One of the perks of being an Inside No 9 fan is that, every week, you have no idea what to expect – you enter every episode with a blank slate, with Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith’s writing the only commonality (aside, of course, from a hidden silver hare). Case in point: ‘Love’s Great Adventure’ could not be more different from last week’s ‘Death Be Not Proud’, and the contrast shows the show’s strength. This week, we’re treated to a kitchen-sink drama that shows Inside No 9 can add the string of powerful naturalistic drama to its already-impressive bow.
Trevor and Jules Morbury (Steve Pemberton and Debbie Rush) are a cash-strapped couple hoping to ensure a decent Christmas for their family. Teenage daughter Mia (Gaby French) has her eyes on the perfect prom dress and dreams of finally passing her driving test, and their grandson Connor (Olly Hudson-Croker) hopes that his errant and absent father Patrick (Bobby Schofield) will come and visit him. As their family faces difficulty and conflict over the holiday period, will the Morburys be able to enjoy a happy Christmas?
This is another packed narrative that somehow does more with 30 minutes than many shows can with a full series
‘Love’s Great Adventure’ tells its story through 24 short scenes, each being marked by the opening of one of the doors on an advent calendar – one of the central mysteries in the piece is why the number 9 door has been left open, even though the ramifications of this missing day are felt throughout the episode. But, although this is another packed narrative that somehow does more with 30 minutes than many shows can with a full series, I warn you not to expect a typical Inside No 9 episode. As Pemberton noted in an interview, this is unlike anything the show has ever done before. I wish they’d stuck to that throughout, though – there are some hints to a background plot that felt a bit out there, as if it needed to be included in an Inside No 9 but doesn’t quite fit.
This episode is, primarily, a showcase for its talented cast, who expertly convey a feeling of looking in on a real family. They run the full spectrum of emotions. We have the highs – a joyful game of ‘grandma’s knickers’ (in which you try to keep a straight face), or Trevor’s exasperation with a singing Christmas tree. But, with highs, there are also lows – a painful but all-too real reaction to an unexpected gift, and a powerful scene in which young Connor makes his own breakfast because the family are too busy arguing. There is a narrative of sorts, but ‘Love’s Great Adventure’ thrives on these little vignettes.
‘Love’s Great Adventure’ would fall flat if the cast didn’t feel like a family, and it’s to the episode’s strength that they really do
Pemberton and Rush shine as a loving and devoted couple, caring for their family and trying to deal with every setback. The young cast are all good, with particular kudos to Schofield as a young man who has lost his way – and, importantly, is too painfully aware of the fact he has lost his way. There’s a genuine rawness to his performance that really sells that inner struggle, as he finds himself torn between his family and the path he has charted for himself. And, of course, Reece Shearsmith crops up as Uncle Alex, teaching Mia to drive and struggling with his own issues. ‘Love’s Great Adventure’ would fall flat if the cast didn’t feel like a family, and it’s to the episode’s strength that they really do.
In ‘Love’s Great Adventure’, Pemberton and Shearsmith once again offer an Inside No 9 experience unlike any other, with the power of this piece located in how real it all feels. For the minds who, just one week ago, bought us serial killing ghosts and adult babies to produce something so raw and powerful is just incredible. Again, I wasn’t expecting anything like this when I sat down to watch, and that’s what makes Inside No 9 such a fascinating TV experience.