Inside No. 9: Season 9 REVIEW – Ninth Symphony

The creative duo behind the show go all out for their final run.

inside no. 9 reece shearsmith steven pemberton

The last episode of Inside No. 9 begins just as the very first one did, with Katherine Parkinson and Tim Key trapped in a tight cubicle together, one right in the face of the other. This time however it’s a unisex bathroom, and the two are simply playing heightened versions of themselves, in an awkward encounter where they discuss the show itself.

Inside No. 9, the award winning anthology from Reece Shearsmith & Steve Pemberton, has at last come to a close, its ninth season (appropriately enough) being chosen as its last. The show, born out of various ideas the duo had been bouncing around after the end of their previous creation, Psychoville, has drawn widespread acclaim for its brilliant and varied range of stories, each telling an entirely standalone tale set within a strictly limited space.

After ten years on the air, the show’s final season consists of six more macabre and darkly comedic tales, each of which focuses on a particular style that the show had perfected since its start. At the same time, the show still feels as fresh as ever, as it continues to demonstrate just how much creativity the format allows for.

The shows penultimate episode, The Curse of the Ninth, is perhaps the clearest example of this show drawing on its roots. It’s a pitch-perfect gothic horror that feels entirely in keeping with the kind of style that the duo had mastered throughout their previous works in horror-centric episodes of previous seasons, such as The Harrowing, or The Bones of St Nicholas, and their other shows (most obviously, The League Of Gentlemen).

From the plot revolving around an ancient curse, to the scenes of a body being exhumed, and Shearsmith’s character being mocked by visions of its zombified corpse – played brilliantly by Eddie Marsan – as well as in how it sends up certain tropes, the episodes shows throughout a strong affection for the genre, brilliantly evoking the atmosphere of stories from Edgar Allan Poe and others.

Other episodes throughout this last season similarly evoke some of the more common trends and styles that they’ve played with throughout the show’s run. Episode two, The Trolley Problem, revolves around the kind of setup that has been what the show’s best known for – a Tales of the Unexpected-esque scenario in which its two lead characters find themselves stuck in one space together, each holding a deadly secret connection from the other, and gradually building up to a sickening twist. It’s not perhaps as immaculately put together here as previous gems that have worked in a similar way, such as Season 3’s Riddle of the Sphinx, but still manages to keep up the tension throughout, with a darkly comedic script that plays on the growth in the use of therapy in recent years.

Meanwhile the first, Boo to a Goose, is one of only a few that have tackled politics, which isn’t something the show has dealt with a lot, besides the odd example like the Brexit-themed ‘Last Night of the Proms’ from Season 6. Much like that previous outing, it’s perhaps a bit on the nose at times, quickly making its points in ways that feel a little obvious or cliched. But it is still, before the main twists are revealed, a really intriguing piece to start with – like the Doctor Who episode Midnight, it traps numerous people from across society on a single train carriage, cut off from anything else, and then sees them start to tear at each other. It’s a piece which makes brilliant use of the claustrophobia within settings like this, and the air of uncertainty we’ve all experienced when too close for comfort with strangers.

Perhaps the most outstanding of this final run of Inside No. 9 is episode three, Mulberry Close, which perhaps most attests to the sheer creativity that this show has to offer, as it tells its tale of neighbourhood intrigue almost entirely through the format of the security camera of a couple’s new home. Just like classic episode Cold Comfort, this is just a brilliant display of how much experimentation the framework of the show allows for, as we see the whole thing play out through the same single camera shot.

It creates a Rear Window-style narrative wherein we jump from domestic comedy, to thriller, after several neighbours become suspicious of a new resident. The characters here are brilliantly realised, perfectly capturing the kind of insufferable, small-minded busybodies whom we’ve all met and had to deal with in everyday life. The way that it, like the recent Black Mirror episode, Loch Henry, comments on the true crime genre, is also a brilliant touch to end on.

Meanwhile the final episode, Plodding Along, reflects upon the show as a whole, starting on that first scene with Parkinson and Key, then having the rest of the cast – from virtually every past episode – show up as themselves for a season wrap party. The result makes for an episode that at once allows for a healthy dose of meta commentary and comedy, as well as still cleverly incorporating essentially the same twist-based structure all the other episodes have had, as different cast members each barge into the same cramped bathroom, stumbling into different situations and uncomfortable conversations.

The focus for the most part is, naturally, on Pemberton and Shearsmith themselves, and their very real friendship off the screen is obvious throughout, whilst at the same time both actors manage to beautifully convey the nagging question that comes with such a long running yet niche show as this – ‘What now?’ The show may have been on for ten years, and garnered widespread acclaim, but ultimately, it hasn’t been the biggest hit out there, and, as stated in one scene: “at the end of the day, it’s just a television programme. It will be on, and then it won’t.”

It is perhaps an obvious problem with an anthology show such as Inside No. 9 – how do you actually end a show in which every story has been entirely self-contained, with little scope on the face of it for looking back or otherwise wrapping things up naturally? The framing device used here, of following the actual cast as they prepare to move on, allows for the kind of knowing references, callbacks and inside jokes that ordinarily would be impossible for such a show as Inside No. 9, and which, particularly with its touching closing montage, acts as the perfect farewell for long-standing fans.

Few shows can reflect upon themselves and their own run, as well as television in general, in the way Inside No. 9 is able to here. This in itself feels like a real testament as to the strengths of the show as a whole. As a comedy show airing late at night on BBC 2, with little in the way of recurring characters or plot threads, the show has hardly been the biggest hit in recent years. The sheer creativity and variety that it has displayed throughout however has seen it quietly become one of the best, most distinctive British shows out there currently, and for fans, it’s one that will be sorely missed from the television landscape.

READ NEXT: 10 GameCube Games That’ve Aged Beautifully Well

Some of the coverage you find on Cultured Vultures contains affiliate links, which provide us with small commissions based on purchases made from visiting our site.