This is slightly outside of my comfort zone, given that I’ve not done any television reviewing before, but upon watching Inside No 9 last night I really felt compelled to get my thoughts down about it and will likely review the entire series. Some episodes may seem distanced from horror, but given the team behind it, it is likely to fulfil a horror quota.
For the uninitiated, Inside No 9 is the latest collaboration between The League of Gentlemen stars and writers, Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton, following their critically successful murder-mystery series Psychoville. Unfortunately, unfavourable scheduling prevented Psychoville from achieving a larger audience, but the series itself was a masterpiece of call backs, physical comedy, dark twists and also made you feel an empathy with some incredibly twisted characters. Shearsmith and Pemberton’s gift is to create characters that at first appear grotesque caricatures before layering them with both expected and unexpected traits – making them real beneath the make-up.
What is surprising about this duo then is that they routinely do away with the characters that they have obviously put a great deal of effort and care into in often vicious ways that prevent them from returning. This ensures that their writing is never stale and certainly in the second series of Psychoville, quickly makes the viewer aware that no one is safe. Given their bravery in this it only makes sense that their next project would be even more ambitious, leading to Inside No 9 – an anthology series loosely linked by the number 9 (obviously), starting with ‘Sardines‘.
The real genius of ‘Sardines‘ is that our establishing shot is of a large manor house, a grand number 9 on the front gate, suggesting something grand, but the majority of the action takes place within a wardrobe (with the bedroom and en suite bathroom providing a little breathing space). Immediately as viewers we are wrong-footed and spend much of the duration (30 mins) attempting to right ourselves as new characters are introduced in the guise of a game called ‘Sardines’ – a sort of hide and seek where the aim is that upon finding someone, you have to hide with them.
Most of our time is spent with Rebecca (Katherine Parkinson) who is the first to find Ian (Tim Key), a man who no one really seems to know, or understand why he is at the party. Ian’s incredibly misjudged remarks are a source of humour and discomfort. The claustrophobic space of the wardrobe really heightens the awkwardness between the two before more and more characters (including some wonderful cameos) gradually fill up the wardrobe and we learn more about the inhabitants. Family members, partners and guests hoping to make an impression on a powerful friend of the family all make appearances. As these varied characters enter the wardrobe the humour escalates, only to be drawn back by a foreboding remark that keeps the balance of funny and creepy in check.
Despite the limited location, the action is still dynamic and the dialogue is snappy, yet well constructed hinting at what is to come and gradually revealing secrets (including some red herrings), yet the fantastically creepy conclusion never feels like a cheat. In hindsight, it is the most logical and satisfying climax, yet due to the skilled winding of the viewer around the writers’ fingers it also appears as a shock (or at least it did for me).
The utilisation of limited space is nothing new to the writers who of course paid homage to Rope in Psychoville, yet this took it to the next level, functioning almost as a play rather than a conventional television comedy-drama. I can only look forward to next week’s episode, which by all accounts is a silent episode – a device handled with flair in Buffy the Vampire Slayer some years ago – to see what other bravery and creativity Shearsmith and Pemberton will show.