TV: Inside No 9 – Empty Orchestra, BBC2

After last week’s cryptic chiller The Riddle of the Sphinx there are more cross words this week, but the tone could not be more different in Empty Orchestra (a). It’s not quite La La Land but it’s the closest Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton have come to doing a musical episode. Maybe that’s an idea for series four.

The action is entirely set inside a rented karaoke room where a group of office employees is having a party to celebrate the promotion of Roger (Steve Pemberton). But swirling beneath the surface there’s romance, revenge and betrayal looming. Who is about the get the push? Who is Greg (Reece Shearsmith looking surprisingly fetching in a sumo outfit) going to get off with?

While there is plenty of sharp dialogue as usual, pop classics from the likes of The Human League (Don’t You Want Me?) and Abba provide a running lyrical commentary. And there is something bleakly comic about horrible things taking place while everyone is dressed as their favourite pop star. Or a sumo wrestler.

As ever the guest cast throws themselves headfirst into the concept. Tamzin Outhwaite, reinventing herself as a bit of a comic specialist after also appearing in Josh, is particularly good as bitchy Connie, kitted out as Amy Winehouse. Sarah Hadland makes a convincing Britney Spears while Javone Prince has Michael Jackson’s moves and Emily Howlett as Janet (b) revisits Culture Club-era Boy George.

It is destined, of course to end in tears, but not before Roger has made his David Brentish the-good-news-is-I’m-promoted-the-bad-news-is-someone-is-sacked speech. Don’t bother trying to second guess the twists. Nothing is predictable here, which keeps you watching to the very end. A hit episode full of hit songs.  

Inside No 9, Tuesdays, BBC2, 10pm. Catch up here.


a) The Japanese word "karaoke" literally means "Empty Orchestra".

b) Emily Howlett, who plays deaf character Janet, is deaf.

Inside No 9 – Riddle of The Sphinx Review.



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