A cracking start to the new series, Shearsmith and Pemberton take their simple premise once more and extrapolate a seemingly ordinary situation into a short story that is wickedly funny.
Fresh from winning The Royal Television Society award for Best Comedy Performance in their first series, Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton – of The League of Gentlemen and Psychoville fame – returned to our screens this week with a helping of their dark comedy anthology series, Inside No. 9.
The premise of the show, based on classic horror anthologies such as The Twilight Zone and Tales of The Unexpected, is simple. Each week we are invited into a different No. 9 – and be it a modern house, a dressing room backstage or even a barn in the 17th Century, you can bet that something tantalisingly mysterious – and dead funny – dwells inside.
In the opening episode of series 2 – entitled ‘La Couchette’ – the duo proved once again that their trademark concoction of humour and horror, tied into this concept of remaining static in one location is still a winning formula. The aforementioned location this week was a seemingly ordinary six-man sleeper car (numbers 9A-9F) on a train headed for Bourg St Maurice in South-Eastern France. As in the previous series, Shearsmith and Pemberton have nabbed a stellar ensemble cast for each of their episodes – with Jack Whitehall, Julie Hesmondhalgh and Mark Benton all lending a supporting role in this one.
The six passengers in the sleeper car range from an irritable English doctor with an appointment to keep (Shearsmith) to a posh trustafarian traveller (Whitehall), “an Aussie slapper” (Jessica Gunning), a drunken German (Pemberton) and a kindly, if bickering couple (Benton and Hesmondhalgh) on their way to their daughter’s wedding. As the train travels across France and the night goes on, this ragtag group of commuters face more than the trouble of sleeping in such confined quarters together, when they find an unwelcome visitor lying amongst them.
What makes the show so unique – and ultimately more enjoyable – are the surprises it hides within it’s seemingly normal settings and mostly ordinary characters. It is not a show that takes well to explicit spoilers, as some of the biggest laughs – and indeed the biggest jumps – come from the shockingly hysterical experience of watching it first hand. But thanks to it’s brief and sectional format, in which no episode is linked by anything other than the eponymous No. 9, it has the added advantage of being very easy to slip into. Even the appearances of Shearsmith and Pemberton are never a given – with some future episodes promising to see very little to no trace of them on-screen.
Ultimately however, this episode was a cracking series opener, going into a No. 9 that provided laughs of all sorts – from the awkward chuckles of watching six strangers confined and conflicted with one another to the jolted guffaws that inevitably come when faced with the duo’s horrifying bag of tricks. Even in moments of familiarly common humour – from toilet gags to innuendos – Shearsmith and Pemberton never stay in one mode of comedy for too long – and place enough clever twists and turns to keep you thoroughly engaged; An inspired talent that will no doubt be seen again, albeit in a wholly different No. 9, as the series continues.
Inside No. 9 is broadcast on BBC Two and BBC Two HD on Thursdays at 10pm.