I watched and enjoyed the first series of Inside No. 9, but I never got round to reviewing it. So I’ll say now that I think it was one of the best new series of 2014. Because of the anthology nature of the series, with it having a different setting and different characters each week, I’ve decided to do an episode by episode review, instead of the usual review of a whole series. Also, given that there is often a twist at the end of each episode and even though I’m writing these weeks after the episodes have been screened, I’m going to reiterate that these reviews CONTAIN SPOILERS.
I have long been an admirer of Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith’s work, they have written and performed together in some of the best comedies of the last few decades, such as Psychoville and earlier The League Of Gentlemen with Mark Gatiss and Jeremy Dyson. While those two series both contained intricate arc plots, each episode of Inside No. 9 is a self-contained story. It’s similar to shows like Tales of the Unexpected, and more recently Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror. With Inside No. 9 the episodes all have a loose connection in that they all take place in a room or a house numbered 9.
The first episode of this series ‘La Couchette’ takes place in a sleeper carriage on a train going through France. It has a straightforward set-up for comedy, in that it features very different people in a cramped environment. The first we meet is uptight, pompous Dr. Maxwell (Reece Shearsmith) who has an eye-mask and earplugs, and is desperate to sleep as he is on his way to a job interview for the World Health Organisation. Then in comes noisy, bloated Jorg (Steve Pemberton), a German man who apparently doesn’t speak much English. He belches and farts a lot, and snores very loudly too.
Next to arrive are a working class Northern couple (I like that they both say “put the big light on”) Les (Mark Benton) and Kath (Julie Hesmondhalgh), on their way to attend their daughter’s wedding. There appears to have been a mix-up with the beds, with Jorg asleep in one of theirs, and as Les and Kath can’t speak German, Maxwell ends up having to act as an interpreter.
Just when things seem like they’ve gone quiet, Australian backpacker Shona (Jessica Gunning) comes in. By her own admission she “hasn’t had a shower since Prague” and likes to swig cans of Carling lager. She leaves and returns later with another backpacker, upper-class twit Hugo (Jack Whitehall).
This is already a very good set of characters, who all feel quite realistic. We’ve all probably met people like them all at some point in our lives, and the casting is spot on. Much of the humour comes from their interactions, and how hard it is for anyone to get to sleep in there, with any noise seeming too loud, such as people clattering about, mobile phone messages and travel alarms going off, zips opening, doors opening and closing. The tiny gaps of silence in between somehow make the situation all the worse, and then there’s everyone trying in vain not to disturb anyone.
But then a dead man’s body falls out of one of the beds! Everyone wakes up, shocked. Maxwell examines the body and says he has been dead for hours. Jorg thinks they should stop the train and alert the guard, but Hugo says he doesn’t want that to happen, as he stowed away on the train and hasn’t got a ticket. Maxwell says that chances are they’ll all be held up for hours while the death is investigated, meaning that he will miss his interview. He suggests that they all put the body back in the bed and act like nothing has happened. Les doesn’t want to risk missing his daughter’s wedding, and Hugo obviously doesn’t want anyone coming. Kath and Shona aren’t happy about the plan, thinking it awful that they are treating the dead man in such a callous way, but ultimately everyone agrees to go along with it and they all go to the sleep.
The next morning Jorg is desperate to shit, and has to do in a shoebox held by Hugo containing Kath’s newly bought shoes. They arrive at their destination, and everyone goes their separate ways. Alone in the carriage Maxwell reveals he murdered the man, who was Doctor Meyer, his rival candidate for the job he is going to… or so he thought. In fact, Doctor Meyer was Jorg, who is now dressed in a suit and isn’t bloated or flatulent. It turns out he was sick the night before, but thanks to some of the medicine Maxwell gave him he feels better.
I guessed the twist that Maxwell killed the dead man, but I didn’t expect it to turn out that he got the wrong one, and not only that he ended up helping the man he intended to kill. The ending is good as an ironic twist and a piece of black comedy, and there is also a feeling that Maxwell may get some comeuppance. I liked that Pemberton and Shearsmith even gave the unfortunate murdered man a name, which we find out in the end credits was Yves, played by George Glaves.
This was a great start to the series, very funny and well-written, and a good ensemble cast.