‘Inside No 9′ comes from the brilliant imaginations of Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton. The pair are touched by genius & have been responsible for some of the best British television (`The League of Gentlemen’ & `Psychoville’) of the last 20 years.
Their newest work is an anthology series of self-contained episodes, with the action confined to just one room or at the most, one building. These are merely logistical constraints because the six stand-alone stories are wonderfully inventive, interwoven with intrigue, twists & turns, menace, dark hued motives, black-hearted deeds & memorable characters. With admirable breadth and depth, they are all very different in feel, tone & atmosphere but unified by an overarching sensibility of wanting to wrong-foot and surprise the audience. Behind each door marked 9, the viewer enters a world shaped by situations and inhabited by characters so nuanced and disturbing that they mesmerise as the narrative tantalisingly unfolds. It is storytelling at its most sublime, with the benchmark of quality set extraordinarily high across the whole series.
The principle link connecting these disparate episodes is that of an all-encompassing knife-edge balancing act between comedy & drama, the humorous & tragic. It is the unique essence that characterises Shearsmith & Pemberton’s work – a delicate, difficult thing to achieve (without it seeming forced or bolted on), the shift between the two turning on a hair’s breadth, but Reece and Steve are its masters. No-one else on TV is doing what they do and doing it so brilliantly. They are true television auteurs.
The realm of dramatic explorations balanced by the comedic tone in the `No 9′ stories include the trauma of childhood abuse & the lasting damage done unfolding as a traditional parlour game is played; an interloping tramp setting in motion a heart-breaking descent into mental breakdown, with a haunting depiction that what keeps us from the gutter is gossamer thin; a satirical portrayal of people’s venal greed via the commodification of celebrity & the selfish manipulation of children by adults; the choreographed perfection of a silent burglary, mixing Laurel & Hardy mishaps with Ortonesque farce; the nagging insecurities & professional jealousies of the acting profession, played out against a Shakespearean metadrama that ends in real tragedy; meditations on art & religion as a nightmarish horror mounts, tempered by the gothic comedy of an Addams-like brother & sister.
All are extremely skilful pieces of writing. What distinguishes Reece and Steve’s work is meticulous care, attention to detail & a genuine love of what they create. They `plough their own furrow’ & write what entertains them, undiluted by what is `in’ or `out’ and against the swell of the mainstream. Their writing is the very antithesis of hack work, defiantly rejecting all that is clichéd, compromised & mediocre – their `own thing’ is what matters. `Inside No 9′ evokes the spirit of the 1960s-1970s golden age of writers & writer led TV programmes – Rod Serling, Nigel Kneale, Roald Dahl & `Play for Today – in its set of perfectly formed stand-alone pieces, in the scope of its originality & creativity. It is rare to find such individual, distinctive voices in today’s TV schedules. In recalling a television age where writing was supreme, as a series ‘Inside No 9’ can also be seen, to all intents & purposes, as a collection of plays. The writing is extraordinarily precise, focusing the scenes across real-time or limited time, restricting the action taking place to a fixed space & concentrated on a relatively small number of characters.
However one wishes to interpret ‘Inside No 9’s artistic form & influences, at its core, it’s a series of six beautifully realised stories, exquisitely written & performed. The array of superb actors (no doubt attracted by the sheer quality of the scripts) involved include the cream of British acting talent, none more so than Reece & Steve themselves. Individually they are brilliant actors & together they have an incredible chemistry.
Shearsmith & Pemberton surpass themselves with each new creation & `Inside No 9′ shows them at the very top of their game. It is a magnificent achievement, the culmination of hard work, years of experience and natural-born talent – a labour of love that has borne six masterful examples of their craft. Reece and Steve are wonders of our television age & we are very lucky to have them.
These stories repay watching again & again, so you can cherish them – and their intricacies, subtleties & mesmerising character interplays. Watching truly great work just lifts the spirits. One can see the love with which ‘Inside No 9’ was made and in turn it generates love – from all those who watched it & fell in love with its brilliance – in the way only exceptional creative work does.
A second series of ‘Inside No 9’ has recently finished filming. Given what the first series achieved in terms of artistry & excellence, then six further ‘nines’ promises to be the televisual highlight of 2015.