Inside No. 9 – ‘Empty Orchestra’

Series 3, Episode 4


This episode is set in a karaoke room, reserved for an office party.

The title is meaningful, as we get the word “karaoke” from Japanese, and the literal translation of it is “empty orchestra”.

This episode is a VERY different sort of episode for Inside No. 9.

First in the karaoke room is Greg (Reece Shearsmith), dressed in a sumo wrestler fat suit, apparently he’s supposed to be ‘Gangham Style’. (Wrong country, for a start!). He starts singing ‘Don’t You Want Me’ by The Human League, and is joined by Connie (Tamzin Outhwaite). Connie is dressed as Amy Winehouse (Back To Black era).

She sings the song with Greg, and they kiss… but stop when Fran (Sarah Hadland) enters. Fran is dressed as Britney Spears (… Baby One More Time era). It’s clear that Greg and Fran are together, and also that Greg and Connie are having an affair.

Janet (Emily Howlett) arrives. She is dressed as Boy George (Colour By Numbers era). She is deaf and can only hear vibrations and noise in the room, until she adjusts her hearing aid where she hears mostly silence.

The party is for Roger (Steve Pemberton), who has been promoted and is moving up to the 6th floor. Despite that, he hasn’t come in costume at all, and is still in his work suit. He has brought a red clown nose to wear though.

An envelope falls out of Roger’s jacket, with the names of the people at the party written in pen on the back. There have been rumours about lay-offs and redundancies going around, and Greg thinks one of them is going to be sacked.

Finally, Duane (Javone Prince) enters dressed as Michael Jackson (Thriller era).

More dynamics unfold as the party goes on. Janet has a crush on Duane. Connie has an intense dislike for Janet, partly because Janet got a PA job that Connie wanted. Connie takes Duane’s phone when he isn’t looking and sends Janet a message “I really like u. Do you like me? Sing me a song and I’ll know. Duane XXX.”

Roger drinks quite a lot. First it’s a few bottles of lager, then he gets a whole tray of shots for himself! By this point he’s very drunk, and has started wearing his tie around his head and sings ‘Since You Been Gone’ by Rainbow.

Greg, Connie and Fran try to get Roger’s letter (with Fran accidentally getting a door slammed right in her nose for her trouble!), and Greg sees that Fran’s name has been circled and all the others crossed out. Roger sees Greg looking at the letter, and tells the whole party the letter is his divorce papers. On Friday his wife Mary left him, which probably explains his low mood and heavy drinking.

After Fran and Connie have sung ‘I Know Him So Well’ by Elaine Paige & Barbra Dickson, Roger calls Fran over to have a private word.

Janet goes up to sing ‘Only You’ by Yazoo, which obviously she has some difficulty with, but is doing it as an answer to what she believes is Duane’s text. Connie laughs at her and yawns during Janet’s performance. Fran knows what Connie has done, so goes over to Duane to tell him.

Duane turns the backing track off, and tells Janet that Connie sent the text. He tells Janet he likes her, but only as a friend. Connie says it was a joke, but everyone can see what it was. It was a cruel, mean-spirited move designed to humiliate Janet.

Roger says that he has an announcement to make. The rumours are true that someone is going to have to leave the company. Roger has decided that it is… himself. With his divorce coming up he’s decided to have a fresh start. Far from being fired, Fran is the person who’s going to be offered the chance to take over from his job!

A hen party come in, they are the next booking and have come in slightly early. Janet accidentally knocks into Connie who reaches the peak of her nastiness by saying to Janet that Fran won’t want her as PA as “Fran wants someone with skills, someone who can HEAR”. Janet replies “I’ve got skills Connie. I can lip read”. She goes over to Fran, and tells her what has been going on between Greg and Connie. Fran then goes back over to those two, and fires them on the spot!

Finally, Duane goes up to Janet and places her hand on his chest. She can hear it beating, and they kiss!

There were many memorable moments and highlights from ‘Empty Orchestra’.

Janet puts her hand on the speakers so she can feel the vibrations and enjoy the music.

After Roger has told them about his impending divorce, they decide to put on another song to lift Roger’s spirits. The choice however is ‘I Know Him So Well’ by Elaine Paige & Barbra Dickson! I love that song anyway, but it was used brilliantly here.

The lyrics, about relationships which are breaking up, obviously make Roger even more down. It’s also apt that Fran and Connie are singing it to Greg, as like in the song they are two women singing about the same man. Ironically, while they have the hair colours matching with the original singers (blonde Elaine Paige and Fran, dark-haired Barbra Dickson and Connie), the roles are reversed, as in the original Elaine Paige was playing the mistress and Barbra Dickson the wife, while in this Fran is Greg’s fiancee and Connie is the person he is having an affair with. There’s a small moment as well where immediately after she has learnt that Fran is getting sacked, Connie’s line in the song is “oh so good”.

