in a cold and disorienting way---with Parkinson's Rebecca looking through a room and then finding Key's Ian standing in the wardrobe. Their polite but stilted conversation is disarming after what feels like a classic horror movie scene of someone looking for the slasher.

I also have to say that it was fun seeing so many actors that I like. I think Katherine Parkinson is very funny, and I'm also generally a fan of Tim Key. Then Anne Reid (who was so good in The Mother) shows up. Then, oh, hey, it's Julian Rhind-Tutt!

As each new character enters the wardrobe I liked how the dynamic inside shifted. A running joke about everyone calling Rebecca "Rachel" suddenly makes sense. Geraldine (Reid's character) has been with the family for years, and as she beings to reminisce about past events we get dark hints about the family's past.

The staging of the wardrobe itself also provides both a great setting and a lot of solid physical humor. Ian jokes that the wardrobe is like the TARDIS, and the show seems to have fun with that premise. We go from a shot of seven full grown adults crammed together to an exterior shot of a wardrobe that is clearly too small to fit them all. At the same time, the scenes inside of the wardrobe and just squished enough to allow for some prime social discomfort, especially when we're awaiting the arrival of a character the others refer to as "Stinky John."

In terms of the final reveals,
WARNING: spoilers below
I'll admit that I was taken aback a bit. The main plot element seems to be the fact that Rebecca's fiance is still in love with his ex-girlfriend. To suddenly bring in the idea of child abuse was certainly a gut punch. It does retroactively explain several things--like Ian not knowing that Rebecca was engaged when he's . . . at her engagement party---but it was a lot to process in the two or three minutes of episode time given us absorb it. It did feel a bit overly cruel that the character of John, a victim of the father's abuse, is punished by Ian. I know that the point of the show is that it will "go there", but that was just a step too far for me in terms of enjoying the episode.
.

Overall, though, a funny and chilling episode. No notes!






A Quiet Night In, Series 1, Episode 2, 2014

A pair of burglars, Eddie (Steve Pemberton) and Ray (Reece Shearsmith), break into the home of a wealthy couple (Denis Lawson and Oona Chaplin) in order to steal a large painting. But the presence of a domestic worker (Joyce Veheary) and the arrival of another unexpected guest (Kayvan Novak), as well as a range of mishaps, threaten their plans.

The overall gimmick (I do not use the word in a negative sense) of this episode is that it is almost entirely unspoken. It is, for the most part, an exercise in physical comedy, and many of the jokes land well.

I was pretty mixed on this episode as a whole, though, because for every unexpected turn of events, there was then a really predictable or tired joke.

For example, there's a part where the couple's small dog begins barking at the burglars. At first I assumed
WARNING: spoilers below
oh, okay, so obviously they are going to kill the dog. Ha ha? But then they go to let the dog out the door and an ENORMOUS dog just strolls in. Unexpected, and very funny. (Especially as the big dog was incredibly docile. Now the burglars are trying to lure both dogs out the door. Okay. And then . . . yeah, they kill the little dog. And then, for reasons I still don't understand, they stab it with umbrellas. It felt not only tasteless, but overly predictable and just blah.


I also had a pretty negative reaction to the reveal that
WARNING: spoilers below
the wife of the couple is transgender. Again, ha ha? Like, what was the point of that? In the broader sense I have now of the series, people who are gay or transgender or homeless or otherwise "other" are often used as extra "spooky" touches and it just feels incredibly like punching down. I know you aren't going to get a lot of character development in a 30-minute mostly dialogue-free episode, but it still felt very objectifying to use a transgender body as essentially a shock/gross-out technique. The look on the face of the burglar isn't shock, it's more akin to disgust. And the ultimate fate of the wife--again rendered as shock comedy---feels very tone-deaf given the amount of violence against transgender women.


There's some winning physical comedy on hand, but I never got into the flow of the episode. I see that it's highly rated among fans, but the actions of the characters and the attitude of the episode itself were just a bit too ugly for my taste. I did like the ending--as in the very last minute or so--but overall I didn't really enjoy it.






Tom and Gerri, Series 1, Episode 3, 2014

Tom (Reece Shearsmith) is an elementary school teacher who aspires to be a great writer. He lives with his girlfriend, Gerri (Gemma Arterton), who is an actress trying to make it big. One day a homeless man named Migg (Steve Pemberton) returns Tom's lost wallet. More out of a sense of obligation than kindness, Tom ends up inviting Migg inside for a drink. And then Migg . . . just doesn't leave. As the days go by, Migg seems to be taking over more and more of Tom's life. With only Gerri and a concerned co-worker, Stevie (Conleth Hill) as lifelines, Tom's life begins to fall out of control.

