Great Britain has a truly masterful anthology series to boast about. Each episode brings a fresh idea that will threaten to change the direction of your moral compass, bring you to emotional distress or leave you with a sincere sense of appreciation that a show is challenging traditional filming methods. A twist is revealed in the last five minutes which changes how you view the entire episode. It’s not Black Mirror. It’s not necessarily similar to Black Mirror either, but they’re both anthology series’, so some kind of comparison is inevitable. So here it is.
Inside No. 9 is the creation of The League of Gentlemen and Psychoville alumni Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith. The rules are simple: every episode must have the number 9 attached to the setting, such as a dressing room or house. Aside from that theme, there are no rules on content. Stories exist in the same mundane existence we do or heightened reality and the genre is variable.
No. 9 is a masterpiece in writing because and in spite of rejecting one style. There is a familiarity to the writing, each episode feels like it belongs, but none of them fit with each other. It is not just writing (such as an episode written in iambic pentameter) but filming techniques too. Installments utilise small spaces (such as a wardrobe or train carriage) and instil that claustrophobia or make up their own rules and film through the perspective of CCTV cameras. Black Mirror has its focus- the terrors of tech- and does not distract from that. Sometimes it can get more comedic or indulge in a romance, but it never feels like an adventurous step.
With so many episodes to write and no repeat characters or storylines to use, Pemberton and Shearsmith have to be commended for avoiding ease. The three main genres are comedy, drama and horror, all of which can be done horrifically. Comedy can be easy and cheap. If you have a limited run time, the temptation would be greater to create OTT and shouty characters who play for cheap laughs. Instead, the comedy is subtle enough to not irritate a person who isn’t amused by the joke and hilarious to someone who really clicks with it.
Amongst the comedic outings there is plenty of drama. With these episodes, the show demonstrates heart and its shameless atrides to rip out your own. Becoming attached to a character in such a short space of time is exceptionally difficult. If you were to be told a life story in order to fill in gaps, then the oxymoronic mix of lazy and trying too hard would not resonate. Instead, seeing characters at their most vulnerable or in a (believable) heightened state of emotion allows you to see them.
Closing off a series requires something with more of a horror edge. The subtlety of writing really shines in these episodes. Good horror, like comedy, is difficult to do. Scaring people is easy. A sudden noise and appearance on screen will ensure most people jump, but it is more irritating than genuinely scary; it’s the fart joke of the franchise. Awaiting a jump scare that’s never going to arrive creates more unease in a viewer. Watching is uncomfortable but compelling
Inside No. 9 hits much more than it misses. Black Mirror can become trapped by the idea that technology has too much of a vice grip over our lives; there’s little wriggle room for experimentation with genre, causing an episode that strays from the norm to really stand out (looking at you, San Junipero). Both shows have their merits but one is much more adventurous than the other and allows itself to consider human nature in more ways. The chemistry between the writers would be clear even if they were not on the screen and it’s a privilege to see.
While you can, catch up on the episodes which are still on iPlayer. Once you’re done, catch up with the first two series on Netflix.