As I often say in my Inside No 9 blogs, one of the show’s greatest strengths is its ability to leap from one form to another with each episode and almost always stick the landing in a convincing manner. After the surprising horror themes and brutality of ‘Mother’s Ruin’, ‘Paraskevidekatriaphobia’ is a good example – it’s an episode that owes a lot to farce, and it is markedly lighter. However, unlike the series opener, this one didn’t work too well – despite good moments and a core cast obviously having fun, the overall story is weak, and it never quite finds the right tone.
Dana (Amanda Abbington) says goodbye to her husband Gareth (Shearsmith) before heading off to work, and she checks that he’ll be okay because of the date. Gareth suffers from paraskevidekatriaphobia, the irrational fear of Friday the 13th, and he has a plan to get through – he’s going to stay at home, safe, where bad luck can’t affect him. But fate has different plans for him, and after a postal worker (Samantha Spiro) appears with a parcel, he opts against his better judgement and opens the door to her, resulting in a series of absurd events that bring him face to face with many of his greatest fears.
Abbington is, for the most part, completely wasted – she appears briefly, and then is reduced to the realm of the exposition dump, in what feels like a poor use of her time and talent
In a sense, I have to admire the ambition of this episode, as Pemberton and Shearsmith really commit to the premise of bad luck and produce some fantastic farcical elements that build effectively well. There are some good set pieces here, most notably in Gareth’s interactions with a black cat and the sudden appearance of a ladder, which made me chuckle. Shearsmith plays more to type as the neurotic Gareth, but he makes an effective straight man for the chaos that unfolds.
There are a lot of good lines to be shared in this script, and Spiro and Pemberton (as a locksmith) are clearly having fun really hamming it up. It’s frustrating, then, that you’ll probably grow as tired of them as Gareth does (one of the best laughs comes from Shearsmith’s annoyed reaction to them). On the other hand, Abbington is, for the most part, completely wasted – she appears briefly, and then is reduced to the realm of the exposition dump, in what feels like a poor use of her time and talent.
I suspect that this will be one that people either love or hate, and I’m sadly inclined more towards the latter camp
I suspect that this will be one that people either love or hate, and I’m sadly inclined more towards the latter camp. Farce is at its best when it maintains an air of credibility, but there’s no such luck in ‘Paraskevidekatriaphobia’ – I found things much too contrived and, although the episode wants to paint Gareth as being in the wrong, it’s not hard to sympathise with him as annoying and overly-caricatured people invite themselves into his house. It builds up into a reveal that you’d have seen coming a mile off, and not even an effective surprise cameo and a last-minute rug pull salvage things.
For me, it comes down to a problem in tone, which is particularly surprising given that Shearsmith and Pemberton are normally very good at juggling these things. Although there are laughs, things are a little too cliché, a little too silly to really enjoy. And the attempts to inject a bit of darkness fit really awkwardly aside the silliness – it feels a bit crowbarred in, and I simply didn’t believe Gareth’s character trajectory as a result. Inside No 9 can be excellent at creating characters we know and understand in just 30 minutes, but it didn’t happen here, and it feels a really missed opportunity because we need that proper connection with Gareth to make the last ten minutes work.
‘Paraskevidekatriaphobia’ is an interesting experiment, and it’s one that some viewers will love, but I can’t count myself among them – it’s drawn too broad, and the good aspects are drowned out by a lot of predictable plot beats and a tone that never quite lands.