Getting Inside Inside Man
I just can’t seem to quit you.
That’s what I mumbled to myself when I saw Inside Man on BBC iPlayer earlier this week. Well, no, I didn’t, but I did internally sigh and resign myself to watching yet another Steven Moffat show. Nobody is making me do this, but I keep finding myself just interested enough in his new projects to make time for them. You think after years of his dreadful Doctor Who seasons and awful Dracula adaptations and godforsaken Sherlock injuries I would learn my lesson, but I haven’t, and I probably won’t.
Which brings me to his new show, Inside Man.
When the show opened with a public transport sexual harassment #MeToo scene, I was worried. I don’t think Steven Moffat personally is a horrible, sexist person, but I do believe a huge amount of his writing features some horribly sexist ideas. From the Moffat women of Doctor Who to historical suffragism in The Abominable Bride, the most annoying stuff Moffat has done usually revolves around women somehow. What I find most frustrating about it, though, is that I can see the good intentions there, but Moffat seems to rely on an outdated interpretation of how to explore those good intentions in his writing.
But, luckily, Inside Man seems to forget about its politics pretty quickly. There is something to be said for the story exploring the way women feel the need to protect themselves against any man they encounter, and men’s capacity for violence against women, but for the most part, it’s not going nearly as deep as I feared it might. Is the likeable comic relief character a charming serial killer and mutilator of women? Of course he is, because Moffat can’t help himself. It’s still not a good exploration of women’s oppression. but at the very least, it’s mostly absent from huge influence on the plot. As it stands, this aspect feels like an odd, slightly clunky bookend, which I am more than happy to leave it at.
Because it leaves far more room to do what Steven Moffat is actually good at. Which is write ridiculously convoluted mysteries packed with terminally unique characters played with various degrees of charm by a variety of very talented actors and dialogue that lasts ninety full seconds longer than it needs to in every single scene.
Because I really did love Steven Moffat’s writing for a long time, pre-The-Great-Doctor-Who-Reviewing-Fiasco, because it can be really fun when it’s presented in the right way. The great actors inhabiting this series really help elevate it to something special – David Tennant and Lyndsey Marshal, as a couple who accidentally wind up kidnapping and imprisoning their son’s maths tutor, are particularly great, and Dolly Wells should take her excellent part as the maths tutor in question as an apology for what they did to her Agatha in Dracula (Lydia West, however, still needs a little more to make up for the metaphorical and literal butchering of Lucy Westenra in the same show). Their plot has the feel of a great Inside No. 9 episode, horror wrapped up in the mediocrity of the everyday, and the tension that rises from it makes for the best part of the show. Wells is clearly having a great time here, the victim and the manipulator all at once, and her, Marshal, and Tennant manage to find some pitch-black comedy in the situation too.
There’s also a brief turn from Kate Dickie in what should be an entirely functional role, but it made me ache deep in my bones for a Glaswegian noir series where she’s the grizzled lead detective, she’s just so good. Every word that comes out of her mouth is ridiculous, but it also sounds like something my PE teacher would say to me when she wanted me to work harder and I’m obsessed.
Stanely Tucci plays a murderer on death row who gets involved with solving the case of the missing maths tutor, and his part of the show is a bit…less delightful. Tucci is a wonderful, charismatic actor in the right roles, and every once in a while, he’s good enough to make you forget that all almost of his dialogue is hideously overwritten and basically serves to pat itself on the back for how clever it is. It’s got the whiff of late-stage Sherlock, and that is a stench I have been trying to get out of my nose for years now. There’s a really specific science to doing a really complicated, multi-strand mystery show like this, and it feels as though Steven Moffat sometimes just puts characters like Tucci’s in to be smug enough to have figured it out before the rest of us. It’s an incredibly annoying character to spend so much time with.
But Inside Man, despite some of the signature Moffat smugness, has enough going for it for me to say I overall quite liked it. Absurd situations and over-the-top mysteries come together with just enough interesting characters and great performances to land us above net zero. The clumsy attempts at commentary are unintrusive enough for the focus to fall on the genuinely compelling stuff, and, for once, I won’t have you for this one, Moffat.
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(header image via Fugitive)