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TV Review: Inside No. 9 - And The Winner Is...

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Despite the high regard that many hold it in, Inside No. 9 remains to be something of an underrated gem on our screens.

Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton have won a fair number of awards for their inventive anthology tales - from the Rose D'Or for comedy in 2016 to the British Comedy Guide's 'Comedy of The Year' just this week - but their efforts have yet to make (deserved) waves with the more popular TV academies. Perhaps that is why the duo have drawn their attentions to what exactly happens in the jury rooms where winners (and losers) are decided. 

Shifting from the shockingly dark vibes of last week's episode, this week's No. 9 (entitled 'And The Winner Is...') leans back into something lighter, with a more straight-forward plot and near-archetypal characters. Jury No. 9 gather in a swanky London hotel to decide upon the Royal Academy of Motion Picture Arts' Best Actress award. 

Lead by Chairman Giles (Pemberton), the jurors all come across as your typical, smarmy creative types. There's Clive (Shearsmith), the desperately fickle screenwriter who'll say (or agree) to anything for the chance to have his work made; Gordon (Noel Clarke), an accomplished and all too egotistical director; Paula (Zoe Wanamaker), the resentful and oh-so-busy diva; Rupert (Kenneth Cranham), the old school-thespian who has little patience for mumblers and June (Fenella Woolgar), the jaded TV critic.

And then, courtesy of a competition win, there's also Jackie (Phoebe Sparrow) - an enthusiastic member of the public whose earnest contributions fall awkwardly among the more convulted discussions. As the decision making process begins - much to the chagrin of half the jury - members begin to clash as egos collide. 

Although the writing is indeed a present contributor in itself, offering up some wry industry jokes and observations, as an ensemble piece, it is the performances of the guest stars that shine most brightly in this episode. Zoe Wanamaker is wonderfully suited in the role of the blithely ignorant Paula, whose "heart was stolen" by almost every nominee, while Fenella Woolgar offers a painfully accurate portrayal of the journalist with much to say but (apparently) little to live for.

The stand-out performance though is that of Sparrow's seemingly unassuming Jackie, whose endearingly naive performance throughout only goes to make the twist at the end all the more surprising (and oddly satisfying). Compared to last week's twist, this one is a bit more tame; a bit more subtle - but therein lies the beauty of the anthology series: every week is different. 

In a series that has been consistently impressive and ambitious so far, this more subdued instalment could be seen as one of the weaker episodes of the season, but it still has its merits - namely some terrific performances and some wryly funny jokes that linger well among the current buzz of awards season.

Inside No. 9 airs on Tuesdays at 10pm on BBC Two. 

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