Duane bought a bag for “Duane’s Famous Pills Roulette” which he told the party contained 1 ecstasy, 1 Viagra, 1 ketamine, 1 paracetamol, 1 laxative and 1 orange Tic-Tac, the idea being they’d take one at random. My two immediate thoughts were: it’s not a good idea to have the one black character being someone who brings drugs. My other was that what people took from the bag was going to be how the plot of the rest of the episode would go. However, it turned out Duane was just kidding, and all that was in the bag were Tic-Tacs. After he reveals this Duane says outright “What, ‘cos I’m black I must be a drug dealer?”. So they did a great job there, as they not only recognised that there would be an issue, but they addressed it.

As for it not influencing the rest of the plot, perhaps they thought that would be too obvious?

Greg says he hasn’t decided whether he’s going to sing ‘The Birdie Song’ or ‘Wind Beneath My Wings’. He might have been joking, but other than both having flying themes, those are two quite random song choices!

When it goes dark we see that Connie is wearing glow-in-the-dark lipstick… and it is also all over Greg’s face! Even better, that this comes at the exact time Fran goes to confront them for their affair.

Chantel (Rebeckah Hinds), whose hen party comes in at the end, sings ‘Titanium’ by David Guetta feat. Sia, and she has a great voice!

The episode has been called a “mini musical”. Here’s the list of songs used in this episode if you want to make a playlist.

‘Come On Eileen’ – Dexy’s Midight Runners (briefly at the beginning).
‘Don’t You Want Me’ – Human League (sung by Greg and Connie).
‘Saturday Night’ – Whigfield (sung by Fran).
‘Wham Rap’ – Wham! (sung by Duane).
‘Since You Been Gone’ – Rainbow (sung by Roger).
‘I Know Him So Well’ – Elaine Paige & Barbra Dickson (sung by Fran and Connie).
‘Only You’ – Yazoo (sung by Janet).
‘Titanium’ – David Guetta feat. Sia (sung by Chantel).

This episode was more of an ensemble, so acting wise Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton weren’t quite as on the forefront as they are in other episodes. But some of the cast did stand out well, and they were Emily Howlett and Tamzin Outhwaite.

Janet was one the better written characters with a disability than what is often seen on TV, and it’s refreshing that they actually had a deaf actress to play a deaf character. Janet has a shyness and quirkiness to her, which was partly why she was so likeable. If anyone thought that or the fact she is deaf was a reason to underestimate her, then she proves them very wrong in the end, which is great to see. Emily Howlett had a lot of charisma and embodied the role well.

Connie is a horrible person. She is such a nasty, bullying bitch, but she is still an interesting character, certainly a believable one, I think most of us have had work colleagues like Connie at some point. Tamzin Outhwaite did a fantastic job playing her, she had a lot of presence and made the character fully rounded.

‘Empty Orchestra’ was… quite sweet! That was unexpected. The twist was that it had a happy ending. It’s the first Inside No. 9 episode to have that. Many episodes of Inside No. 9 leave you feeling sad or disturbed. ‘Empty Orchestra’ left me feeling happy!

It’s satisfying in a fairy tale sort of way. The nice characters are rewarded. Janet and Duane get together, Fran gets a promotion, Roger ends up with one of the women at the hen party. The bad people get their comeuppance, Greg and Connie’s affair is uncovered and they are sacked.

It is a totally different sort of episode to last weeks, ‘The Riddle Of The Sphinx’, but both episodes were done really well. ‘The Riddle Of The Sphinx’ was extremely dark even by this shows standards, so I liked that we got a lighter, funnier one this week.

Some fans weren’t keen on the episode. I suppose ‘Empty Orchestra’ is more like a mainstream sitcom than many Inside No. 9 episodes. However, Inside No. 9 is meant to be an anthology series, so I like that they do different stuff. I mean, ‘The 12 Days Of Christine’ is widely regarded as the best episode they have ever done, and that was a bit of a change of pace for the series. Who’d have expected them to write something as moving as that?

‘Empty Orchestra’ has been compared to episodes like ‘Last Gasp’ and ‘Nana’s Party’ but I really like this one, and I was a bit ”meh” on ‘Nana’s Party’, and I didn’t like ‘Last Gasp’ at all. ‘Empty Orchestra’ really hit the spot for me, whether it’s all the karaoke and pop music I don’t know.

In fact, I’d say ‘Empty Orchestra’ is one of my favourites of all the Inside No. 9‘s. I really enjoyed it!

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