This review contains spoilers.
Inefficiency. It’s a criticism often levelled at the BBC by a certain species of rapacious vulture who sees the corporation not as the lustrous national gem it is, but as an unjust barrier to the extent to which they’re able to feather their own nests. The BBC is full of waste, they caw. The BBC must be more efficient!
If any of the vultures had the nous to watch BBC Two at 10pm on a Tuesday night for the past few weeks, they’d have been delighted. Well, not delighted. In all likelihood, they’d have been lividly firing up their odious rags in an outraged campaign to ban this sick filth. But they should have been delighted, because Inside No. 9 is efficiency incarnate.
In the time it takes most TV dramas to get their boots on, Inside No. 9 has left the house, committed half a dozen murders, buried the bodies, come back home and put the kettle on. In under thirty minutes, it can tell an intriguing, surprising Ten Little Murder Victims story like Private View without even feeling rushed. Yes, we all loved Sarah Phelps’ And Then There Were None a couple of Christmases ago, but that was six times the length of this. And at no point did it feature a close-up of Felicity Kendal’s empty eye sockets dripping blood, so really, there’s no competition.
If it’s efficiency they’re after, Inside No. 9 creators Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith should be put in charge of all BBC programming. The News At Ten could finish at a quarter past, EastEnders would only have to be on once a month and The Antiques Roadshow could just be ten minutes of Fiona Bruce grinning ghoulishly at the camera while eating a priceless Regency-era necklace.
I’ve lost my train of thought.
What I’m trying to say is that Inside No. 9 is remarkable. And series three has perhaps been its most remarkable series yet.
Private View welcomed a delightful collection of guest stars including the never-not-brilliant Morgana Robinson and the similarly top-notch Fiona Shaw and (the aforementioned, latterly enucleated) Felicity Kendal. Peter Kay—whose cameo was deliberately kept out of promotional materials as an extra little surprise—popped up as the murder room’s first victim, with Montserrat Lombard, Pemberton, and Shearsmith rounding out the ensemble.
This week’s characters were a deliberately heightened comedic bunch. We had a bubble-brained reality TV star, a daft dinner lady, an imperious erotic novelist, a sarcastic waitress, a snooty art lecturer and a Health & Safety wonk with a ponytail that must surely be in contravention of several workplace welfare regulations.
Fiona Shaw’s daft dinner lady—a very different kind of unhinged, bereaved parent to last week’s—turned out to be the puppet master, but with a full nine minutes remaining after that revelation, there was plenty of time here for a final twist. Off-screen, Shearsmith’s Maurice must have escaped his restraints and overpowered Quinn’s mother, then—spying an opportunity for instant fame and a wodge of artworld dosh—put her heart in formaldehyde and pretended to have masterminded the whole thing.
Private View was simultaneously the goriest and crudest story of this series. The gruesome murders—rocking chairs will never look inviting again—were interspersed with tit gags, anal sex gags and smelly toilet gags. Being of puerile mind, the idea of “clown’s pocket” being a posh paint colour (unless this is an elaborate tie-in gag, apparently Elephant’s Breath is real?) tickled me, as did Shaw’s character’s frequent malapropisms from the “vape alarm” that kept going off at Argos, to Cornettos instead of corneas.
The delight in self-reference and puns, especially Muriel Gray’s punchline feeder that Maurice “obviously put [his] heart into” the exhibition felt joyously influenced by the likes of Douglas Hickox’s similarly gleeful and horrid 1973 film Theatre Of Blood, in which Vincent Price plays an actor who picks off a group of disparaging critics in increasingly colourful, apt ways. Private View’s artworld background, in fact, made me suspect a similar motivation for punishment here, before the organ donation twist lurched into view.
Visually, it was a pleasing contrast with last week’s austere suburban home. The red-lit basement stuffed with Auton-ish mannequin limbs and all that neon light gave the episode a distinct look. The props were used as gags too, not just in the satirical comment on modern art installations but also when ‘Kenneth Williams’ purposefully seized a dummy’s arm to use as a weapon and set his jaw against the enemy.
Kudos to the sound design too, which gave each scene its own feel, from the cawing crows accompanying Neil Francis’ demise to the laidback hip muzak, whispering voices playing behind the ‘gas explosion at Debenhams’s’ exhibit and finally, those escalating Hitchcockian strings.
It was a pure game, this one. Not as emotionally harrowing as last week, and not as uplifting as the week before, but its own thing – a blackly comic morality tale with gags and deaths galore.
Private View was a very fine conclusion to what has been a terrifically inventive run of stories. How was it that Maurice defined collage? “The assemblage of disparate elements which together create a new whole”. Neatly put.
And as for “Nine, a space for art”, you can say that again.
Read Louisa’s review of the previous episode, Diddle Diddle Dumpling, here.