TV: Inside No 9 – Simon Says, BBC Two

TV: Inside No 9 – Simon Says, BBC Two

My time in various lockdowns over the past year has certainly not been completely frittered away. I may not have baked any banana bread or mastered a foreign language, but I did something much more fruitful. I watched every episode of Inside No 9 anthology forerunner Tales of the Unexpected, the old ITV series – now available on Sky Arts - that took its cue from the twisted imagination of Roald Dahl. 

According to wikipedia there were 112 epsiodes and it ran from 1979 to 1988. Each episode was a self-contained story. A little parable if you like about greed, revenge, justice, that sort of thing. And there was usually some kind of pivot in the plot, sometimes a surprise, sometimes you could see it coming. Sometimes it was filmed in glamorous American locations. Sometimes it was filmed around Norwich (it was made by Anglia TV)

Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton have spoken in interviews of their fondness for Tales of the Unexpected. I was trying to work out how many of the actors they have used have appeared in it. Timothy West appeard in the very first Inside no 9, Sardines, and also in one of the most famous Unexpected episodes, Royal Jelly. Derek Jacobi, who also figured in a distinctive Tales episode, Stranger In Town, has the distinction of becoming the first actor to be involved in two Inside No 9s, returning later in the current series.

I mention all of this for a few reasons. Firstly I've become a bit of a Tales of the Unxpected nerd during lockdown. And secondly, it's almost impossible to write anything about this week's episode, Simon Says, without giving something away. But thirdly, I would say that Simon Says, in which Steve Pemberton plays the writer of a hit cult show who wants to move on to new pastures, has more than an echo of various Tales of the Unexpected. To say which ones of course would immedately be a spoiler for anyone with access to wikipedia.

So i'll just give you the bare barest of plot bones, courtesy of the BBC press office. "Everyone says the Season 7 finale of fantasy epic The Ninth Circle was pretty disappointing; even show-runner Spencer Maguire is keen to move on to new projects. But not everyone thinks that it has to be the end of the matter. In fact, Ninth Circle obsessive Simon Smethurst decides to visit his hero to help put things right. Because that’s what the fans would want…"

You can get the gist of the story arc from that paragraph, but what you don't get is the style in which this virtual two hander – cameos from Lindsay Duncan and Nick Mohammed add to the fun – is put together by director Guillem Morales. Needless to say I think Roald Dahl would have been impressed.

Inside No 9, BBC Two, Mondays, 9.30pm. And on catch-up here.

Image credit: BBC/Sophie Mutevelian/Amy Tyler

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