|Inside No. 9|
|Country of origin||United Kingdom|
|No. of series||6 |
|No. of episodes||37 (list of episodes)|
|Executive producer||Jon Plowman|
|Running time||28–30 minutes|
|Production company||BBC Comedy|
|Picture format||HDTV (1080i)|
|Original release||5 February 2014 –|
Inside No. 9 is a British black comedy anthology television programme that first aired in 2014. It is written by Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton and produced by the BBC. Each 30-minute episode is a self-contained story with new characters and a new setting, and all star Pemberton or Shearsmith (usually both). Aside from the writers, each episode has a new cast, allowing Inside No. 9 to attract a number of well-known actors. The stories are linked only by the number 9 in some way and a brass hare statue that is in the background of all episodes. Settings include a suburban house, a gothic mansion and a barn. Pemberton and Shearsmith took inspiration for Inside No. 9 from an episode of Psychoville, a previous project, which was filmed in a single room. This episode was, in turn, inspired by Alfred Hitchcock's Rope.
Themes and tone vary from episode to episode, but all have elements of comedy and horror or perverse humour, in addition to a plot twist. The first series was shown in 2014 and featured six regular episodes and a special online-only episode. The second series, again consisting of six episodes, was shown in 2015. Series three began with a Christmas special in December 2016, followed by five more episodes starting February 2017. The fourth series followed in 2018. There was a one-off Halloween special in 2018, and the fifth series was shown in 2020. On 9 March 2020 the BBC announced that they had commissioned two further series of the show. The sixth series premiered on 10 May 2021.
Inside No. 9 as a whole has been very well received by critics, who have praised the humour and creativity of the scripts, as well as the talent of the featured actors. Commentators have described it as "never less-than-captivating" and "consistently compelling", offering particularly strong praise for "A Quiet Night In", "The 12 Days of Christine" and "The Riddle of the Sphinx". Inside No. 9 won the Sketch and Comedy prize at the 35th annual Banff World Media Festival Rockie Awards, and won the comedy prize at the 2016 Rose d'Or ceremony. It was nominated for the Best TV Sitcom prize at the 2014 Freesat Awards, the Broadcast Award for Best Original Programme, and at the 2014 British Comedy Awards for both the Best New Comedy Programme and the Best Comedy Drama. In the Comedy.co.uk Awards it was voted "Best TV Comedy Drama" in 2014, 2015, 2016, and 2017, and was named "Comedy of the Year" in 2017 and 2018. The series has received three nominations at the British Academy Television Awards. In 2019, Pemberton won Best Male Comedy Performance. In 2021, Shearsmith was nominated for the same award and the show won Best Scripted Comedy.
Inside No. 9 is an anthology series, with each episode featuring a new story, with a new setting and new characters. Episodes last around half an hour, with the self-contained story reaching a conclusion. The stories are linked primarily by the fact that each has an element of the story linked to the number 9, be that a mansion, a dressing room or even a shoe, size 9. Every episode stars Reece Shearsmith or Steve Pemberton, and regularly both. Each episode is effectively a short play. Some episodes take place in real-time, following half an hour in the lives of the characters. Every episode of Inside No. 9 features an ornamental hare somewhere on-screen. According to Pemberton, "Because each episode is so wildly different there was nothing really linking them other than the fact they were all inside a Number Nine, I just thought it would be nice to have an object that you could hide and just have there on every set." There is, however, no particular significance to the hare itself.
As is typical of Shearsmith and Pemberton's work, the scripts address dark topics, with, for instance, the first episode touching upon incest, child sexual abuse and murder. The plotlines make use of twists and surprises of various sorts, though in some cases the surprise is the lack of twist. In an interview, Pemberton said that "there is always a desire to wrong-foot the viewer. That's what you strive to do". The tone varies episode-by-episode. For example, while gothic horror was a major component in one case, other times slapstick comedy was used extensively; the humour, however, is typically dark and British. The episodes generally begin with scenes of "utter banality", before the darker elements are revealed. Despite the various episodes featuring unrelated plots and characters, one reviewer said that they are all linked "by a mercurial synthesis of morbid comedy, wicked social commentary and a genuine creepiness".
