Inside No. 9 series 3 episode 4 review: Empty Orchestra

All change for Inside No. 9 series 3, which delivers a quasi-musical in karaoke-themed instalment, Empty Orchestra…

This article comes from Den of Geek UK.

This review contains spoilers.

3.4 Empty Orchestra

When you’ve cut someone’s bum off and eaten it, you kind of go, well, better try something different!” Steve Pemberton told us at the Inside No. 9 series three launch. In Empty Orchestra, a (whisper it) love story with a (keep whispering) happy ending, something different is exactly what he and Reece Shearsmith have done.

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Compared to the thoroughgoing nastiness of The Riddle Of The Sphinx, this one’s as refreshing as a sea breeze. The baddies are punished, the goodies are rewarded, and the viewer can skip happily to bed untroubled by thoughts of cannibalism and suicide (though granted, with Saturday Night by Whigfield stuck in their head, so it’s swings and roundabouts really).

It might be less deranged than its predecessors, but Empty Orchestra is still very much an Inside No. 9 story. Its use of song is as mischievous and slippery as the wordplay in last week’s cryptic crossword-themed episode. Half a musical, the lyrics to most of the karaoke choices are neatly applicable to the story’s characters.

Take Greg’s rendition of that hit by The Human League. Yes, it introduces Shearsmith’s character’s affair with the despicable Connie (Tamzin Outhwaite), provides opportunities for flirting under Fran’s (Sarah Hadland) nose, and foreshadows the pair’s eventual comeuppance by emphasising the unsung line “we will both be sorry”, but it also tells the story of his work relationship with Roger. After seeing his name on the list of colleagues he assumes is for the chop, Greg pathetically sings “don’t you want me?” to his new boss. Not forgetting the neat way his selfish bitterness and resentment is established by the lines “don’t forget it’s me who put you where you are now/ and I can put you back there too”. It’s exactly the sort of clever game we’ve come to expect from these writers, and typically No. 9.

Expectations might work against Empty Orchestra on a first watch, only because it’s so free of the macabre elements fans of this show so delight in. That criticism may even have been slyly anticipated early on by Pemberton’s character as down-in-the-dumps Roger grumpily complains “it’s not just going to be one song after another, is it?”

It is, more or less, but there are also secrets, a couple of twists, an act of revenge and an unmasking—all the stuff that Inside No. 9 is made of. The romantic plot between Javone Prince’s Duane and Emily Howlett’s Janet might be unprecedented for this show, but its tenderness certainly isn’t. You can hardly call pathos alien to the people who made Twelve Days Of Christine.

I say there are no macabre elements, but the sight of Amy Winehouse grinding against Michael Jackson is one that’ll stay with you. About that – perhaps it’s over my head but between those two, Boy George and Britney, the fancy dress costumes felt randomly assigned rather than used as a shortcut to story. Inside No. 9’s wham-bam-thank-you-mam episode duration means it needs to use every trick up its sleeve to establish character and it’s rare for an opportunity like that to be missed.

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Everything else slotted in with real efficiency. Seeding the UV light early on provided a satisfying pay-off, and the shifts to Janet’s aural point of view, along with the inventive use of subtitles and director Guillem Morales’ continually inventive shifts in PoV, kept things varied and lively.

Speaking of liveliness, I’d be surprised if Steve Pemberton had any voice left at the end of that filming week. His West Midlands version of Since You’ve Been Gone was (tragi) comedy gold to match the farcical comedy of Greg’s perpetually thwarted heist attempts to get to Roger’s letter.

The lyrical cleverness though, was Empty Orchestra’s best achievement, and what merits it a second watch. The punchline of Connie’s delighted “oh so good!” when she thought Fran was on the out was as deftly woven in as poor Roger taking off his wedding ring to “he needs his fantasy and freedom”.

Ultimately, ‘Poor’ Roger ended the night in fluffy deely boppers with a new start, Fran earned a promotion and rid herself of a cheating boyfriend, Janet and Duane found each other, and Connie and Greg got exactly what they deserved. In barely any time at all, we’d been told a complete story that was satisfying, romantic and unexpectedly uplifting.

Cuntgrotalions all round.