Gentler than previous episodes, this week's no. 9 is more light than dark. But it still remains to be an amusing and at times poignant insight into a family, full of secrets...
The penultimate episode from the second run of Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton’s anthology series, Inside No. 9 aired last week, offering a story that was surprisingly off-piste in comparison to what we’ve already seen from the dark comedy duo.
The episode entitled ‘Nana’s Party’ is as simplistic as it sounds. The story revolves around a family gathering to celebrate Maggie’s (Elsie Kelly) 79th birthday. Manically trying to organise the party is Claire Skinner’s prim and proper housewife, Angela. However, her husband Jim (Pemberton) is anything but helpful as he seeks vengeance on his brother-in-law Pat (Shearsmith), who is something of a practical joker. Adding to the chaos, is Pat’s wife/Angela’s under appreciated sister, Carol (Lorraine Ashbourne), who struggles to reign back her alcoholic urges as the party gets under way.
What makes this story different to previous episodes is how much lighter it is when it comes to the comedy and it’s trademark twists and turns. Shearsmith and Pemberton have garnered something of a reputation for employing dark and sinister twists into their otherwise harmless tales of the unexpected. But this time, as a means of throwing us off guard just before the final hurdle, the writers elect to take the plot in wholly different directions to what you might expect. The anticipation of something dramatically horrible happening is still embedded in the story, of course, but what actually happens this time is far more understated and humanly poignant.
The performances in this episode, though not as flashy as in previous episodes, are well acted. The most comic relief we get comes from Kelly’s elderly grandmother, Maggie, who is very sweetly impressed by even the littlest of things such as a birthday card slogan or a game on her granddaughter’s tablet. In Skinner’s slightly controlling perfectionist Angela there is a familiar chord that brings back recollections of her well-known performance as Sue in Outnumbered. Pemberton and Shearsmith’s characters are typical caricatures of sad, middle-aged husbands, while Ashbourne’s characterisation of Carol is increasingly complex and volatile.
Overall, this is a rather tame episode from the typically wicked minds of Shearsmith and Pemberton, that is gently amusing and surprises in all the places you’d least expect. But don’t be fooled. As the finale of this series approaches, it’s hard to say what the duo have up their sleeves. To say that ‘something wicked this way comes’ might just be an understatement…
Inside No. 9 is broadcast on BBC Two and BBC Two HD on Thursdays at 10pm.