I love Inside No.9 it’s one of the most original comedies on television. As I enjoy it, I watch it with a feeling of unease in the pit of my stomach. The feeling you might have about starting a new school or going to the dentist. I’m aware I’m not exactly selling it. I may have given you the impression that Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton have created an unpleasant viewing experience, in truth it’s anything but. That feeling in the pit of the belly is one of dread. The genius of Shearsmith and Pemberton is that you never know where the seemingly simple story is going to take you. However comfortable the characters appear you know there’s something sinister going to befall them.
The Bill, the opening episode of this third series is focuses on just five characters. The action takes place inside ‘number nine’ restaurant. Four friends are regaling one another with stories from their past. Shearsmith plays Archie, a brash businessman who has known Pemberton’s Malcolm for years. Then there’s meek and mild Kevin, portrayed by the always brilliant Jason Watkins. Kevin is different to his friends. He’s quiet and only interjects to put the facts straight when the pairs’ bragging gets too over exaggerated. Philip Glenister, in perhaps his best performance for a while, plays Craig, a wealthy businessman from London who meets Archie at an seminar. Craig spends the day playing badminton with the trio and the foursome head out for dinner that evening. Their friendly banter takes a turn when the foreign waitress brings the bill to their table.
Here’s where that unease I’d alluded to comes into play. The friends’ banter quickly turns nasty with battling over who should pay and why whilst Glenister’s Craig tries to keep things light. Anger bubbles to the surface and Craig gets pulled into battle as he offers to pay. His generosity is short lived when his card is declined. The battle rages again when Archie drops the bombshell of his inoperable brain tumor. The table is visibly stunned and Malcolm leaves the table visibly shaken.
As Archie prepares to pay Malcolm returns to the table with proof that Archie has invented the brain tumor in order to pay the bill! As tension intensifies the waitress intervenes in attempt to bring the ridiculous squabble to an end. Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton always deliver with scripts that build and build to an almost unbearable crescendo. Malcolm storms to the kitchen and produces a sharp knife. He wants Archie to compete in a game of pin finger or five finger fillet. The pair have played the nerve wrecking game since school and the fastest person to pass the knife between each fingers ten times will finally play the bill.
The tension is unbearable as the pair sit down to the table. With Malcolm coming out of the game unscathed, Archie’s isn’t as lucky. When he cuts himself twice Craig feels he has to call the game to end. In his haste to grab the knife he strikes the hysterical waitress severing an artery. I’ve come to realise I don’t posses the adjectives to praise this opener to the degree it deserves. Pemberton and Shearmsith are masters of their craft. This one is dark comedy but the beauty of the structure of Inside No.9 is that it allows the pair to flex their muscles and tell as many varying stories as the like. Each story is as unique as the one that proceeded it and it world where we’re bombarded with shows that lurch from one cliffhanger to the next it’s nice to spend half an hour with different characters in different settings and have no idea where the story is going.
If Inside No.9 has somehow passed you by you need to give it a go. We live in a bland time for TV comedy and three series in this remains a gold standard and a breath of fresh air. I can’t wait to see what the duo have in store in the four remaining episodes and we already know there’s a fourth series for 2018!