Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Inside No. 9

Tremendous Terror

Do you remember Psychoville? I certainly can. It has taken me two years to crawl out from behind the sofa, just in time (you might say) for its new sister series. Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith once again attempt to plunder the comedic value of British horror in the name of our macabre impulses. Being an avid admirer of their work (especially The League of Gentlemen), I had to give this latest series a watch.

Each episode is a unique standalone story. In this opening tale, titled Sardines, Katherine Parkinson of IT Crowd fame plays Rebecca, a seemingly unloved woman celebrating her recent engagement. Seemingly every cast member is a familiar face with the likes of Tim Key, Julian Rhind-Tutt and Marc Wootton filling out the ensemble. Of course, the superb Pemberton and Shearsmith also appear in their script as a pair of bickering gay lovers.

As the title suggests, this all-star billing is confined to a small space, namely a giant wardrobe, where each character has ample room to indulge in an awkward comedy of manners – or lack of them. As the screw is turned on these fools and villains, M.R. James would be proud of the way the tension insidiously builds towards the big reveal.

Based on this evidence, Inside No. 9 is going to be a very entertaining series. For one thing, the humour is much broader than previous outings for the writers and features less sadism than Psychoville.

Sardines is a finely engineered short narrative which combines the best features of telly and theatre. That is, a slick hybrid that masters the basics as efficiently as a German car engine. Television could not possibly be this slick and yet here is the proof.

Most importantly, aside from a couple of obvious caricatures, everything is original. Comedy-horror may be a well worn path, with Garth Marenghi and Steve Coogan’s Dr Terrible carving themselves an obscure cult following, but Inside No. 9 is a totally different animal from its predecessors. Why? Because it is actually rather dark; a sinister pleasure lurks deep within its frames, willing to leech off our disgust when its opportunity strikes.

We must savour Sardines, for genius such as this arrives in such paucity that I daresay we will not see it’s like again – at least, not until next week’s episode.


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