The last episode we were given of Inside No. 9 was the live Halloween special that absolutely blew me away, but we then had to wait well over a year for more somewhat oddly as despite being filmed and edited the BBC waited an age to show them. Now finally the series has returned and expectations were admittedly high, but what I didn’t predict that it would come back to our screens with an odd episode that I can’t help but feel was fairly misjudged, which is something of a first for the series.
The episode begins with referee Martin Rutherford (David Morrissey) preparing to oversee his last ever match, and we’re quickly introduced to his assistants who are a motley crew and then some, with Brendan (Reece Shearsmith)’s nerdy ref going on and on about his time at Milan’s San Siro stadium in a tedious manner. Then there’s Steve Pemberton’s Oggy who’s something of a slovenly figure, and Ralf Little’s slightly fastidious Phil who’s desperately hoping that he’ll be noticed today and picked to attend the forthcoming world cup.
The match they’re all refereeing is quite the important one as if United win it they’ll gain instant promotion to the premier league (which is estimated as being worth £150 million to the club) but if the other team, Rovers, beat them they’ll avoid relegation and financial oblivion. Added to this is the fact that Martin’s in a secret relationship with United’s captain, Calvin, and at half time it quickly becomes apparent that Oggy has taken a bung and awarded a throw in which helped United take the lead.
As plot’s go it was a fairly involving one (though it is slightly questionable as to whether a referee like Martin would be put in charge of such an important match given that the outcome could have an enormous effect on the team that he supports), but it’s also an episode which completely revolves around the twist at the end, and that’s something which didn’t quite work for me. For it turns out that Martin was behind an enormously complex scheme involving United being docked points so that his own team would be promoted to the premier league.
Given the amount of things which could have gone wrong with such a plan, and that even with the outcome we got Martin could be accused of match fixing, with the police involved and investigating the matter in depth, it seems a bit of a stretch that he ever thought he could pull it all off. Also something of an issue is his relationship with Calvin, it’s portrayed as sweet and affecting initially but it’s surrounded by cheap jibes and references to anal sex which were fairly unpleasant, and given that the episode was written by two straight men I found myself feeling a little uncomfortable with this aspect.
Worst of all though is that the episode just wasn’t that funny. There’s a terrible pun based on Calvin’s shirt number being number 9 which I don’t think is homophobic as no malice was intended but it was fucking awful nonetheless, and there was also a great deal of manly banter which was just utterly irritating. At the beginning of the episode there were a good few jokes about the smell coming from the toilet after Phil used it which were painfully insipid, and something I thought Shearsmith and Pemberton were above of, and a lot of the humour elsewhere was pretty crude, like how Phil complains about how “The shampoo’s like dog spunk”.
Also rather poor, and obvious, was the payoff to Brendan’s experiences at the San Siro as given how often he mentioned his time there it came as no surprise that he only ever attended one match, and didn’t even make it on to the pitch. Some of the football references were weak too (with one regarding Arsene Wenger being rather nonsensical), and along with all of this was a really outdated gag about Gareth Gates that I imagine half the audience were confused by as he’s not exactly a well known figure any more, and hasn’t been for a long while.
At least all involved on the acting side of things came out of it all deserving praise, David Morrissey was superb as the supposedly honest referee who subtly manipulates everyone around him, Ralf Little turned in a career best as an asinine and egotistical type, while Shearsmith and Pemberton were as strong as ever, but the script let them all down. I could have forgiven the questionably dodgy plot if it had been a funny episode, but the majority of the jokes were just laborious and banal and there’s absolutely no excuse for that.