Inside Number 9 (BBC)

TITLE: Inside No. 9

GENRE: ‘Darkly comic’

STARRING: Nikki Amuka-Bird, Fiona Shaw, Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith

PRODUCTION COMPANY/DISTRIBUTION/COUNTRY: BBC Two

YEAR: 2017

RATING: 5 missing loafers

WHERE CAN I SEE IT? Series 1 is available in the U.S. on iTunes; Series 2 and 3 on DVD in the U.S.

Inside No. 9, much like Black Mirror, is the type of show you’ll remember for the first episode you ever saw. You’ll also ask yourself, “Who made this show…and who let them get away with it?” The answer is BBC Two, which is often referred to as the Beeb’s highbrow channel, and has edgier and darker comedy than BBC One. And more power to them for doing it because Inside No. 9 is hugely freaky and unnerving. (I like my TV like I like my men: freaky and unnerving. J/k, weirdos!)

I’m just coming into Inside No. 9 on series three and am glad I entered not knowing much about it. So on that count, I’ll try not to spoil too much of it for you.

On the surface level, think of Inside No. 9 as a contemporary update of The Twilight Zone. The original conceit was a set of stories, each taking place at the address “No. 9” and you never know what you’re going to get when you go behind the door. That idea seems to have dropped away by the most recent series.

With each episode, the show’s creators, who are also often featured actors, Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith, suck you in with richly drawn, quirky characters most of whom you probably wouldn’t want to be stuck in an elevator with. And yet, as weirdly depicted as they are, some of the characters are also endearing and you want them to escape whatever macabre scenario Shearsmith and Pemberton have dreamed up.

The first episode I saw was from series three and is called “Diddle Diddle Dumpling” (here’s the English nursery rhyme the title alludes to). David, either unemployed or just a lot of time on his hands, finds a black men’s shoe in his front yard one day on his way home.  He embarks on a drawn out mission to reunite the show with its owner. Posting signs, placing ads, even setting traps to see that, as his wife Louise describes it, “a single…tramp’s shoe that you’ve found in the street,” makes it back onto the foot of whomever lost it. Because surely one can’t function with just one shoe? The acting is so good that you empathize both with Louise’ frustration at David’s insistence on harboring a lost shoe and David’s insistence that this mission is giving his life some sort of meaning that doesn’t become apparent until the end of the episode. And even then, you’re dubious if there will be a reveal. Is David simply mental? Or is he right that it’s not just a shoe?

Each episode is standalone, though, there’s a lot of overlap in actors across them. But this repetition of faces, using different wigs, styling and costume only adds to Inside No. 9’s top shelf performances. The episodes definitely feel like small stage plays, but not in the stilted way some theatrical performances can feel when they move from stage to TV.

A warning, though, some episodes can be pretty violent and are best avoided if you’re squeamish, like this one called, “The Bill.”

But, overall, there are some great setups. One can imagine sitting in a waiting room, being a volunteer for a support line, or attending an art exhibition opening and wondering, “Huh. What kind of story could happen here?”

Shearsmith and Pemberton take those musing and craft clever and spooky stories about our mundane interactions to great effect.

Get Inside No. 9 (Series 1 & 2) – 2-DVD Box Set from Amazon [ NON-USA FORMAT, PAL, Reg.2.4 Import – United Kingdom ]

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Catastrophe (E4, Amazon)

TITLE: Catastrophe (season 3)

GENRE: RomCom

STARRING: Sharon Horgan

COUNTRY: UK

YEAR: 2015 – 2017

RATING: 3 out of 5 overpriced baby prams/strollers

WHERE CAN I SEE IT? E4 (now) and Amazon on Demand (4/28)

I’m a huge Sharon Horgan fan. Her best work —both acting and writing — is in the BBC Three sitcom Pulling. You can, and should, watch Pulling if you like the type of debauched, dark humor that the British do so well. Horgan carries that humor over to Catastrophe.

Series one starts with Sharon (Horgan) and Rob (Rob Delaney — they didn’t reach too far for names) who meet and, after a one night stand, find out Sharon’s pregnant. Rob’s an American and Sharon’s Irish so there’s not only that pregnancy issue to figure out but also their cultural differences. Luckily, they’re both crass as hell, which is both entertaining and endearing in season one.


Check out all of Catastrophe, Episode 1 on Amazon Prime

Series two is mostly dedicated to the grind that is new parenthood — a topic I find wholly uninteresting since people have been parenting for thousands of years without a) calling it “parenting” and b) without a lot of the accessories and lifestyle expectations that comes with.

By series three, there are shades of the “difficult” or unlikeable people in Rob and Sharon’s personalities taking over the foreground. This jibes with the idea that these two people really don’t know one another at all and neither do we. This season is also less about parenting and, to some degree, about being parented or patronized, whether by one’s own parents or at work.

I tend to gravitate toward side characters and in the case of Catastrophe season three, characters that were supposed to be odious in the beginning are actually quite funny. One example is Sharon and Rob’s friend Chris (Mark Bonnar) who starts off being the unhinged, vulgar Scottsman, but evolves into one of the people with the most consistent worldview.

Why, given this lukewarm review, have I binge watched all three series? I miss London. I’ve also wondered about American expats I met there who fell in love, had kids and made their home abroad. Do they ever get used to the particularities of British culture? Watching Rob faff about the capitol offers some insight to this, while embedding the story in both relationship and workplace situations specific to the British context.

Of note:

This was quite possibly one of Carrie Fisher’s final roles! She plays Rob’s very American mom and lucky for us, she drops a bomb in season three that’s probably going to be integral to explaining a lot of Rob’s personality and the ensuing upset.

I don’t understand the interstitial banjo, bluegrass music. Is it, like, a West-meets-West joke? Rob’s discordant American presence in sophisticated former Europe allusion?

In the unlikeable people vein, the show relies too heavily on talking about “pussies” and masturbating for it to even be delightfully shocking. I mean, most Americans can’t even talk about sex in a randy way without uproar, so the blue language is probably more present to shock Americans than tell us anything about the characters’ approach to life.

There’s also some really antiquated humor that lies in off-hand racism via jokes about Chinese people and ablism. The Disability Rights movement has a long way to go in the UK. The jokes at the expense of disabled people who are never shown serves the function, for me at least, of still not liking Rob and Sharon, but not moving any closer to caring what happens to them.

Completely peripheral, but still captivating: Sharon’s wardrobe and the trappings of a comfortable life in London. Clothes, nice houses and cool furniture entertain the eye when Rob and Sharon’s struggle to remember why they’re together. I am not alone.