Inside No 9: Series 1 review (DVD)

OK, let’s be honest, you’re either going to "get" Pemberton and Shearsmith’s humour or you’re not. That’s been obvious from the moment they arrived on screen as half of the League of Gentlemen. It’s dark, it draws on old horror movies they enjoyed as kids and it will be a stretch too far for some people. Nowhere is this more apparent than the anthology comedy drama series, Inside No 9.

The premise is simple: you don’t know what happens behind closed doors so they just take as a theme that each of these plays happens behind "number nine somewhere or other" – a house number, a flat number, a dressing room number, whatever. Each story works independently after that – it’s like an upmarket revisitation of Armchair Thriller, Takes of the Unexpected, The Twilight Zone and no doubt an awful lot else.

It’s understandable, then, that although the look and feel of the stories is consistently excellent and the writers/stars ability to attract the very best guest performers is unsurpassed, the appeal is variable. Things start well with Sardines, beginning as a comedy of ghastly upper class manners and only taking a macabre turn at the end; Tom and Geri is a great piece of wrongfooting but it’s thin on laughs. Last Gasp explores the death of a celebrity and perfectly skewers those who’d exploit it, while The Understudy is a great play about… well… an understudy, with a nice twist at the end. Again, this one veers more toward the drama than the comedy.

That leaves the best and the worst, in my view. The worst is The Harrowing, in which – without giving too much away – the writers recreate a horror story and leave out any pretense of satirising or getting laughs; it’s gripping enough but as a season finale it needed to celebrate all that had gone before rather than go completely gothic and chilling. Crucially there’s no twist at the end – maybe it’s intended as a double bluff because you’re expecting something unexpected which doesn’t turn up. If you buy the DVD, do yourself a favour and leave the positively glittering A Quiet Night In until last. In this one the two leads remind us of what they’re best at; they are bloody funny when the mood takes them. Yes, this one is a bit dark, particularly at the end, but very bravely it’s a near-silent movie with a whole load of laugh-out-loud moments. Why they buried it in the middle of the series rather than start off with it or finish on a high is beyond me.

Worth getting? Yes, if you’re on their wavelength you’ll like this. Nonetheless it’s "gifted writers and performers doing what the hell they feel like" rather than a coherent series in itself.

EXTRAS ★★ An engaging interview with the two stars and the director, some pictures and… hang on, is that it...?

Stuart O'Connor is the Managing Editor of Screenjabber, the movie review website he co-founded with Neil Davey far too many years ago. He likes all genres, as long as the film is good (although he does enjoy the occasional bad "guilty pleasure"), and drinks way too much coffee.

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