I’m not a football fan at all, but the prospect of seeing Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith put their own spin on the game is enough to get me excited. In fact, as Inside No 9 returns, we don’t see any football at all. ‘The Referee’s a W***er’ is a tight character drama that displays all of the show’s wit, combining a fantastic cast with a packed plot, although is somewhat let down by a final punch that doesn’t feel that punchy.
It’s the final match of the season, and Martin Rutherford’s (David Morrissey) last game as referee before his retirement. It’s a make-or-break game for the teams in the Championship – if United win, they’ll be promoted to the lucrative Premier League, whereas a Rovers victory will help them avoid a financially ruinous relegation. Stoic and scrupulous referee Martin seems like a perfect fit, determined to ensure the match is played completely fairly and asserting the importance of following the rules to his team: assistant refs Phil (Ralf Little), Oggy (Steve Pemberton) and Brendan (Reece Shearsmith). But after a series of events threaten to throw the match into chaos, Martin is faced with a choice that could ruin his legacy and dirty the beautiful game.
But after a series of events threaten to throw the match into chaos, Martin is faced with a choice that could ruin his legacy and dirty the beautiful game
Morrissey is the central character and he’s perfectly cast here – he’s an actor who exudes gravitas and authority, making him the perfect fit for a referee. But I don’t want to imply that ‘The Referee’s a W***er’ is all about football, with some spectacular emotional beats that Morrissey also nails. The first of these comes very early on in the episode, completely unexpected but entirely ringing true because of the tenderness of Morrissey’s acting. When this storyline begins, you know how it must end, but you really hope it won’t.
He’s supported by a great cast, including Ralf Little (who, in a great week for him, is also taking over the station in Death in Paradise) as a foppish ref more concerned with the camera and his televisual prospects than the game. Pemberton and Shearsmith imbue their characters (a problem gambler and an anorak harping on past glories) with tons of personality, and Steve Spiers pops up as a mascot that nobody is quite able to identify.
By the time you reach the end of ‘The Referee’s a W***er’, you’ll be amazed at quite how much has happened and how layered the final plot turns out to be
It’s almost cliché to say in a review of Inside No 9, but there’s a lot going on and it never feels crammed or busy. By the time you reach the end of ‘The Referee’s a W***er’, you’ll be amazed at quite how much has happened and how layered the final plot turns out to be. I shan’t say any more plot-wise, because the best way to watch this show is knowing as little as possible, but I do want to mention how funny this episode is. There are some great gags, including referring to Phil as ‘Linesman Minelli’ because he wears eyeliner for the cameras, and a tension defuser by Brendan that had me properly laughing.
If I were to pick a fault with ‘The Referee’s a W***er’, it would be the final ending. I’m not denying that it’s clever, but it feels as if it comes out of nowhere and it didn’t really resonate. This may be, in part, because the TV guide I read essentially spoiled it, but I feel as if you need to enjoy football to really get the most out of the ending, and that’s not me.
All in all, however, ‘The Referee’s a W***er’ is a solid start to the fifth season of Inside No 9, mixing stellar character work with great writing and fantastic plot. If the rest of the fun continues in this way, we’re in for another treat.
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