Only a show like Inside No 9 could take a premise like two people spying on a conversation from a hotel room and spin out half an hour of essential TV. Make no mistake, this episode is subdued and downright gloomy at points, but it’s also an example of the show at its best, boasting engaging character work, a tight script, and an incredible pay-off that feels earned and is genuinely surprising.
Felix (Steve Pemberton) is convinced that his wife is up to something with her boss Dmitri, so he decides to hire some help to prove things one way or the other. He rents a sleazy hotel bedroom, clad with furnishing from the 80s and the hotel staff worrying about prostitutes, and employs the services of professional lip-reader Iris (Sian Clifford) to spy on their meeting over the road. As Felix and Iris begin the stakeout, will either of them like what they discover?
‘Lip Service’ is an example of Inside No 9 at its best, its simple premise and minimal cast merely an entryway into an incredibly layered script
As ever, that’s a plot summary that barely scratches the surface of the episode. ‘Lip Service’ is an example of Inside No 9 at its best, its simple premise and minimal cast merely an entryway into an incredibly layered script. The amount that happens in half an hour, and how cohesive it all feels (none of the turns the story takes feel out of the blue), and yet they’re all so subtle that you won’t see them coming. And that shocking ending – I audibly gasped in shock when it occurred, but it still felt entirely right. ‘Lip Service’ is one that really warrants a rewatch – and as soon as you’ve watched it the first time.
Pemberton and Clifford share some incredible chemistry, it’s downplayed, befitting the style of the episode, but it’s really impressive. They share a number of great scenes, including one in which Felix takes a call from his wife and Iris provides her side of the conversation that works perfectly. Both of them seem downtrodden initially and very hesitant about what they’re doing, a speciality of Pemberton, but these people are layered and they evolve a lot throughout the course of the narrative. Clifford’s dowdy lip-reader is almost a caricature, until she isn’t, and Pemberton’s character is meek and mild-mannered, until he isn’t. I shall say no more.
You’re not going to find anything as inventive and clever anywhere else on TV
Our tone shifts from drama (supported by a poignant piano score and a wonderfully grimy setting) to dry comedy, with a good number of lines to lighten the mood. The lip-reading allowed for some misinterpretation gags, and there were some good lines about Mumsnet and hotel kettles (you’ll never look at a hotel kettle the same way again). There was more overt comic relief in the form of the hotel’s manager, Eric Müller, almost a caricature of an officious German played by Reece Shearsmith. Müller’s role in the narrative was to interrupt Felix’s privacy and, although he made me chuckle, I’ll be honest: he didn’t really add too much.
‘Lip Service’ is an example of Inside No 9 at its best – it takes advantage of its small cast and an engaging premise and spins out a character drama full of twists. After six series of the show, it feels almost redundant to say that Pemberton and Shearsmith are geniuses, but when they’re turning out episodes like ‘Lip Service’, it’s hard to say anything else. You’re not going to find anything as inventive and clever anywhere else on TV.