Inside No. 9 is somewhat more grounded and realistic than the writers' previous work, such as Psychoville and The League of Gentlemen. Pemberton said that he and Shearsmith decided not to mix the worlds of Inside No. 9 and their previous projects, but nonetheless include the occasional reference; for example, a character called "Ollie" is mentioned in one Inside No. 9 episode, and the writers imagined that this was Ollie Plimsoles of Legz Akimbo, a character from The League of Gentlemen. Similarly, Inside No. 9 was referenced in the 2017 reunion specials of The League of Gentlemen. Tubbs and Edward are seen living in flat number 9, and the Inside No. 9 hare is visible on their shop counter. In the 2018 Halloween special, in which Pemberton and Shearsmith play versions of themselves, both the League of Gentlemen and its third writer, Mark Gatiss, are directly referred to in the dialogue. The 2020 episode "Death Be Not Proud" directly referenced Psychoville by featuring various characters from the series in that particular episode.
In 2012, after finishing their previous show, Psychoville, writers Pemberton and Shearsmith were commissioned to produce two series for the BBC by controllers Janice Hadlow and Cheryl Taylor, partially in response to Sky beginning to produce comedy. At the time, it was unclear whether this would be two series of Inside No. 9, then known by the working title Happy Endings, or a series of Inside No. 9 and a series of some other programme. Inside No. 9 was to be produced by a BBC team, which was later revealed to be David Kerr (director), Jon Plowman (executive producer) and Adam Tandy (producer).
Pemberton and Shearsmith took inspiration for Inside No. 9 from "David and Maureen", episode 4 of the first series of Psychoville, which was in turn inspired by Alfred Hitchcock's Rope. This episode took place entirely in a single room, and was filmed in only two shots. The writers were keen to explore other stories in this bottle episode or TV play format, and Inside No. 9 allowed them to do this. At the same time, the concept of Inside No. 9 was a "reaction" to Psychoville, with Shearsmith saying that the two of them had "been so involved with labyrinthine over-arcing, we thought it would be nice to do six different stories with a complete new house of people each week. That's appealing, because as a viewer you might not like this story, but you've got a different one next week." Elsewhere, Shearsmith explained that the pair returned to writing macabre stories as they "always feel slightly unfulfilled if [they] write something that's purely comedic, [as] it just feels too frivolous and light". The first story that the pair wrote specifically for Inside No. 9 was about a birthday party. BBC producers felt that this story would work as the opening episode of a sitcom, but, given the script's events, Pemberton and Shearsmith were not happy to develop the idea into its own programme. The script was consequently shelved and revisited during the planning process for the second series, becoming "Nana's Party", the fifth episode of the series and eleventh overall. During the filming Inside No. 9, Shearsmith professed excitement to be working on the programme, saying that "[b]eing in the middle of filming a third series of Psychoville would be utterly depressing". Pemberton and Shearsmith aimed for a simpler experience with Inside No. 9 than they had experienced with Psychoville, describing "Sardines", Inside No. 9's first episode, by saying that it was "just about some good actors in a wardrobe with a good story."
At the time of Inside No. 9's production, the anthology series was a rare genre for British television programmes. Previous horror anthologies include Tales of the Unexpected, The Twilight Zone and Alfred Hitchcock Presents; while these would sometimes use comedic elements, they are more prominent in Inside No. 9. Murder Most Horrid followed a similar format, but was far more comedic than horrific. Other anthology-like series on British television include Seven of One and Comedy Playhouse, though these programmes lacked horror elements, and, unlike Inside No. 9, served as pilots for potential series. However, the British anthology show Black Mirror, which also features elements of comedy and horror, was very popular around the time of Inside No. 9. For Pemberton, the 1970s and 1980s were "full of" anthology shows; other examples included Play for Today, Beasts and Armchair Thriller. More recently, anthologies have become less popular with television executives, but the writers hope that they may be able to contribute to a "renaissance" for the genre. According to journalist and broadcaster Mark Lawson, this is because anthologies can fail to motivate viewers to stay with a series, and, further, new sets and casts must be paid for each episode, meaning that a six-part anthology series will generally be more expensive than a six-part series in a more standard format. For Lawson, Inside No. 9 was able to overcome these problems through the "pleasing coherence" offered by the fact each episode was set in a number 9, and "the wit and inventiveness" of the opening episodes, which could sufficiently engage viewers. Pemberton and Shearsmith had originally considered alternative ways to link the stories, such as all the settings having a shared post man, but then decided that such a strong relationship between stories was not needed.
