After serving up a scary little Christmas in the holiday-themed special “The Bones of St Nicholas,” the long-running anthology series Inside No. 9 returns with more new episodes. First up is the home-invasion story “Mother’s Ruin,” where showrunners and leads Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith play brothers in search of their late mum’s hidden fortune.
While “Mother’s Ruin” sounds like it’d be a straightforward thriller, the story soon takes a dramatic turn or two like most episodes in this inventive and genre-bending show. Pemberton (Harry) and Shearsmith (Edward) play a pair of unalike siblings, whose parents were notorious gangsters in the East End. They first break into a house and then begin to conduct an occult ritual to contact their dead mother. Things do not as planned, much to the protagonists’ chagrin and the audience’s delight.
Inside No. 9 rarely misses with its plot curveballs, and Pemberton and Shearsmith maintain their near perfect score with “Mother’s Ruin.” It isn’t long after their failed necromancy ritual that Edward and Harry are joined by two other characters, played deftly by Anita Dobson and Phil Daniels, who turn this story into something far more twisted. This episode also offers the grisliest moment in the entire series so far. It’s always a challenge to investigate Inside No. 9 without also dishing out spoilers, but, rest assured, the gory details of “Mother’s Ruin” will not be disclosed here. They’re best seen without any inkling of what’s to come.
The next Inside No. 9 episode in Season 8 has a strange title: “Paraskevidekatriaphobia.” Despite its peculiarity and possible fabrication, the word is in fact real. It doesn’t quite roll off the tongue with ease — Pemberton makes it seem easy, however — but it does make for a great story prompt.
“Paraskevidekatriaphobia” doesn’t mesh several genres into one episode like its predecessor, yet it does take the viewers by surprise. Here Shearsmith plays Gareth, a suburban husband who is so tightly wound every time a Friday the 13th rears its ugly head. He fakes illness to stay home from work, and he reluctantly accepts a package from the mail carrier (Samantha Spiro). He even snaps at a radio personality for not taking the day seriously. Gareth’s irrational fear of Friday the 13th ultimately explodes into an absurd series of uncomfortable events; strangers come and go as they please through his house, and simple tasks become daunting challenges that could have been easily carried out on any other day.
“Mother’s Ruin” is a showier episode with proficient performances and a solid grasp of artful vagueness. It may come across as plot driven, when in truth it works in some serviceable character work. Harry and Edward manage to be reunited even in the worst scenario possible. Anita Dobson and Phil Daniels also don’t squander their screentime; they commandeer the episode as loud antagonists who have their own tension siting near the surface, ready to be exposed. “Paraskevidekatriaphobia,” on the other hand, makes sense of its own foolishness in a way that cements Pemberton and Shearsmith’s brilliance. They find the cathartic air to their story before delivering a dark and crushing ending like only they can.
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