After two well-recieved episodes, the third tale from the fourth season of Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton's anthology series continues to impress.
Described at a BFI event last year as "Memento meets Midsomer Murders", this week's meticulously woven tale, 'Once Removed' plays not only with our expectations, but with time as well.
In the same way that 'Zanzibar' toyed with Shakespearean vernacular and theatrics, 'Once Removed' proves to be a masterclass in comic timing, playing with narrative structure to ingenious effect.
The episode opens in an understated way, with Nick Moran's removal man calling on a large rural house, only to find a rather flustered housewife (played by the marvellous Monica Dolan) waiting inside. They engage in the usual, awkward chit-chat about the stresses of moving home, before they are accompanied by Shearsmith, dressed drolly in a woman's nightgown and oven gloves. Then, all too suddenly, this already unusual encounter is followed by several gruesome discoveries - and a hilariously eager plea to explain.
As the episode continues, we begin to understand the opening scene more and more, as the overall story is slowly revealed in reverse, separated by ten minute segments. What was initially peculiar or unclear starts to make sense as we see how plans are foiled and how situations escalate beyond all reason - and to hysterical effect.
The way in which this otherwise banal situation (which by the removal man's admission is only the 32nd most stressful event on the Holmes and Rahe stress scale) escalates with comic violence that only becomes more outlandish with each new ten minute piece of the puzzle is inspired. While the twists usually come towards the end of a No. 9, the clever manipulation of time within this episode means that every plot progression (or degression) is a twist in itself - making this perhaps the most enthralling No. 9 yet.
The increasingly ludicrous humour is only made more funny with the addition of snappy one-liners and innuendoes, visual gags (including an especially funny scene featuring bubble-wrap) and peculiar characters. David Calder's performance as a dementia-ridden patriarch who believes he's Andrew Lloyd Webber provides an odd sense of comic relief, while other guest stars Emilia Fox, Monica Dolan and Nick Moran get their own brief moments to shine. Pemberton's desperately sad real estate agent and Shearsmith's exasperated mystery man are also very funny.
For those of us who appreciate Shearsmith and Pemberton's darker tales, this episode is something of a return to form - albeit with a distinctly inventive narrative style, the likes of which aren't often seen in television. The complexity of this episode cannot be understated. For the writing duo to have created this tale with such satisfying effect is a testament to their frequently underrated talents.
Proving that this series only has the potential to get more creative as it goes on, 'Once Removed' is dark comedy gold.
Inside No. 9 airs on Tuesdays at 10pm on BBC Two.