Inside No 9, TV review: A top-drawer cast puts these twisted tales in a league of their own

 

Reece Shearsmith was on Danny Baker's radio show a few weeks ago. He told Baker that upstairs in his home is a bookshelf that turns into a door, Wayne Manor-style.

It's those details that show how much the men of the League of Gentlemen live and breathe the fictional worlds they've ingested and reformed for our pleasure in the likes of Sherlock, Psychoville and Ghost Stories. Another of those influences, Alfred Hitchcock's Rope, provided the inspiration for a memorable episode of Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton's Psychoville. A two-shot, one-scene one-off. The simplicity of that episode, has led, in turn, to the pair's Inside No 9 (BBC2), a six-part darkly comic anthology which began last night.

Part one, "Sardines", was named after the parlour game (hide and seek, but the finder stays with the findee) which was being used to break the ice at a party. So, as the wardrobe filled up, we met the guests. The conceit – all the action in the wardrobe was Beckettian in its absurdity. Part of the pleasure of anthology format is that it's easier to attract a cast without the commitment of a series. Here, the wardrobe was filled with some of Britain finest including Anne Reid, Katherine Parkinson, Julian Rhind-Tutt, Timothy West, Anna Chancellor and Tim Key. Key was particularly good as "Ian", a witlessly boring bloke in IT. Or, so we thought...

Part of the genius of the League's work has been the weaving together of the morbid with the laugh-out loud. Themes here included adultery, incest, paedophilia and murder. Which is going some in 28 minutes. But, as ever, all of that is undercut with chuckles: none better than Shearsmith's Stuart entering the wardrobe and exclaiming: "It's like the backroom of Cinderella's in Wakefield in here, but without any poppers or lube."

It's good to have them back.

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