‘Black Mirror’ Fans: Your New TV Obsession Is ‘Inside No. 9’

Kim Taylor-Foster
TV
TV

Black Mirror’s particular blend of insightful, satirical standalone stories has made it a runaway hit. Charlie Brooker’s sharply observed anthology series with a grounding in science fiction has both enthralled and twanged at the nerves of audiences. It mines our generation’s inherent fear of technology and the modern world to put humanity – and the near future – under the microscope. Inside No. 9 has comparable ambitions, albeit without the sci-fi element.

The focus for Inside No. 9 is not technology paranoia, instead it taps into the horror that lies just beneath the surface in a series of (often but not always) everyday situations. It looks at the human mind and human behaviour, and blends reality with the absurd, not unlike Black Mirror.

Both series are dark in their approach to their subject matter, and tell suspenseful, self-contained stories, switching up the cast as the series progresses. This means that with each episode, you’re served something new.

With Inside No. 9, the series is linked by the simple device of setting the action behind the door of No. 9 each time – but always in a different location.

Here are 7 reasons why Black Mirror fans should make Inside No. 9 their next show to crush on.

1. It Has British Creators

Inside no 9
Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith are the creative minds behind the show but they also star in the series

Just as Black Mirror has a British creator in writer/broadcaster Charlie Brooker, Inside No. 9 also has a British creative team, with a track record in incisive pitch-black comedy. Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith are two out of four of the creative minds behind cult TV series The League of Gentlemen, about the bizarre residents of a fictional town called Royston Vasey. The pair went on to create the similarly dark-spirited comedy Psychoville together.

Both of the creative forces of Brooker, and Shearsmith and Pemberton are interested in presenting ourselves back to ourselves in ways that we find unsettling as well as perceptive. And just as some episodes of the less outwardly comedic Black Mirror are infused with a greater dose of satire and humour than others, so some episodes of Inside No. 9 are weighted in favour of drama. Series 2 Episode 2, we’re looking at you.

2. Brilliant Guest Stars

Inside No 9 Gemma Arterton

Like Black Mirror, Inside No 9 features a different cast in each episode – although, in the latter, Shearsmith and Pemberton remain constants, albeit as different characters each time. Just as Black Mirror is able to draw in a top-notch cast for each episode, lured by the promise of starring in a one-off drama without the commitment of a recurring role, Inside No. 9 does the same.

And for audiences, it’s a win-win. In Black Mirror we get to see the likes of Bryce Dallas Howard, Jon Hamm, Kelly MacDonald, Hayley Atwell, Domhnall Gleeson and Benedict Wong showcasing their considerable abilities. Similarly, with Inside No. 9 we’re able to relish some stellar acting talent in a host of one-time roles each actor really makes their own.

Series 1 features the likes of Guardians of the Galaxy’s Ophelia Lovibond; Wedge Antilles himself, Denis Lawson; and Game of Thrones and Taboo star Oona Chaplin; as well as Adam Deacon, Gemma Arterton and Helen McCrory. The Series 2 cast, meanwhile, includes Jack Whitehall, Sheridan Smith, Jane Horrocks, Alison Steadman and Alice Lowe. In fact, the series is stuffed with brilliant actors and memorable performances.

In Series 3, you can look forward to seeing Outcast’s Philip Glenister having a whale of a time in his role as a lecherous middle-aged man rowing with his pals over who will pick up the restaurant tab. We’ve seen a preview of the episode, which airs in the UK tonight, and he steals the show.

Derek Jacobi, Taboo’s Jason Watkins and The Missing’s Keeley Hawes, as well as Harry Potter and True Blood actor Fiona Shaw, also appear throughout the series.

3. It’s Smart and Subversive

Inside No 9

Each episode, with some exceptions, takes the form of traditional British sitcom meets creepy horror tale. The show even borrows the standard Brit-sitcom format. Inside No. 9 is, however, more akin to throwback anthology series such as The Twilight Zone and Tales of the Unexpected than, say, Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em.

