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I TALK Inside No.9 (Series 2)

If you watched the first series of Inside No.9, you won't need me to tell you how brilliant it was.

Last year, Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton, who of course brought us The League of Gentlemen and Psychoville, returned to our screens last year with six standalone stories, whose only connection to one another was that take place inside a number 9.

Each episode could not have been more different, especially episode two of the first series, A Quiet Night In. The episode was entirely silent, there was no dialogue, and for me that episode remains one of the finest half an hours of television I've ever seen.

So as I'm sure you can already tell, no-one was more pleased to hear of a second series than me. Recently I attended the press screening for series two where I was treated to the two, very different, opening episodes. Here's what I thought about them...

Speaking at the screening, Steve Pemberton described the idea to write standalone stories was "...a reaction against Psychoville and the boxset culture. We wanted to tell a story in 30 minutes, make you care about the characters and then move on." - which is no mean feat, but with the skill Pemberton and Shearsmith have, they've made it look easy.

Shearsmith went on to say... “I think the joy of Inside No. 9 is the opportunity of thinking - "What’s the story this week?" - the thrill of not knowing where it’s going. It’s a great format for me and Steve."

The first episode, La Couchette, takes place on board a sleeper train, from Paris to Bourg St. Maurice. The episode features a fantastic collection of very different characters, who when confined to a train carriage really come to life and bounce off one another as they all try and get a quiet night's sleep... notice the word try.

Joining Pemberton and Shearsmith are some very familiar faces; Julie Hesmondhalgh (Coronation Street, Cucumber), Mark Benton (Waterloo Road), Jack Whitehall (Bad Education, Fresh Meat) and Jessica Gunning (Pride).

What's great is that we don't meet these characters all in one go, which means that every time the door opens you're waiting with baited breath for which colourful character we'll see next.

First into the carriage is Reece Shearsmith's character, Dr Maxwell, who's on his way to a very important interview and could really do with a good night's sleep.

We then meet a grotesque German, Jorg, played by Steve Pemberton... he looks like he could do with a good wash, his clothes are filthy and there's the little matter of his passing wind every few minutes. I won't give away the ending, but I will say if you're against the idea of someone taking a dump inside a shoebox, you may only want to watch the first 20 minutes or so of the first episode!

Next into the carriage were Julie Hesmondhalgh and Mark Benton, otherwise known as Cath and Les, a married couple who are on their way to their daughter's wedding. Closely followed by Jessica Gunning's character, Shona, an Australian backpacker who hasn't washed since Prague... not my prediction, but her actual words.

She takes a fancy to our next colourful character, Hugo, played by Jack Whitehall, who as you would expect is a rather posh student type who turns out hasn't actually got a train ticket and instead uses the Aussie backpacker for somewhere to sleep.

As with any good Inside No. 9 episode there is a brilliant twist at the end, which I of course will not spoil for you, nor would I want to. The joy of watching something and being completely surprised is rare these days on television, but Inside No. 9 manages it in every single episode.

So that was the first episode which is excellent, but then we were treated to the second episode, The 12 Days of Christine which is absolutely superb. And not just because it features one of my all time favourite actresses, Sheridan Smith (Cilla), although that helps! Sheridan plays Christine whose story we follow, Tom Riley (Monroe) also stars and playing Adam, and Reece Shearsmith plays a mysterious character who keeps popping up. Who is he? Well... watch and you might find out. Or you might not.

Again, I wouldn't dream of spoiling it for you, but what I think is particularly clever about The 12 Days of Christine, is the way that through big events in Christine's life, Christmas, New Year's Day, Valentines Day, Mother's Day, Easter etc. we learn everything we need to know about her.

This for me, makes the script exceptionally clever and for a half hour episode you feel like you've watched a full-length series and have really got to know the characters, especially Christine. As I mentioned earlier, this is no mean feat, but Pemberton and Shearsmith appear to achieve it with such ease.

As with the silent episode in the first series, also episode two, I really do think that this episode will be the standout episode from the series. I haven't seen the rest of the episodes in the series, so I can't say for sure, but The 12 Days of Christine won't be easy to top... and I can't wait for you to see it for yourselves so that you understand why.

Other episodes in the series are; The Trial of Elizabeth Gadge where two of England's most notorious and feared witch-finders are summoned to try an old woman, Elizabeth Gadge, who stands accused of consorting with the Devil, Cold Comfort set in a volunteer call centre cubicle, Nana's Party which as the title would suggest takes place at a grandma's birthday party and the final episode of the series, Séance Time, in which a scéance takes place in a grand Victorian house.

Not content with creating Inside No. 9, writing it, and starring in it, both Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton directed two of the episodes in this series, although looking back Steve told us at the screening that " an ideal world you wouldn't direct something you're in!" - as it proved difficult as nobody would shout "CUT!"

So whether you're a fan of comedy, drama, horror, or simply a fan of great television then please make sure you catch the second series of Inside No. 9, I love the darkness mixed in with the light, I love the fact you never quite know where it's going and the imaginative use of space keeps me coming back for more each week. Fingers crossed the BBC hand them both a third series, as I'd love to see what twisted spaces and scenarios they come up with next!

And finally, if you haven't seen the first series yet, then I envy you because you have six wonderful episodes to catch up on... and I strongly suggest you do!

Inside No.9 returns Thursday 26th March at 10pm on BBC Two


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