Inspiration and production varied from instalment to instalment, and each was filmed separately, taking less than a week per episode. After Shearsmith and Pemberton had decided that each episode would be about confinement, and having written some of the later episodes, they were inspired by a wardrobe in their working space for "Sardines". The writers were keen to see how confined they could make the characters, aiming to induce feelings of claustrophobia in viewers. The anthology format allowed Pemberton and Shearsmith to revisit prior ideas, which is what they did with "A Quiet Night In" and "Tom & Gerri". The former was inspired by the writers' efforts to include a long segment without dialogue in an episode of Psychoville. Both episodes followed break-ins. The Pinteresque "Tom & Gerri" was based upon a play written by Pemberton and Shearsmith while the pair were living together and job seeking. The setting was based upon their own flat, while the character Tom's development evoked the experience of job-hunting. "Last Gasp" was inspired by a person Pemberton had seen on Multi-Coloured Swap Shop who collected jars of air, as well as the death of Michael Jackson and the death of Amy Winehouse. "The Understudy", the plot of which is partially based upon and concerns Macbeth, took longer to write than any other episode; the writers rewrote the script several times, as they were unsure of whether the characters should be amateur or professional actors. "The Harrowing" was the writers' attempt to produce a gothic horror episode. They made use of more horror tropes than previous episodes, but the setting allowed them to include modern elements.
The BBC ordered a second series of Inside No. 9 before the first episode had aired. The second series was written in 2014, and then filmed from the end of 2014 into early 2015. The writers were permitted two sets for the second series, and so a fake train compartment and a fake flat (for "La Couchette" and "The 12 Days of Christine" respectively) were built at Twickenham Studios. The other episodes were filmed on location; for example, "The Trial of Elizabeth Gadge" was filmed in a barn at the Chiltern Open Air Museum. David Kerr was unable to stay on as director for the second series. Guillem Morales and Dan Zeff each took on directorial duties for two episodes, and Pemberton and Shearsmith, in addition to continuing to write and star in the episodes, jointly directed the other two. The writers had hoped to direct for some time, and this represented a good opportunity to make their directorial debut. While writing for the series, the pair did not know which episodes they would be directing; in an interview, Shearsmith said that the pair had considered directing episodes in which they did not appear much, but scheduling concerns left them with "Cold Comfort" and "Nana's Party"; the episodes feature the writers quite heavily.
The six episodes of the second series derived inspiration from a variety of sources. "La Couchette" aimed to explore the intimacy of sleeper carriages; specifically, the unusual problems associated with sleeping in close proximity to strangers. "The 12 Days of Christine" follows a woman over the course of 12 years, with scenes displaying key moments in her life. "The Trial of Elizabeth Gadge" was inspired by genuine witch trials, some transcripts of which Pemberton and Shearsmith had read as part of the writing process. "Cold Comfort" began with the idea of a call centre, and was filmed in the style of a CCTV feed. With "Nana's Party", the writers aimed for a feeling of suburban darkness, reminiscent of the work of Alan Ayckbourn. "Séance Time" began with the idea of a séance, an idea the writers had wanted to explore for some time.
A third series began broadcasting in February 2017, with a Christmas special, "The Devil of Christmas", airing on 27 December 2016. Settings for the third series include an art gallery, a restaurant and an alpine cabin, while guest stars include Keeley Hawes, Jessica Raine, Felicity Kendal, Tamzin Outhwaite, Fiona Shaw, Jason Watkins, Mathew Baynton, Rula Lenska, Philip Glenister, Sarah Hadland, Javone Prince, Montserrat Lombard, Morgana Robinson, and Alexandra Roach. A fourth series was confirmed after the airing of "The Devil of Christmas", and began broadcast in 2018. Pemberton has said that he would be interested in an online spin-off, perhaps called No. 9A, with less experienced comedy writers. In an interview, he said "The format has so many opportunities and can incorporate so many styles, as long as you stick to the small cast, single location constraint. I think it's really important to bring through fresh voices." The show's fifth series was commissioned in February 2018, and aired in 2020.
A 2018 live special received particular praise for its unusual and creative format. The episode, described as "astonishingly bold and ambitious" by reviewer Sean O'Grady, appeared to suffer technical difficulties within its first 9 minutes of broadcast. The difficulties, including the continuity announcer's voiceover, were in-fact part of the programme's plot, which centred on the premise that the studios in which the episode were being filmed were haunted. Around 20% of the audience reportedly switched off before the deception became apparent. The plot included a number of features playing with the live format, including Shearsmith and Pemberton watching the live broadcast, and Shearsmith sending a Tweet during the show.
|First aired||Last aired|