Packaged up as six half-hour episodes per series, it cleverly subverts the format and genre. Each episode is like an extended comedy sketch, and there is some similarity in tone and the feeling of hyper-reality crafted in The League of Gentlemen. In the same way as Black Mirror, episodes can often work as allegories.

4. Standout Episodes

An anthology series will always have stories that resonate more than others. Some of its most memorable episodes include the following:

The Harrowing

The final episode of the first series is perhaps the scariest of all. This one stars Helen McCrory as a character straight out of a gothic horror film, and culminates in as creepy a sequence as you’ll ever see on TV. This episode’s clash of humour and horror is hugely entertaining.

The 12 Days of Christine

This pensive and morose entry into Series 2 borrows a little from the M. Night Shyamalan school of drama, adding a twist that you may or may not see coming. Charting the story of Christine – sensitively played by the star of stage and screen, Sheridan Smith – key events play out from different stages of her life. We see her deal with pregnancy and the strain of becoming a parent, marital problems, and a father with Alzheimer’s. It’s poignant but still makes room for just a touch of humour.

The Understudy

Inside No 9
Julia Davis guest stars in The Understudy

Set backstage at the Duke of Cambridge Theatre, The Understudy is the fifth episode in Series 1. Set out in five acts, it mirrors the structure of a play – and indeed borrows heavily from the play that provides the backdrop to the episode, Macbeth. A satirical swipe at actors, it’s a clever, funny and intriguing addition to the roster.

5. It Likes to Experiment

The anthology framing allows the freedom to experiment. This results in outstanding episodes like The Understudy. You’ll see traces of experimentation across the board but some episodes really push Pemberton and Shearsmith to their creative limits. Episode 2 from Season 1 – A Quiet Night In – is one such example. It plays out a bit like a silent movie, and takes a certain amount of inspiration from Mr. Bean; it relies almost entirely on physical comedy and acting with the body over dialogue.

There’s an homage to slapstick here, and the films of Charlie Chaplin, although by the end of the episode, the tone changes significantly. Interestingly, Oona Chaplin appears in this episode – she’s Charlie Chaplin’s granddaughter.

6. One-Liners Keep You Coming Back For More

Packed with quirky, offbeat comedy amid the darker notes, Inside No. 9 is worth watching for the smattering of one-liners alone. Sometimes the show is a farce, other times the comedy is more nuanced. And then sometimes it’s just an uneasy Pinter-esque balance of eccentricity and terror.

Then, of course, there are times when it’s just plain scary, creepy, or horrifying. But moments where Steve Pemberton steals the show, with a line like: “You went from Switzerland to Nazi Germany in one fell goose step” and the understated: “Where’s the puffer?” uttered as he’s trying to inflate balloons in Last Gasp, bring the house down.

Other comedy highlights in the series include Pemberton’s turn as a drunk German troubled by digestive problems in the first episode of the second series and Reece Shearsmith as a woman in Sardines, the episode that kicks off Series 1.

7. Season 3

The third series picks up again tonight in the UK, with episode 2 finally airing following a Christmas special based

The third series picks up again tonight in the UK, with episode 2 finally airing following a Christmas special based on the Krampus legend, first shown at the end of December 2016.

The Bill revolves around a group of friends out for a meal who become embroiled in a row over who will pick up the tab. We don’t want to spoil anything but needless to say, it has a shocking resolution. Other episodes in the series centre on a crossword puzzle, a karaoke night, a found shoe, and an art exhibition. We can’t wait.

Inside No. 9 Season 3 continues at 10pm tonight on BBC 2 in the UK. There is no word yet on a US air date.

Kim Taylor-Foster
Kim Taylor-Foster is Entertainment Editor for Fandom in the UK. She was raised on an unsteady diet of video nasties and violent action flicks.
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