Two of the comedy masterminds behind The League of Gentlemen and Psychoville, Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton, have reunited and are returning to BBC Two with their latest comedy, Inside No. 9.
Described as an anthology of darkly comic tales each of the six episodes invites viewers inside six very different No. 9s where the ordinary rub shoulders with the extraordinary.
In the opening episode, Sardines, the No. 9 in question is a grand country house and it's the day of Rebecca and Jeremy's engagement party where they decide to play a game of Sardines. A game where one person hides and as others find them they have to join them until everyone is hiding in the same space.
The chosen hiding place here is a wardrobe, which whilst not your traditional setting for a sitcom, works really well as the comedy arises out of having a large group of people, some of whom don't know each other, stuck together in such a confined space.
The cast, especially for the first episode, but equally as strong throughout the series, is a bit of a who's who of great British talent. Alongside Shearsmith and Pemberton in Sardines are Katherine Parkinson (The IT Crowd), Anne Reid (Last Tango In Halifax), Timothy West (EastEnders), Anna Chancellor (Pramface), Luke Pasqualino (Skins) and Tim Key (Alan Partrdige).
It's great to see Katherine Parkinson back on our screens as no one makes awkward funny quite like her. In Inside No. 9 she plays Rebecca, and despite it being her engagement party many think her name is Rachel, including her own fiancé!
I like the style chosen for Inside No. 9 - six individual stories with different settings and different characters. It's a format not seen all that often on TV and one that suits the humour of Shearsmith and Pemberton perfectly. The closest thing, if I had to make a comparison, in terms of its structure, would have to be Charlie Brooker's Black Mirror.
The way Reece and Steve write means that you don't need a whole series to get to know and love the characters, as you get to know them pretty well in the half hour episode and there's something quite nice about seeing a snapshot of their life. This doesn't (for me anyway), detract from watching the rest of the series. Sure each episode is self-contained, but you just know that Shearsmith and Pemberton are incapable of making characters nobody cares about and whoever they are, for that half an hour, you'll fall in love with them.
One thing that is constant throughout the series is claustrophobia. It's a theme that runs throughout and in episode two A Quiet Night In, a luxury home replaces the wardrobe and the claustrophobia comes when two cat-burglars, Ray and Eddie, played by Shearsmith and Pemberton, find themselves trapped in Gerald and Sabrina's house.
Gerald is played by Denis Lawson (New Tricks) and Sabrina is played by Oona Chaplin (Dates). What sets this episode apart from any other comedy on television at the moment, aside from the fact that it's self-contained, is that the entire episode is a silent farce. Words aren't spoken and all our attention is drawn to the movements of the two cat-burglars and whether they should hide behind the sofa or behind the Kitchen cabinets and most importantly - will they be able to walk out of there with the painting they came to steal? They have to dodge all manner of obstacles, including the warring couple that live there. Cue some great slapstick moments reminiscent of the great silent comedies of the past.
I don't want to spoil the episode for you as it's possibly my favourite of the series so far. But what I can say is that I can't recommend this episode enough. If little else, it proves that dialogue isn't always needed to create a comedy and a lot can be said by using gestures and body language. Also starring towards the end of the episode is the very funny Kayvan Novak (Facejacker/Fonejacker) who plays Paul.
The cameos don't stop at episode two though, there are plenty more familiar faces that you can look forward to seeing throughout the series, including Adam Deacon (Babylon), Gemma Arterton, Tamsin Greig (Episodes) and Julia Davis (Nighty Night).