‘Inside No. 9’ Episode 1: ‘Sardines’ review

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First of all, it’s significantly more efficient than that. What’s enjoyable about the work of Psychoville creators Pemberton and Shearsmith is that every piece of television they produce reeks of hard work and attention to detail. There’s no lazy ‘place holder’ writing here: every line, every look earns its place.

It’s often the case that each episode takes a reasonably simple idea and pulls it to a rich and satisfying finale. So it is with this opening episode, where a cast list of the UK’s finest acting and comic talent are packed (literally, in one case) into a storyline that is equally blunt humour and aching melancholy. Throwaway gags earn their place when they are later revealed to be hints toward major plot revelations.

Like the Monty Python boys, Pemberton and Shearsmith will always be known by the name of the group that first made them famous even if The League Of Gentlemen never actually again do a show together, and what’s most remarkable about these two is just how willing they are to share their toys. It would be so easy to greedily snaffle all the best lines and gags for themselves, but in pursuit of the best story, they are able to take a back seat, and generously give more to the impressive amount of great actors and comics lining up to join in the fun.

In this, Steve and Reece have managed to mould themselves as the dark satanic version of Morecambe and Wise (as directed by Robin Hardy). It would not be an exaggeration to say that the two creators and writers are themselves the ‘guest stars’ of their own episode.

You’ll notice that we’ve been effusive about how the creators of Inside No. 9 write, and how they treat their guests, but we haven’t gone into a lot of detail about what the episode is actually about. And while there’s not an extraordinary amount of shock reveals and twists, it is true to say that you’re better going into this cold, and knowing as little as possible.

More important than this being a comedy, or a creepy vignette, this is a story well told, with the emphasis (and this is crucial to the success) on real, believable characters ahead of any joke or scare. It demands the audience’s  intelligence and respect, and pays back in interest. We’re already looking forward to the rest of the series.

Airs at 10pm on Wednesday 5 February 2014 on BBC Two.

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