There's some really strong stuff in this episode, visually, thematically, and in terms of its conclusion.

Something that I liked was the way that Migg seemed to be functioning as a living embodiment of depression/anxiety. As Tom struggles to finish his novel, Migg convinces him to give up his job. Tom stops cleaning the dishes. The occasional beer turns into a running state of general intoxication.

I did appreciate (*more about this later though*) the way that as the episode goes on, Tom and Migg begin to switch places in their looks. It's as if their cohabitation is causing a sort of lifestyle osmosis. There's also the implicit point that with the privileges of a cozy life (a bathroom, nice clothing, a computer, etc), Migg can be just as successful as Tom.

Finally, I am a big fan of Gemma Arterton, and I always enjoy seeing her in things.

This was the episode where I began to feel as if a downside of the show is just how rooted its notion of what is scary/awkward/uncomfortable/wrong is in a very male, middle-class, white experience.

What I appreciated about the episode was a very identifiable (for me) fear of what happens when we allow people to push our boundaries out of a sense of politeness or obligation. I am someone who has a hard time saying no when asked a favor, even if it makes me uncomfortable or I actually want to say no.

But then you have the fact that
WARNING: spoilers below
, predictably, Migg is actually really devious. He steals from Tom, deletes messages from his workplace and concerned friends, pushes alcohol on him, hides his cell phone, and just generally acts exactly like everyone's worst notions of homeless people.
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It's kind of telling that the episode never really gets into how Migg---a man who is articulate, physically in decent shape, and not displaying any signs of mental illness or other attributes that would make it hard to hold a job or live an organized life--became homeless. We, the viewer, are meant to sneer a bit at Tom, who refers to Migg as "the tramp," yet the episode itself never tries to go deeper than a superficial level with Migg. I think that this is done largely with the intent of keeping his character ambiguous, but to me it felt like yet another example of a central "normal" character looking at an "outsider" and being afraid.

If someone else has seen this series/episode, I'd be interested in your thoughts about the use of imagery that overlaps stereotypes about homeless people with what looks a lot like depression. The lack of grooming, the dependence on alcohol, and the general malaise. I was torn on it because on one level it almost seems like it's showing homelessness as this disease, and the horror is that it is communicable. I think that my feelings about this come mostly from the view that the episode itself seems to take toward Migg, which is not one of empathy. There could have been something to the idea that anyone, under the "right" circumstances, could fall into that state. But, again, it doesn't feel like there's a lot of sympathy or empathy. This is also the second episode where we get a very camp gay character, so the show's ability to create nuance outside of its "normal" characters has yet to impress me. When I was talking about this episode with someone, we agreed that the people who push our boundaries in the most uncomfortable ways don't tend to be strangers--they tend to be friends/acquaintances/etc. The character of Migg could just as easily have been a slacker friend who came over for a game night and then just never left.

As for the final piece of the plot, I quite liked the idea that
WARNING: spoilers below
it was actually Gerri who was the figment of Tom's imagination. The episode does so much work to get you to question whether or not Migg is real, I totally didn't anticipate that it was Gerri who was the imaginary character. There's also something kind of sweet about the idea that Tom has internalized his lost loved one as this plain speaking, motivating voice. The problem, again, is that the mechanics of the plot require vilifying the only atypical character in the episode as manipulative, deceitful, and abusive.


Overall good stuff thematically, with a few questionable decisions on the execution.




Good recommendation for Inside No. 9! I'd never heard of it, and although I'm not a big fan of series with 25-30 minute episodes, the premise and its anthology presentation intrigued me. So far, the trait of using the number 9 in some way for each episode has alluded me.

I thought episode 1 was cute, and I liked its offbeat nature. Katherine Parkinson has such an expressive face that she's a natural for comedy. I could stand to see more of her. The veteran Anne Reid was charming as the old lady-- showing her excellence at British expression and understatement.

Episode 2 was the most hilarious half hour of screwball and slapstick comedy that I've seen for years. Its sight gags and brilliant writing had me howling within minutes. Writers Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton should have won awards for this episode, played chiefly by the writers themselves as the hapless burglars. It's ending was a shocker, but I suppose that's a characteristic of the series.

