Inside No. 9 S7E1: Merrily, Merrily

by thethreepennyguignol

Hello everyone! I had such a fabulous time writing my Inside No. 9 reviews last year that, when I saw that season seven was on the way, I knew that I simply had no choice but to indulge into some more deep-dives, investigations, and general recappery every Wednesday evening.

Which brings me to Merrily, Merrily, the first episode of the seventh season, and an unarguably striking way to start things off. Because this particular episode boasts a return to our screens of the inimitable trio that is Mark Gatiss, Steve Pemberton, and Reece Shearsmith. Now, if by some bizarre twist of fate you’re a huge fan of Inside No. 9 and somehow never bothered with The League of Gentleman, this is a reunion of (most of) the cast of the iconic black British comedy that launched their respective careers, still an enormously iconic part of their respective backstories and a defining feature of surrealist comedy to this day.

Inside No. 9 is not lacking in dalliances with the televisual meta-narrative (remember last season’s Simon Says?), but honestly, making a nod to their own careers in their opening episode is a really smart consolidation of their respective legacies and importance in the British comedy scene (I won’t acknowledge Mark Gatiss’ work on Sherlock, because I’m trying to forgive more as I enter my thirties). Stick the three of them, plus the British comedy titan that is Diane Morgan, on a rowboat, send them out onto a river, turn up the tension, and you’ve got an enormously tempting little bottle episode. Or, rather, a ship-in-a-bottle episode.

Following a group of one-time college pals as they reunite more than a decade after their last get-together, it would have been easy to lean on the reunion meta-narrative as the hook for this episode, but Inside No. 9 didn’t get seven seasons in by doing the expected, and Merrily, Merrily is no exception.

I think Inside No. 9’s slightly surreal tone really lends itself well to explorations of grief; the magical thinking, the unsettlement that comes with loss, the bizzareness of a new life without the existence of the thing or person that you’ve lost. And this episode is very much about grief: Reece Shearsmith’s Laurence, it’s revealed, has lost his wife and has come to scatter her ashes (allowing Shearsmith into his sweet spot of “neurotic with a secret of varying levels of unsettling darkness), but more than that, this is about grieving the loss of a life that you thought you might have. Mark Gatiss’ Callum is trying to reconcile his feelings towards a long-worked-for professional position that’s left him unfulfilled, while Steve Pemberton’s Darren was unable to make it through college due to dyslexia that was diagnosed later in life. And grief for the loss of their once-close friendship, as they spend an afternoon snipping at each other in a pedalo on the worst half-term holiday ever conceived.

Fundamentally, it’s an episode about the grief that comes with growing up – accepting that you have to move through life without things you were sure you would be able to rely on, whether they’re friends, partners, work, a specific future that you’ve invested so much of your hope into. Using the real history between Pemberton, Shearsmith, and Gatiss really gives this some weight, maybe just because the chemistry is so good, and just the right amount of supernatural to the story adds to that sense of unreality without leaning in to the saccharine or too specific.

Merrily, Merrily is one of the show’s more melancholy, reflective episodes, which is a really interesting way to start the season (last season, for example, started with the very fun and very showy Wuthering Heist), and one that draws on the history between the actors in question to really offer some powerful depth. An exploration of different aspects of grief against the grim, grey backdrop of a freezing lake allows for a slightly more serious, but nonetheless impressively effective, opening to Inside No. 9’s seventh series.

If you liked this article and want to see more stuff like it, please check out the rest of my Inside No. 9 reviews. I’d also love it if you would check out my horrible short story collection, and, if you’d like to support my work, please consider supporting me on Patreon!

(header image via British Comedy Guide)