This review contains spoilers.
4.5 And The Winner Is…
“What’s more important, awards or a massive audience?” I asked Inside No. 9’s creators in 2017. Simultaneously, without missing a beat, “Awards!” they answered to a chorus of laughs. “Can’t put an audience on your shelf!” said Pemberton.
However serious that answer, it’s not a stretch to see why TV awards-giving might be ripe for satire here. Inside No. 9 has won a number of prizes (Rose d’Or, RTS, Writers’ Guild, Banff Rockies, comedy.co.uk…), but there’s still a baffling gap where a Bafta might be. It’s a matter of genre, Reece Shearsmith suggested. As a dramatic comedy/comedic drama, Inside No. 9 “falls between all the stools and therefore gets ignored a little bit.”
“It only becomes bothersome, said Steve Pemberton, “when you have to put things up against each other like ‘what’s the best comedy of the year?’ We have to technically be in that but you can’t compare it to a lot of other comedies.”
“That’s why we’ll fall down at every hurdle,” concluded Shearsmith.
Having worked in television for nigh-on two decades, Pemberton and Shearsmith are familiar with the hypocrisies, frustrations and shortcomings of the process. They’ve served on awards juries and know all about the ire and vanity of creative egos.
Sending up those egos is half of this episode’s game. The six jurors are a screenwriter (Shearsmith), two actors (Kenneth Cranham and Zoe Wanamaker), a director (Noel Clarke), a critic (Fenella Woolgar) and an unassuming member of the public (Phoebe Sparrow). Pemberton plays the chairperson, a double-barrelled Giles.
It’s an equal opportunities satire – everyone is mocked: the desperate writer with his David Brent-ish tics, the director there only to wangle a win for his next lead, the dinosaur luvvie, the ageing Hollywood star, the sad Sunday Mirror critic, the dim-witted nobody. Not one, from the ‘talent’ to Pemberton’s patronising organiser, gets a free pass. It’s well-observed, and fluent in the language of vague bullshit that people use to talk about art when they don’t much care about it.
Exposing the self-regard in all involved adds up to the second half of the game: rubbishing the awards process. The Best Actress award isn’t judged by any metric so simple as who might be the best actress. It’s about age, popularity, national treasure status, tick-box diversity, who won last year, and who gave to whom which sexual favours in the car park of The Dirty Duck in 1976. In other words: it’s all a sham. Who wants an award anyway?
That isn’t the whole story, of course. It turns out that member of the public ‘Jackie’ was a plant, a nominee disguised underneath a wig, false eyebrows and even falser humility. This being the show it is, you likely guessed something was up. If so, then well done you. (People who pride themselves on guessing twists early must be enormous fun opening their Christmas presents. ‘Knew it’, ‘obvious’, ‘Saw that coming’.)
There was more to enjoy in this lightly sparkling Graeme Harper-directed episode than the twist. There’s always more to enjoy in an Inside No. 9 episode than the twist. Admittedly, though – less this week than usual. It was the sparsest episode of this excellent series in terms of funny gags or real feeling, populated by familiar types who were only gently funny.
Bear in mind though, that as TV critics lead hollow and superfluous lives in the shadows of those making an actual contribution to the world, I expect I’m just feeling bitter.
Read Louisa’s review of the previous episode here.