Episode 3 was clever enough but I personally didn't care for the story, even after the surprise turn at the end. Despite it's being meant as dark comedy, the bum (Migg), and his influence over Tom seemed too far afield. It was a nice twist concerning Tom's girlfriend. The episode put me in mind of the unusual stories in the Alfred Hitchcock Presents series, or even The Twilight Zone series.

At any rate, I've seen enough to compel me to sample additional episodes, anticipating good writing and presentation.



So far, the trait of using the number 9 in some way for each episode has alluded me.
The location of each episode is a number 9. It's often just a quick establishing shot at the beginning that the house is number 9.





Last Gasp, Series 1, Episode 4, 2014

Tamsin (Lucy Hutchinson) is a young girl who is dying of cancer. Her parents (Steve Pemberton and Sophie Thompson) reach out to a Make-a-Wish type organization, and representatives Sally (Tamsin Greig) and Si (Adam Deacon) show up with pop star Frankie Parsons (David Bedella) in tow. But when Parsons goes to blow up a balloon for Tamsin, the exertion proves too much and he dies of an aneurysm on her bedroom floor. When the adults realize that Tamsin is literally holding--inside her purple balloon--the last breath of a major pop star, their greed gets the best of them.

This is an episode that I liked overall, especially the core concept.

There isn't a whole lot to analyze here. The main dynamic of the episode stays pretty much the same until the last minute or two----the foundation's representatives and Tamsin's father negotiating over the money they will get from Parsons' dying breath as Tamsin and her mother look on in slight horror. I really like Tamsin Greig, so it was a delight to see her pop up in this episode, and she handles some great line deliveries, especially when asked about her most memorable experience.

This episode does feel a bit overly long, and I suspect it would have worked better as a more compact 15-20 minute episode instead of being stretched to fill all 30 minutes. The middle sequences feel a bit redundant. Things do pick up at the end with two decent plot developments.




...
This episode does feel a bit overly long, and I suspect it would have worked better as a more compact 15-20 minute episode instead of being stretched to fill all 30 minutes. The middle sequences feel a bit redundant. Things do pick up at the end with two decent plot developments.

That's an interesting point, and one that I've noticed in the episodes so far: they all seem longer than 25-30 minutes, which is fine. Presumably because the episodes are not interrupted by commercial breaks, the run times are, say, 30 full minutes. In commercial TV we only usually get about 20+ minutes of actual program.



That's an interesting point, and one that I've noticed in the episodes so far: they all seem longer than 25-30 minutes, which is fine. Presumably because the episodes are not interrupted by commercial breaks, the run times are, say, 30 full minutes. In commercial TV we only usually get about 20+ minutes of actual program.
Like any anthology-type show, some ideas are better able to fill 30 minutes, while some feel a bit stretched in that same time frame.





The Understudy, Series 1, Episode 5, 2014

Jim (Reece Shearsmith) is an understudy to a drunk, egotistical actor named Tony (Steve Pemberton) who is playing MacDuff in a production of Macbeth. As Tony makes life miserable for his long-suffering assistant Kirstie (Rosie Cavaliero), Jim's girlfriend and fellow understudy Laura (Lyndsey Marshal) pushes Jim to seize any opportunity to step into that lead role. But how far will Jim go to claim his place on the stage?

I thought that overall this was a so-so episode, and kind of a victim of trying to do too much at once.

The most obvious--but not necessarily bad---dynamic of the episode parallels the relationship with Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, with Laura playing the role of the more ruthless female half of a relationship. Jim is uncomfortable pushing himself forward, and Laura grows increasingly irritated at his hesitation to take an opportunity to move up in the theater.

What does work nicely about this dynamic is that it sets up
WARNING: spoilers below
the final reveal that it was Kirstie, not Laura, who sabotaged and seriously injured Tony so that Jim could play the lead role. While at first I was rolling my eyes at the whole "Oh, it's not THIS woman who is nuts, it's THIS woman!" element, I did like that Kirstie has taken on a role as Tony's permanent caretaker as a sort of penance for her actions. It adds a nice sense of twisted morality to her character and keeps her from being a caricature of the demented obsessed woman.


Like a few of the other episodes, I did think that this one suffered a bit by not having a more relatable main character. In some episodes it kind of works that everyone is a total jerk, but here that just made things a bit tedious at times. At one point we even see Jim moralizing at Laura about her complaint about sexual harassment. This was just very confusing to me. We see that Laura DOES experience unprofessional and uncomfortable sexual harassment from someone who is her superior, so why is Jim so nasty about the idea that Laura reported it? The final act relies a bit on us feeling sympathy toward certain characters, and what came before just hadn't earned that sympathy.

