Twisted, macabre, hilarious, horrible. Inside No 9 is everything but predictable.
As Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith’s black comedy anthology returns for a third run, we’ve ranked every episode so far – from worst (unlucky number 13) to best (number 1).
This is of course a subjective view, so do feel free to post your own rankings in the comments box below.
13. The Harrowing
Although it’s a genuinely terrifying half hour of television, suffice it to say there’s little or no humour in The Harrowing. The grotesque Andras, with his cloven feet and bandaged mouth, is the thing of nightmares and the gothic horror is ramped up to 11 but overall the episode is let down by a lack of comedy and an absence of a twist in the tale – two staple elements of Inside No 9.
12. The Trial of Elizabeth Gadge
Seeing a witch trial play out is surprisingly amusing, as Shearsmith and Pemberton go to town parodying the absurdity of the process. There’s a clever use of dialogue – playing with 17th century English – but a lack of excitement in the plot and a relatively predictable ending mean it’s not up to the standard of many of the episodes that came before it.
11. Tom & Gerri
This episode is one long lesson in not judging others or taking things for granted. Seeing how quickly Tom slides from a judgemental man with a steady job to being completely cut off from everyone around him is sobering, but the ending is actually quite puzzling, unsatisfactory and doesn’t feel as if it does the story justice.
10. Cold Comfort
Another innovative use of camerawork, Cold Comfort plays out entirely from the perspective of CCTV cameras. Set in a Samaritans-style call centre, the darkly-brilliant script is spot on (“She’s had to take a bit of gardening leave. She had three dead dads in two days, it tipped her over the edge”) even if the the twist at the end, with a suitably horrible final scene, is a little bit ridiculous.
9. The Understudy
Split into five Acts, The Understudy draws on plenty of Shakespearean references with its tale of rivalry and hierarchy between the leading actor and his understudy. There are more than a few sparky lines and nuanced observations, yet while extra points have to go to Julia Davis for a scene-stealing performance, the pace is at points slow and the ending could be better.
8. Séance Time
This is a rare episode that balances the hilarious with the horrible in almost equal measure. Alison Steadman is fantastic as Madam Talbot – both chilling and pompous – and the hidden camera TV show plot lends itself to some real comedic gems, sending up demanding actors and the TV industry in general. The ending is suitably nasty, but it arguably isn’t an absolute classic.
7. The Devil of Christmas
Filmed in the “style of a 1970s portmanteau horror episode”, Inside No 9 thoroughly pushes the envelope with this Christmas-themed episode. There’s no turkey or tinsel to be seen in the folk tale of bad Santa Krampus set in an Austrian log cabin. What you at first think is a standard TV show soon gives way to footage being rewound and a directors’ commentary – but as always with No 9, all isn’t as it seems and the shocking snuff movie twist is a very fitting ending.
6. Last Gasp
When we live in an age where Harry Styles’ vomit can find its way onto eBay, this tale about a singer’s final breath being captured in a balloon was a nicely conceived idea. Shearsmith described it as like a My Family episode “gone wrong” as all the characters’ greed quickly emerged when superstar Frankie Parsons dies while blowing up a balloon on a visit to terminally ill 9-year-old girl Tamsin. Granted, there was no massive twist at the end, but the darkness of greed and a disregard for life is both dark and hilarious.
5. Nana’s Party
Inside No. 9 doesn’t often stray into the territory of banal domesticity. And yet for the majority of Nana’s Party, that’s exactly what it does. And does it brilliantly. They captured the heart of awful relatives and awful family parties perfectly as a seemingly happy nuclear family implodes over the course of a Sunday afternoon. Although there wasn’t much of a twist at the end, the high emotion and high stakes make it a brilliant half hour of TV.
The very first episode of Inside No. 9 set the bar very high. Based largely inside a wardrobe in one room of the house, the ensemble cast was second to none: Katherine Parkinson, Timothy West, Anna Chancellor, Ophelia Lovibond and Luke Pasqualino all starred. At the centre was Tim Key as Ian – an inspired piece of casting, who flipped effortlessly from innocent bore to murderous villain. The speed at which a fun family game becomes an immensely disturbing tale is shocking and brilliant.
3. La Couchette
Another fantastic cast were on board for La Couchette – the memorable opening episode of series two. Comedy turns from Jack Whitehall, Julie Hesmondhalgh and Mark Benton really injected the humour into this episode set inside a sleeper carriage and made it undoubtedly one of the most laugh-out-loud episodes of Inside No. 9. The twist was as amusing as it was dark, and the scene in which Whitehall’s Hugo willingly climbs into bed with a corpse and comments: “I hope you don’t mind a bit of spooning, pal” almost perfectly sums up the whole ethos of No 9.
2. A Quiet Night In
Shearsmith and Pemberton are always pushing the boundaries with innovative conceits and imaginative plots, but this was truly special. Aside from a line of dialogue from Kayvan Novak’s burglar at the very end of the episode, the completely silent comedy was complete genius. Laugh-out-loud scenes involving the death of a dog (it’s funnier than it sounds) mixed with slapstick, murder and farce that left you constantly on the backfoot. The final twist – with kitchen roll and tin foil being mistaken for priceless art – topped off an immensely clever episode.
1. The 12 Days of Christine
There are no prizes for guessing what would be number one. The 12 Days of Christine was so much more than an episode of comedy drama. Viewers were caught off-guard with a piece of TV so profound and moving, as what had initially seemed like a classic horror tale was revealed to be something far sadder. As Time to Say Goodbye played out, the twist was magnificent – one that was almost impossible to see coming but which on a second watch makes complete sense. Sheridan Smith’s performance as Christine was spot on and the detail – from the smashed eggs to the blue lights flashing on the Christmas tree – was perfect… and devastating.
Inside No. 9 returns on Tuesday February 21 at 10pm on BBC2.