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Monday, 9 March 2020

REVIEW: Inside No. 9 puts a chilling twist on the police procedural

Inside No. 9's fifth series has come to an end and what a truly wild ride it's been. From the elaborately plotted revenge tale of Misdirection and the kitchen sink drama of Love's Great Adventure to the surprise Psychoville crossover of Death Be Not Proud, Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton have given us an exceptionally wide-ranging array of stories, even by their usual standards. They've also constructed episodes that will, for many fans, improve on second (or third or fourth) viewing – further proving the point they are sometimes compelled to make that "it isn't all about the twist" – and this final installment of the series is no exception.

The Stakeout takes place across three nights inside police car number 9, where PC Thompson (Pemberton) is getting to know his new partner, Varney (Shearsmith). As is to be expected from a story like this, the two men must come to terms with each other's differences. Thompson keeps days-old curry in the car and is accustomed to spending stakeouts stuffing his face with Pringles, whereas Varney gives him sweetener instead of sugar and is a flexitarian who only eats meat once a month.

Beneath the banter, however, there's the unsettling fact that Thompson's previous partner was brutally murdered in their police car, while he was "in a takeaway waiting for poppadoms". He's reluctant to talk about the incident and has refused counselling. What's more, he is suspiciously evasive when Varney says he'd be interested in seeing the report, and contents of the car's glove box soon throw up more questions than answers...

It feels strange now to think that the first series of Inside No. 9 included one episode without Shearsmith among the cast and another without Pemberton because they were worried that viewers might get sick of the sight of them. Five series in and fans do really seem to watch the show for them, rather than for whoever the guest stars of the week might be, and their longstanding chemistry is put to good use in this two-hander episode.

During an opening voiceover, Varney mentions "clichés of the police procedural" and expresses hope that his story, despite being "as old as time itself", will avoid such clichés. It certainly does, but in a way that very few viewers are likely to predict at the outset... In typical No. 9 style, The Stakeout appears to be leading us down a particular path, only to completely wrong-foot us in its closing minutes with a genuinely frightening climax. The twist might initially feel out of the blue, but once you re-watch the episode, or simply just think back through it, you'll realise there were actually plenty of subtle clues along the way.

When Inside No. 9 first arrived on our screens six years ago, after the cancellation of Psychoville, who would have thought that such an outside-the-box show would one day be concluding its fifth series, with the BBC having already commissioned a sixth and a seventh? If this series is anything to go by, Shearsmith and Pemberton are by no means running out of ideas, so we can't wait to find out what sort of horrors and delights they come up with next time.

Contributed by Sophie Davies.


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