Fine, but not much better than fine.






The Harrowing, Series 1, Episode 6, 2014

Teenager Katy (Aimee-Ffion Edwards) is hired by weirdo siblings Tabitha (Helen McCrory) and Hector (Reece Shearsmith) to "babysit" their disabled sibling Andras (Sean Buckley), who they assure Katy will not cause any fuss. Joined by her friend Shell (Poppy Rush), Katy is thrown off when strange events begin to occur in the house.

Anyone who is into horror knows full well the way that a final act can either make or break a scary story.

Up until the final moments of this episode, I was feeling pretty positive toward it. Edwards and Rush have good comedic chemistry with each other, and their conversations as they walk through the house are fun but also laid with decent foreshadowing.

When the two girls finally see Andras for themselves, the episode takes a much sharper turn into straight-up horror.

And then that ending. Oy.

Look,
WARNING: spoilers below
the ending is essentially building to a sequence that is framed as a gruesome sexual assault. It is upsetting and scary and in terms of the content (a young woman stripped to her underwear, tied to a chair, and given an epidural so that she can endure the impending sexual violation) it was a bit darker than I was expecting. But the real problem is that the ending just makes you ask: why?

What was the point of everything that came before Katy's assault? The episode is called "The Harrowing", but is there ever any indication that Katy's fear and suffering are essential to what is going to happen to her? Why go though the whole ruse of pretending to leave and having her wander around the house with Shell? They never really try and convince Katy to be part of their plot, they just explain why they are doing it. So again: why?

I left this episode feeling as if I must have missed something, and yet really not wanting to revisit it. Was it ever explained how Katy's family would not follow up on her disappearance? Did I miss something that would explain the reason for the whole deception?

This episode honestly felt like someone imagined that final moment---which is really upsetting and horrifying and effective even if I hated it---and then was like "Okay, and how do I fill the 28 minutes that come before it?".


I'm really not a fan of horror that wastes a lot of time just so that it can sprinkle in disturbing moments without grounding those moments in what surrounds it. That's really what this episode feels like and the relationship between the ending and what came before it really soured me on the latter.






La Couchette, Series 2, Episode 1, 2015

British couple Les (Mark Benton) and Kath (Julie Hesmondhalgh) arrive in the sleeping car of a train, on the way to their daughter's wedding. Already in the car are agitated doctor Maxwell (Reece Shearsmith), intoxicated and flatulent Jorg (Steve Pemberton), and rowdy Shona (Jessica Dunning). But not everyone in the sleeping car is who or what they seem to be.

I do not have much to say about this episode. I think that it's a bit too closely related to a certain common urban legend to hold many surprises. Benton and Hesmondhalgh are good as the couple, arguing over a moral decision that arises halfway through the episode. Dunning is fun as the loud and brassy Australian tourist who relates with slight disappointment that she did get Hepatitis in India, but only Hep A.

A lot of the humor in this episode just isn't my style. Farts. A woman being sexually forward. Someone poops in a box.

Meh.

I think that this was a pretty good cast, but the writing and the overall pace and mechanics of the episode just didn't work all that well for me. The ending twist is fine but too predictable.






The 12 Days of Christine, Series 2, Episode 2, 2015

Christine (Sheridan Smith) arrives home from a Halloween party with the sexy Adam (Tom Riley) in tow. The two engage in banter and as he excuses himself to the bathroom, the phone suddenly rings. Answering it, Christine suddenly finds that she's jumped forward in time. As Christine finds herself lurching through time--marriage, a baby, the death of her father--strange and unsettling events begin to occur. Who is the mysterious man whose voice she hears on her child's baby monitor and who seems to have some interest in her child?

GUYS! This episode! WOW!

This is hands down the best episode of this show that I've seen so far and it's also probably one of the best episode of sci-fi/anthology TV that I've seen period.

Where to even begin? For starters, this episode is the first in the series that seems willing to step away from the more in-your-face comedy element and instead goes for a more straight-ahead disturbing and unsettling and somber tone.

It is also the first episode to give us a fully realized and sympathetic protagonist in the form of Christine. (Okay, are we waiting for the other shoe to drop? Of course. But what we see of Christine shows us a kind and very human person and she is easy to root for). Sheridan Smith is AMAZING in her lead role, playing a woman who is losing her sense of herself. I found myself so invested in Christine and her story---I felt as if I'd been watching her for a whole movie and not just a 30 minute episode of a show.

