Inside No. 9: The Scripts Series 1-3

Posted: March 1, 2021 in Book reviews
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by Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton

For those unaware, Inside No.9 is a BBC anthology show, each episode a self-contained half hour story, usually set in a single location (a house, a car, even a wardrobe once). The series is comedy of the darkest variety and aside from the statue of a hare that can be seen in most episodes, the only  linking element is the use of the number 9, often in highly ingenious ways. Written by League of Gentlemen alumni Shearsmith and Pemberton, each episode features one (usually both) of the actors, in addition to a phenomenal list of guest stars, attracted not only by the quality of the material but by the singular nature of each episode.

Following in the footsteps of anthology shows like Armchair Theatre and Tales of the Unexpected, Inside No. 9’s great strength is the range of stories it can tell, from domestic dramas to gothic horror. No two tales in each series are alike and the writers are incredibly inventive. The humour is black, the stories often tragic, and horror is a repeating theme, and though there isn’t always a twist in the tale, most episodes feature one. It’s also a gloriously moving show as well, and the only limits seem to be the imaginations of its creators, and they seem to have a surfeit of creativity.

When I spotted that the scripts for the first three series had been released, I immediately added it to my Christmas wish list, and thankfully Santa obliged.

The main takeaway from reading these scripts is the reinforcement of just how good Pemberton and Shearsmith are as writers. Take series 2’s ‘The 12 Days of Christine’ arguably the strongest episode of the show to date, part of it’s charm was a fantastic lead performance from Sheridan Smith as the eponymous Christine. She’s wonderful, bringing Christine to life, making us love her and breaking our hearts in the process, but even without Smith the story itself is a masterpiece that grabs your heartstrings and tugs for all it’s worth, and I felt myself welling up as I got to the story’s end, even though I knew what was coming.

Sure, some work better than others on the page. Take Sardines, which has such a huge cast of characters that it’s difficult to keep track when you don’t have faces on screen, but some other episodes worked even better. I probably enjoyed Last Gasp more on the page than I had when I watched it for example. On the whole though, the thing with Inside No.9 is that you can find something joyous, even in episodes that left you a little cold (comparatively speaking, not sure there’s ever been an episode I didn’t enjoy to some extent.) and reading the scripts really hammers home, not only that they’re good writers, but also that they’re clever writers—take the central conceit at the heart of ‘The Devil of Christmas’, or the intellectual contortions of ‘The Riddle of the Sphynx’ or the use of song lyrics to reveal character and plot in ‘Empty Orchestra’.

This isn’t just a cold intellectual appreciation though, at times reading the script elicited genuine cares, genuine pathos, and very often I found myself laughing out loud.

For fans of the show, for those interested in great TV writing, and frankly for anyone interested in good writing of any kind. Highly recommended.

I can’t wait to get my hands on the next volume!

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