There's not an Inside No. 9 viewer out there who doesn't admire the storytelling feat accomplished by Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton. The duo will have dreamt up 55 wildly varied self-contained stories – each one confined to a single location – by the time their anthology series wraps up.


It's a writing exercise that even some seasoned professionals wouldn't relish, but that isn't to say that every offering has been a rousing success.

In fact, season 7 left me feeling rather cold when it premiered on BBC Two and iPlayer last year. Mr King was the closest thing it had to a standout episode, providing a memorable spin on the folk horror genre re-popularised by Midsommar.

But other entries fell completely flat. Merrily, Merrily lacked the emotional punch of the show's other more sincere entries, while Nine Lives Kat wasted the considerable talent of Sophie Okonedo on a tired and predictable meta narrative.

It left me wondering if perhaps the show had simply run its course. The creators themselves have spoken candidly about how it has been more difficult for them to come up with ideas in recent seasons, as so many settings, characters and premises have already been fed to the machine.

Certainly, there would have been no shame in calling it quits after season 6, particularly as COVID-19 safety protocols were brought in, placing yet more conditions on their already restrictive assignment.

But in a twist worthy of one of their short stories, Shearsmith and Pemberton have brought Inside No. 9 roaring back in its eighth season, restoring hope that the show's ninth outing will be the triumphant farewell it deserves.

The first two episodes, screened in advance at a BFI event, demonstrate the versatility that has made the series so popular, throwing gory horror, slapstick comedy and off-the-wall characters into an irresistibly chaotic mixture.

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Although still guilty of the occasional 'dad joke' – to be fair, both writers are fathers – these episodes have a consistent hit rate to their gags, while retaining a dark streak known to fill the fanbase with glee.

Whether it's the graphic gore of Mother's Ruin or the tragicomedy of Paraskevidekatriaphobia, these stories feel as if they're from a creative team reinvigorated; perhaps from knowing the end is in sight, but that's not the only factor at play here.

For one thing, the Inside No. 9 creators were able to approach this latest run with a boosted budget behind them. Producer Kim Crowther explained that the crew had "the luxury of doing a lot more this year" following a move from London to Manchester, which came with an influx of cash.

Much has been said about how earlier episodes had been produced on a shoestring budget, which is admirable indeed – especially to filmmakers who remain indie at heart.

Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton in Inside No. 9
Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton in Inside No. 9. BBC/James Stack

However, it's a bit of an issue when that shows on screen, and I dread to say that it had begun to do so last year, particularly in episodes like A Random Act of Kindness and Kid/Nap.

By comparison, season 8's opening chapters seem to have been freed from financial restraints to make the very best of Shearsmith and Pemberton's scripts. It's also a pleasure to see Paraskevidekatriaphobia's healthy guest roster, following the pared back line-up of season 7.

This could be a benefit of funding or perhaps the easing of protocols introduced during the pandemic, which importantly protected public health, but made film and television production decidedly more complicated.

It's exciting to think what will be possible for Inside No. 9's final season now that the show can reasonably dabble in ensemble episodes once more, the likes of which include its very first entry: Sardines.

As for now, the show looks to be on stable footing once more. This eighth season, which includes December's The Bones of St Nicholas, is shaping up to be the best that the dastardly duo has cooked up in some time.

Given how many shows we've seen run out of steam over the years, it's a relief to see this acclaimed work poised to avoid such a fate – let's just hope there's not another twist still to come.

Inside No. 9 season 8 premieres on BBC Two and iPlayer at 10pm on Thursday 27th April 2023. Check out more of our Comedy coverage or visit our TV Guide and Streaming Guide to find out what's on.


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