The horror itself is also incredibly effective and startling. Disturbing imagery and an unsettling score make a strong impact, and they are brilliantly contrasted with the bright and bustling holiday gatherings that seem to be the connecting points of Christine's jumps in time.

And the ending. THE ENDING! Reader, I cried. There are so many cheap, "twist" ways that this episode could have ended. So many ways that our understanding of Christine and her life could have been pulled out from under us just for the sake of a "gotcha" moment. But much to the episode's credit, it delivers something memorable and heartbreaking and, above all, something that is so utterly coherent with every single thing that came before it. There are so many good choices in this episode, and the way that it nails the ending is the icing on the cake.

While I can't say enough nice things about Sheridan's performance, she is capably supported by Riley as Adam, Michele Dotrice as her mother, Stacy Liu as her awkward roommate, and Steve Pemberton doing a toned-down version of the gay best friend.

This episode really is something special. Even if you have no interest in this show in general, I would urge you to check out this episode.




I was disappointed in the final two episodes of the first season, and I didn't love the first episode of the second season.

It must be a tall order for Shearsmith & Pemberton to keep coming up with impressive new stories for episode after episode. Perhaps the Brit public gave them a lot of cred for their previous The League of Gentlemen, somewhat similarly to the way Steve Martin and Martin Short had cred for their series Only Murders in the Building.

Still, I'll forage on. Based on your review I'll look forward to episode 2 of Season 2.



I was disappointed in the final two episodes of the first season, and I didn't love the first episode of the second season.
Same. I expect it to be hit-or-miss for its whole run.

Still, I'll forage on. Based on your review I'll look forward to episode 2 of Season 2.
Obviously I loved it. I hope you enjoy it.





The Trial of Elizabeth Gadge, Series 2, Episode 3, 2015

Elizabeth Gadge (Ruth Sheen) is brought before famed witch-hunters Clarke (Steve Pemberton) and Warren (Reece Shearsmith). Elizabeth's daughter (Sinead Matthews) and son-on-law (Jim Howick) claim to have seen her participating in satanic activities, and neighbors and other villagers are more than willing to jump in with their own suspicions. But as the trial wears on, Clarke begins to wonder if their godly mission has gone somewhat astray.

Sometimes a concept is so well-worn that in order to pull it off, you really have to pick a different direction. Unfortunately, you can probably guess just from the summary above what the overriding question ends up being in this episode: is Elizabeth really a witch, or is she just the victim of local politics and an overzealous pair of petty authorities?

There are a few quality comedic moments to be had along the way. Much is made of Elizabeth speaking to a familiar, a small white mouse that she keeps as a pet inside of a wicker bottle. Elizabeth is often baffled by the mundane realities of the activities that area supposedly evidence against her. There are also the darkly comedic conversations between Elizabeth's daughter and son-in-law, where they must way Elizabeth's life against all that extra attic space they'll get if she dies and they inherit her home. (Sheets need a lot of space to dry!).

Some of the comedy was a miss for me, though. A subplot about a third inquisitor who is sexually aroused by the different satanic rites and torture implements is a worn out gag. There's a redundant nature to some of the interrogation sequences, another sign of an episode that would have probably worked better around 5 minutes shorter.

Really in this episode you're just counting the minutes until they let you know if Elizabeth is a witch or not. I would say that the conclusion was medium satisfying.




[Seas. 2, ep. 2] Same. I expect it to be hit-or-miss for its whole run.

Obviously I loved it. I hope you enjoy it.
Heh. I had been expecting a comedic episode, so it took a minute to transfer my bearings. They definitely took a dramatic turn from the usual type story.

It was well thought out, clever, and touching. Not really my cup of tea, but it was impressive. Sheridan Smith was a stand out.

It did put me in mind of a story or two from The Twilight Zone from around 1960. Good quality. It'll be interesting to see how many of the episodes will be dramatic rather than comedic.



Well, I guess no one is watching --or has watched-- the series. I thought there'd be more comments.

I got about halfway through the witch trial episode (#3) before I bailed. Although it got a little Monty Python-ish, it just wasn't funny. I may have missed an impressive ending, but I didn't feel like waiting around to see.

The 4th episode, however, was a different matter. It was very cleverly written, and held my interest throughout. The story gradually shifted focus leading to a surprise ending. The split screen CCTV filming served to obscure certain parts of the action, as well as to build tension.