The Miniature Nightmare of Inside No. 9
You know, sometimes, I just feel the need to watch something fucked up.
Which is kind of strange, when I put it like that, but hardly a surprise to people who read my writing. Whether it’s the nightmare horrorshow of Possum or just some good ol’ creepy fucking puppets, occasionally one just has to plant one’s arse down in front of the TV and leave feeling slightly less comfortable than when they arrived.
And what better to sate this mood, when it strikes, than Inside No. 9? Created by Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith, of League of Gentleman and Psychoville and general nasty fuckery fame (and also that one great found footage episode of Doctor Who that I still love even though nobody talks about it), it’s a simple horror anthology with a single idea that ties it all together: each of the scary stories we watch each week, somehow, take place Inside Number Nine. And I just want to spend a hot second here talking about how much I love it.
The real mastery of Inside No. 9, as far as I’m concerned, is the fact that it can take these tiny little minute stories – a grandmother’s birthday party, an argument over who pays the bill, technical errors on BBC Two – and turn them into these truly bone-grinding stories of utter horror.
It’s the smallness of the stories, I think, that makes them feel so witty; when you boil life down to its smallest parts, it’s easier to see them for the abject ridiculousness that they often contain. The detail work on these stories are honestly immaculate, for the most part – I often wondered, watching the duo’s previous work on League of Gentleman and Psychoville, if these guys really had the capacity to avoid the grotesque long enough to tell any actual story. Inside No. 9, telling a fully-fledged and brilliantly original story with every thirty minutes, puts that to bed for good. But that smallness is also what allows Pemberton and Shearsmith to just go in so hard on the horror that they present in these half-hour snippets.
Really, Inside No. 9 is nothing more than a variety of depictions of the worst day of someone’s life. Not someone important, not someone exciting, just someone. Nothing about the stories are big, but just because a needle isn’t a machete doesn’t mean it can’t sting. The premise, with those one-shot stories, closes in the walls around these characters so that there is nothing beyond the horror that these stories contains. They’re vignettes, really, dollhouses of real nastiness that allow us to watch the completely ordinary turn, in these beautifully-scripted and somehow-plausible tales, into the completely unthinkable. Some people can’t scare in two and a half hours, Ari Aster, but, consistently, this show manages to at least unsettle in the time it takes to deliver a pizza.
So, may I humbly suggest, if you, like me, occasionally feel the need to sleep a little less easy – watch Inside No. 9. As horror TV goes, this is surely to be looked back on as the modern classic that it totally is. Sick, twisted, inventive, witty, and with an eye for the delightfully grotesque, I can’t think of anything better to recommend for my fellow fucked-up fanatics.
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(header image via Radio Times)