If you’re a fan of quality, inventive, and engaging TV that is unlike anything else on the box, I’ve got some good news for you – Inside No 9 is back! Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith’s anthology series returns with its sixth run and, based on how enjoyable and clever the opening instalment ‘Wuthering Heist’ is, it seems like it’s going to be another brilliant one. This meta-episode combines a series of unlikely genres into a cohesive whole that shows the writers have the audience in the palm of their hands.
Vicious criminal Pantalone (Paterson Joseph) assembles a gang together in a warehouse to plan an audacious job – the theft of £12 million in diamonds. Among his gang are the dim-witted Arlo (Kevin Bishop) and his right-hand woman, Columbina (Gemma Whelan). But there is double-cross and treachery in the air, and when the heist fails to go as planned, the gang reassembles in the warehouse for a bloody confrontation. Who is the inside man who gave the game away? What will happen in the romantic subplot involving, among others, Pantalone’s daughter (Rosa Robson) and the Italian dandy Scaramouche (Shearsmith)? And who, if anyone, will wind up with the diamonds?
This is a weird episode to describe – imagine Reservoir Dogs mixed with 16th-century commedia dell’arte, with more than a little bit of The Naked Gun thrown in as extra
This is a weird episode to describe – imagine Reservoir Dogs mixed with 16th-century commedia dell’arte, with more than a little bit of The Naked Gun thrown in as extra. The reason for this combination is because both this style of Italian theatre and a heist movie see characters wear masks – as Columbina tells the viewers: “[It’s] quite clever in a way, but still sounds like something a drama teacher would have a wank to. But hey, it’s series six, you’ve got to allow for a certain artistic exhaustion.”
If that early aside doesn’t give you a sense, this is a meta one – characters address the camera, full of comments about the events of the story and throwing out references to everything from Fleabag to audience reactions to the show’s customary twists. This is initially the realm of Whelan, whose comic timing is perfect as she sets the scene, but everyone gets in on the act: in one inspired sequence, the cast discuss where people may be watching the episode, and the export markets for Inside No 9. It doesn’t sound like it should work, but it really does, in part because the cast are having such fun with it. Joseph in particular is terrifying as a gangland boss, while Shearsmith gets to be unashamedly comedic as the Captain.
It’s the kind of thing you’ll only find on Inside No 9
All this works because ‘Wuthering Heist’ is both an engaging crime story and really funny at the same time. There’s a heist montage performed by the characters that works incredibly well; director Guillem Morales frames the action beautifully, and it makes clever use of the cast and the space to make this illusion work despite the fact we don’t leave the warehouse. And, when things hit the fan, they really do – it’s gripping despite the humour. It’s an episode of dad jokes and punchlines you’ll mostly see coming a mile off, but the cast sell them. There’s a lot of innuendo and classic wordplay, and it never takes a break – I know I always say this in my Inside No 9 reviews, but it’s astonishing how much Pemberton and Shearsmith pack into half an hour.
I don’t know if everyone will appreciate ‘Wuthering Heist’, or even understand it fully (there are certain elements I still don’t get after two watches, including the bizarre final minute), but I think it’s unabashed fun despite that. It’s experimental, it made me laugh a lot, and it told a genuinely engaging heist story and tale of romance and double-cross at the same time. It’s the kind of thing you’ll only find on Inside No 9.