Last year Inside No. 9, the anthology series from Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith of The League of Gentlemen, produced a Christmas special. And as ever, nothing was as it seemed…
From the first moment I saw The League Of Gentlemen, I was a huge, huge fan. There were some missteps (changing the format in the third season was a bold move that didn’t quite work), but it remains one of my all time favourite TV show. The dark world created by Reece Shearsmith, Steve Pemberton, Mark Gattis and Jeremy Dyson was unlike anything I had seen before. After a feature film, the three main actors have become main stays of British television – and Dyson has become a much sort-after script editor. Pemberton was in ITV’s Benidorm and Whitechapel, Shearsmith had a brilliant but short-lived hospital sitcom TLC, and Gatiss had some success with a little show called Sherlock.
Pemberton and Shearsmith continued working together though, and created Psychoville, which featured season long story lines all coming together in a finale. It also allowed them to work with a host of actors, including Imelda Staunton, Dawn French, and Sicario and Get Out‘s Daniel Kaluuya. Mark Gatiss guest starred in an episode that took place with only three characters and in one room, which inspired Pemberton and Shearsmith to create the anthology series Inside No. 9. Each episode is a self-contained story, with a new set of characters and actors (apart from Pemberton and Shearsmith, who appear as different characters) linked by only one idea – the story will take place in one location, and that location will be numbered 9.
So far, Inside No 9 has given us a medieval witch trial taking place in a barn, an art heist taking place in a silent episode, and straight up horror in a gothic mansion, among many others. The last episode of season 2 showed just how inventive the writers are, with a seance being revealed to actually be a prank TV show that then took another sinister turn. And building on that idea, ahead of a third season that was to follow, they produced their first Christmas episode.
“The Devil Of Christmas” starts out as a 1970s drama, complete with wobbly sets, cameras being caught in shot, and actors missing their mark. The story is of a family taking a winter vacation in an Austrian chalet. Pemberton plays the lead character Julian, who has taken his family away for a well deserved break, with his pregnant wife Kathy (Call The Midwife and Line of Duty’s Jessica Raine), mother Celia (Rula Lenska, who was in plenty of these types of dramas in the Seventies), and son Toby (George Bedford). They have rented the chalet from Klaus (Shearsmith) who warns them that it is the feast of St Nicolas, and that Krampus will visit if a child has been bad. When Toby shows scars on the first night, the family are understandably scared. Can they survive the Devil of Christmas?
About five minutes in though, director Denis Fulcher (played Derek Jacobi) then asks for the film to be rewound slightly to point out a continuity error. The rest of the episode plays out with a Fulcher chipping in with little tit-bits of information, basically giving a commentary track to the episode. Then, there’s one final twist in store for a truly unforgettable finale.
Anthology series can have the occasional slightly duff episode, and I think many people might be disappointed with “The Devil of Christmas”, as the comedy is not laugh out loud stuff. However, I loved it. The attention to detail is great, with a different screen ratio, lights leaving a streak across the screen, and the makeup visible on the actors face. The bulk of the episode reminded me of the Rob Brydon show Director’s Comedy which had a hack director regaling the audience with stories of what happened when working on the show of the week. Derek Jacobi is even better though, and his script is great. Lines about Pemberton’s actor wanting to finish quickly to get to a voiceover he was doing later in the day is a great touch, as is the “Petwee had his favourites” when Fulcher talks about wanting to do an episode of Worzel Gummidge. This then plays into the finale, with a great throw away line from Fulcher.
It might not be quite as good as The League Of Gentlemen’s Christmas episode, but only because that is a phenomenal piece of black comedy. “The Devil Of Christmas” is a Christmas special only Pemberton and Shearsmith could come up with, and you will not see anything like it. A very enjoyable half hour of TV, which is surprising for such a dark show.
Season 4 of Inside No. 9 is apparently coming from Thursday 2nd January, promising a new set of varied stories and characters – and I cannot wait! Seasons 1 and 2 recently landed on Netflix, so there is no excuse not to catch up!
Stay gold Ponyboy, stay gold. See you soonish.
Like what you’ve read? Then get following us on social media!
Plus we are finally on Twitter! https://twitter.com/BubblegumOutta
A previous version of this article appeared on TheSnootyUshers.com in December 2016.