9. The Understudy
Split into five Acts, The Understudy draws on plenty of Shakespearean references with its tale of rivalry and hierarchy between the leading actor and his understudy. There are more than a few sparky lines and nuanced observations, yet while extra points have to go to Julia Davis for a scene-stealing performance, the pace is at points slow and the ending could be better.
8. Séance Time
This is a rare episode that balances the hilarious with the horrible in almost equal measure. Alison Steadman is fantastic as Madam Talbot – both chilling and pompous – and the hidden camera TV show plot lends itself to some real comedic gems, sending up demanding actors and the TV industry in general. The ending is suitably nasty, but it arguably isn’t an absolute classic.
7. The Devil of Christmas
Filmed in the “style of a 1970s portmanteau horror episode”, Inside No 9 thoroughly pushes the envelope with this Christmas-themed episode. There’s no turkey or tinsel to be seen in the folk tale of bad Santa Krampus set in an Austrian log cabin. What you at first think is a standard TV show soon gives way to footage being rewound and a directors’ commentary – but as always with No 9, all isn’t as it seems and the shocking snuff movie twist is a very fitting ending.
6. Last Gasp
When we live in an age where Harry Styles’s vomit can find its way onto eBay, this tale about a singer’s final breath being captured in a balloon is a nicely conceived idea. Shearsmith described it as like a My Family episode “gone wrong” as all the characters’ greed quickly emerges when superstar Frankie Parsons dies while blowing up a balloon on a visit to terminally ill 9-year-old girl Tamsin. Granted, there’s no massive twist at the end, but the darkness of greed and disregard for life is both chilling and hilarious.
5. Nana’s Party
Inside No 9 doesn’t often stray into the territory of banal domesticity. And yet for the majority of Nana’s Party, that’s exactly where we find it. And it does it brilliantly, capturing the essence of awful relatives and awful family parties perfectly as a seemingly happy nuclear family implodes over the course of a Sunday afternoon. Although there isn’t much of a twist at the end, the high emotion and high stakes make it a brilliant half hour of TV.
The very first episode of Inside No 9 set the bar very high. Based largely inside a wardrobe in one room of the house, the ensemble cast is second to none: Katherine Parkinson, Timothy West, Anna Chancellor, Ophelia Lovibond and Luke Pasqualino all star. At the centre is Tim Key as Ian – an inspired piece of casting, who flipped effortlessly from innocent bore to murderous villain. The speed at which a fun family game becomes an immensely disturbing tale is shocking and brilliant.
3. La Couchette
Another fantastic cast is on board for La Couchette – the memorable opening episode of series two. Comedy turns from Jack Whitehall, Julie Hesmondhalgh and Mark Benton really inject the humour into this episode set inside a sleeper carriage and make it undoubtedly one of the most laugh-out-loud episodes of Inside No 9. The twist is as amusing as it is dark, and the scene in which Whitehall’s Hugo willingly climbs into bed with a corpse and comments: “I hope you don’t mind a bit of spooning, pal” almost perfectly sums up the whole ethos of No 9.
2. A Quiet Night In
Shearsmith and Pemberton are always pushing the boundaries with innovative conceits and imaginative plots, but this is truly special. Aside from a line of dialogue from Kayvan Novak’s burglar at the very end of the episode, the completely silent comedy is utter genius. Laugh-out-loud scenes involving the death of a dog (it’s funnier than it sounds) are mixed with slapstick, murder and farce leaving you constantly on the backfoot. The final twist – with kitchen roll and tin foil being mistaken for priceless art – top off an immensely clever episode.
1. The 12 Days of Christine
There are no prizes for guessing my number one. The 12 Days of Christine is so much more than an episode of comedy drama. Viewers were caught off-guard with a piece of TV so profound and moving, as what had initially seemed like a classic horror tale was revealed to be something far sadder. The twist is magnificent – almost impossible to see coming but on second watch makes complete sense. Sheridan Smith’s performance as Christine is spot on and the details – from the smashed eggs to the blue lights flashing on the Christmas tree – are perfect… and devastating.
Inside No 9 returns on Tuesday 21st February at 10pm on BBC2