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TV Review: Inside No. 9 - Zanzibar


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Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton's comedy anthology series is back and better than ever, with a new tale that is well worth your time - it's funny and clever, it even rhymes! 

Proving that their vaults of ingenuity are far from depleted after three series, the comedy duo begin their latest run of No. 9's with a jovial trip to the ninth floor of the Hotel Zanzibar, where a rich ensemble of guests and plots collide to hilarious effect.

Pleasantly reminiscent of previous ensemble episodes, like 'Sardines', 'La Couchette' and 'Private View', 'Zanzibar' highlights the gleeful way in which Shearsmith and Pemberton can weave a multi-layered narrative between a wide set of lively characters. Each character has their own integral part in the story, which becomes more and more intricate as the episode continues. Everything, from the characters to the props, has a purpose and a role to play in the wider revelations and twists that have now become synonymous with the series.

Though it all connects together rather breezily on screen, thanks to great performances by the cast and exquisite direction, one can't help but marvel at the remarkable craftsmanship behind it. Carefully constructing a wholesome, funny story, made up of various narrative threads and held under the strict (but ingenious) form of rhyming couplets is no easy feat, but Shearsmith and Pemberton make it seem effortless. 

While the story evolves with time, bringing in more and more characters, each with their own plans and desires, a delightfully bawdy sense of humour remains throughout the episode. Innuendo and the disastrous consequences of vulgar activities gone wrong provide the biggest laughs - all of which are made funnier by the theatrical mode of the rhyming couplets. The wonderfully silly way in which the climax of the episode was resolved - with Shearsmith's demonically frenetic rendition of the Hokey Cokey - was also a stroke of comic genius.

Plaudits should also go to the guest actors within the ensemble - particularly Rory Kinnear, whose dual roles are perfectly pitched to the comedy at hand. Helen Monks and Marcia Warren give charming, charismatic performances that aptly match their kooky characters, while Bill Paterson offers a surprisingly touching portrayal of the reclusive and emotionally wracked Mr. Green. Hattie Morahan is also superb, commiting as fully to lust-driven hypnotics as she does to forlorn monologues. Similarly, Jaygann Ayeh impresses as the narrator/instigator of the tale, while Kevin Eldon and Tanya Franks appear in smaller, but still brilliant roles. 

At an event at the BFI Southbank last year, Shearsmith suggested that this series would be "brighter" than the third series, which took on decidedly darker twists and themes. While it is arguably their distinct aptitude for mixing comedy with horror that makes their work so appealing to fans, it is refreshing to visit such a cheerful No. 9, with a happy ending to match. Four series in and the pair are still subverting our expectations, with distinct, meticulously crafted tales that are as thoughtful as they are funny. 

A masterclass in great comedy writing, Inside No. 9 is still as impressive and ingenuitive as ever, with Zanzibar ranking among the very best of them. 

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

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