Apologies for these reviews being so late. Due to illness, travel and work (plus the other 634 things I’m currently doing) a chance to rewatch both episodes in order to provide a more involved review has been difficult to find, but I’ve finally managed it and so, for your reading pleasure are two reviews of the latest episodes.
First up is episode three: Tom and Gerri. Now, from the title and an earlier suggestion that this episode was to be one of their most disturbing I was expecting a potentially violent cat and mouse game. However, as usual with Shearsmith and Pemberton, they never do quite what you expect them to do and that in itself makes their work a pleasure to watch. On one point I was right – Tom and Gerri is a cat and mouse game, but one that is far more disturbing than any kind of overt violence could show and honestly, I was holding my breath all the way through.
The story, in short with no spoilers, is that Tom (Reece Shearsmith), a school teacher who seems to have long fallen out of love with his job and Gerri (Gemma Arterton) witness a homeless man living near their flat. With Gerri away for an audition, Tom is soon visited by the man, named Migg (Steve Pemberton), who returns his wallet and expects some comfort from the cold in return. Begrudgingly, Tom allows the stranger in.
What follows is some of the most tense television I have ever seen, made all the more unbearable by the writers’ clever weaving into moments that could be a ‘jump scare’, but instead keeping a calm, sober pace. The aforementioned flat is made to feel smaller than the wardrobe from Sardines and so much effort is put into the setting and characters that you almost feel you can smell it and them through the screen.
This story will also appeal most to Shearsmith and Pemberton fans as it features them spending the majority of screen time together. The performances are some of their best, largely straying away from a comic beginning into an increasingly twisted climax. Arterton too, provides a lightness to proceedings with her character breaking up some of the more intense moments in order to keep the tension building without breaking completely.
From the sheer impact of this episode I’m sure it will figure highly on most fan’s lists of their favourite Pemberton/Shearsmith works and rightfully so. In fact, if more writers put as much effort into creating coherent programmes as they did, we’d be much better off for entertainment. The key, as I’ve mentioned before, is to not tweet through it, because you’ll almost certainly miss something, which I think is why there is such a great outcry about the ‘twists’ in the serious. There aren’t twists as such, as I see it, rather there are gradual, thoughtful reveals brought about by information you are afforded from the beginning. Too often, twists are employed that make no logical sense just for the sake of having a twist. Shearsmith and Pemberton don’t do this and it really doesn’t matter if you ‘guess the ending’ as chances are, it’ll be the most logical one.
This brings me on to episode four: The Last Gasp, which from a brief look through Twitter seems to be the least well-received of the current episodes and I do think that this is a result of people expecting ‘twists’ or a surprising outcome. This is not necessary for The Last Gasp and certainly doesn’t warrant the rudeness it has received over Twitter. The idea is original, despite tackling a common theme – our rather disturbing obsession with celebrity and plays out with great interplay between characters, who despite spending only a little time with, we understand their motives entirely.
The Last Gasp features a charitable visit from a famous singer, Frankie Parsons, to a sickly young girl, called Tamsin on her birthday as part of a wish making foundation. The visit goes badly wrong, however, when Parsons dies blowing up a balloon, leaving Tamsin’s parents, a Wishmaker worker and Parson’s employee in possession of a balloon containing Parson’s dying breath.
The event sparks a struggle with morality in the house in which Tamsin’s mother grieves for the singer, her father sets about price-checking eBay for similar celebrity products and the ‘neutral’ Wishmaker employee soon becomes more interested in the potential earnings than what is the right thing to do. Again, here, performances are key and all play their parts perfectly, with Tamsin Grieg arguably as the stand-out role of a charity worker with a deeply unpleasant side.
The reason the performances are so key here is this is probably the most dialogue-driven story of the anthology so far, delivering as much in wit as the slapstick did in episode two. From the mother’s ineptitude at handling the family video camera to Si’s (Adam Deacon) corrupt coin toss every character is given something different to do and is entirely believable in such an unusual situation. The fact that the mother is the real Frankie Parsons fan is never far from our understanding, yet no one speaks about it so as not to telegraph the issue too much. In more clumsy writing this likely would have been overplayed.
Again, the setting plays a huge part, but also costuming and set dressing, setting off the lurid colour of Pemberton’s jumper and the young girl’s green, horse-adorned duvet cover against the relatively muted beige of the rest of the house. Here, I must admit to being terribly balloon-phobic (I’m sure there is some long , Latin name for that), so the tension for me around the possibility of a balloon bursting was unbearable. I’m not sure it would have been as powerful for others, but still, the writing strays away from doing the ‘easy’ thing while also keeping the balloon within the viewer’s mind.
All in all, two more strong episodes of Inside No 9, which has quickly become a weekly highlight for myself. The fact that they have been awarded a second series even before the broadcast of Sardines says a great deal about how well-crafted the series was to be. I for one, cannot wait for the next two episodes and also a DVD release as I’d imagine the commentaries will reveal many important details many will have missed.