Inside No 9, TV review: Toilet humour with a twist - Pemberton and Shearsmith are in a different league

The duo's twisted tale anthology introduced unpredictable plot twist after unpredictable plot twist, as six strangers gathered in a sleeper cabin

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The Independent Culture

Of all the horrors conjured up by co-writers Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith in their twisted tale anthology Inside No 9, sharing a confined space with burping, farting, sweating, snoring Jorg (Pemberton), as meticulously detailed in last night's series two opener, must be the most traumatic.

Jorg was one of the six strangers sharing a sleeper cabin, or "couchette" (Couchette No 9, of course) on the night train from Paris to Bourg St Maurice. Uptight Maxwell (Shearsmith) just wanted to get some shut-eye, older couple Les and Kath were en route to their daughter's wedding (Mark Benton and Julie Hesmondhalgh, enjoying another plum post-Corrie role), and then there was Aussie backpacker Shona (Jessica Gunning) and her latest conquest, Hugo (Jack Whitehall), shamelessly getting down to it in the bottom bunk.

Claustrophobia was a favourite theme in the last series ("Sardines" took place almost entirely within a wardrobe), but the train setting in "La Couchette" also added a Hitchcockian elegance to Pemberton and Shearsmith's usual mix of gothic-horror influences. And while there were only two strangers on Hitch's train, Inside No 9 brought together several (mostly) unpleasant individuals with competing motivations, introduced unpredictable plot twist after unpredictable plot twist, and did it all in one briskly efficient half hour.

It's true that last night's guest stars weren't given the opportunity to stray very far from their established types (Hesmondhalgh was frumpy but compassionate, while Whitehall played yet another clueless, posh student), but simply the opportunity to be in the presence of Pemberton and Shearsmith's weirder character creations must have been inducement enough to sign up. It was Jorg's grunting and squatting that produced the episode's impressively grotesque climax, but it was Whitehall as Hugo who followed up with the instantly quotable line: "We're going to need a bigger box!"

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