This will apparently be the penultimate series of anthologies written by and (usually) starring the onetime League of Gentlemen, Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith. This is a shame as while it no longer regularly scales the brilliant heights of the likes of The 12 Days of Christine and The Riddle of the Sphinx in the early series, these clever one-off dramas, sometimes funny, usually dark and all linked by the number nine, are always watchable. Indeed, as in the case of the last two programmes featured here, they are sometimes still very good indeed.
The Bones of St Nicholas: Things begin strongly with this church-based Christmas special. Mystery abounds surrounding a certain Dr. Parkway’s (Pemberton) motivation for spending his Christmas Eve camping out in a supposedly haunted church. This suffers by comparison with the superb The Devil of Christmas Inside No 9 festive outing from 2016, but is nevertheless enjoyable. This seasonal outing of course, first aired in December 2022. The rest of the series was shown on BBC Two in April and May 2023.
Mother’s Ruin: Supernatural rituals, criminal violence and an apparent full-blown demonic possession all have a part to play in this darkly comic episode. Steve and Reece play two somewhat inept brothers whose attempts to reveal the secrets of their late mother’s legacy are thrown into disarray by the unexpected arrival of underworld figures, Reggie and Francis (played by Phil Daniels and Anita Dobson) and one parrot.
Paraskevidekatriaphobia: Just to be clear, the title refers to “fear of Friday 13th.” Gavin (Shearsmith) has it bad (he has his reasons) and decides to play it safe by phoning in sick and spending the day at home. But barely has his wife (Amanda Abbington) left the house than a bizarre combination of circumstances conspire to see the ultra-superstitious Gavin overwhelmed by a deluge of ladders, black cats, peacock feathers and other traditional bad luck symbols.
Love is a Stranger: The horrors of online dating are all too real for Vicky (the always excellent Claire Rushbrook). And worse: there’s a murderer on the loose. Amazingly, in 49 episodes, there has never actually been a bad Inside No 9 yet. Sadly, Love is a Stranger comes closer to securing this distinction than most. You’ll see the twist coming a mile off.
Three by Three: In an ingenious ruse, Steve and Reece went to the trouble of manufacturing publicity for an entirely bogus episode called Hold On Tight! Photos showed the duo dressed as two On The Buses style drivers and standing alongside ageing 1970s comedy icon, Robin Askwith. It was then claimed that the episode (which, of course, never existed) had been pulled at the last minute in favour of what appeared to be a mainstream quiz show entitled Three by Three, featuring three trios of competing contestants and hosted by the popular quick-witted comedian, Lee Mack. Of course, despite creating a plausible quiz show format, mostly realistic performances from actors playing the contestants, convincing humorous banter from Mack (currently host of ITV real-life TV quiz, The 1% Club) and uniquely the complete absence of Steve and Reece from the cast, this was actually still another instalment of Inside No 9 in disguise. Many viewers were apparently fooled, some even turning over or assuming something had gone wrong with their iPlayer. Those that remained were treated to something which for most of its running time really does appear to be a real life game show. But over time, a sense of unease grows as it becomes clear there is something very “off” about one set of contestants, the Oakwoods. What exactly is going on?
The Last Weekend: Joe and Chas (Steve and Reece) have been in a relationship foe nine years. With Joe seriously ill, the two snatch a quick holiday together. But will it be their last? An emotionally devastating episode and the best in this series. The dramatic shift in tone between the cheerful dance sequence which occurs half way through the programme and how things eventually turn out in the end is almost overwhelming.
A fairly good series then, although personally I can’t help but feel disappointed that we’ll never see the Hold on Tight! episode.
Cast: Steve Pemberton, Reece Shearsmith, Simon Callow, Phil Daniels, Anita Dobson, Amanda Abbington, Dermot O’Leary, Claire Rushbrook, Matthew Horne, Asim Chaudhry, Lee Mack.