Inside No 9, Tempting Fate - review: a little predictable, perhaps, but still a twisted delight
After an opening salvo like Zanzibar (the one in Iambic pentameter) and Bernie Clifton’s Dressing Room (the heartbreaker about the late double-act), it was probably unreasonable to expect Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton to maintain such high standards for an entire series. But Tempting Fate, wrapping up this fourth run of Inside No 9, demonstrated that even an average episode of this genre-straddling show displays an invention and determination to surprise beyond most of their peers.
Pemberton and Shearsmith (whose prodigious versatility as performers often goes unremarked upon in the light of their ingenious scripts) were Keith and Nick, two council contractors handed a duff flat-clearance gig. Frank Meggins, a hoarder, had apparently died in squalor after falling through a glass table; his boxes of belongings needed an audit. They had their own surplus baggage, with Keith tending to his MS-afflicted son and Nick (bearing a frustratingly illegible neck tattoo) a recovering alcoholic.
Tagging along reluctantly was Maz (Bad Education’s Weruche Opia), learning the ropes while wrinkling her nose. Keith and Nick talked about Roland Rat and Jackanory, Maz mentioned yeezys and dropped a few splendid malapropisms (prostate for probate, a beast for obese); friendship seemed a distant prospect.
The twists came thick and fast, while never quite causing the jaw to drop. Meggins had won the lottery. His wife had predeceased him, and a safe was found, containing a hare figurine and a VHS of Frank (Nigel Planer) warning about… a cursed hare figurine that granted its bearer three wishes. The warning came too late – the hare had cast its seductive spell. Shallow Grave sprang to mind as the trio forgot their job and began to squabble over the £93,000 wished into existence by Maz. Enough for her to dream of new horizons, and for Keith to treat his son. Nick, meanwhile, muttered darkly about cursed money and vengeful wishgranters.
Maz was granted a fiendishly inventive death involving an iron, a bowling ball, a swingball set and a loose floorboard. Keith then confessed to killing Frank for his fortune, then bumped off Nick only to discover that Frank still lived, in a manner of speaking – as a shuffling, decaying corpse bitterly regretting his wish for eternal life. Nick clawed his way back to consciousness long enough to reveal that he had wished for Keith’s son to be cured, before a gas explosion accounted for the rest of them (apart, presumably, from the eternally accursed Frank).
The script was as rigorous as ever, with nothing said or seen without reason. Everything from a tin of peaches to a Happy Meal receipt played a part in the denouement. Events, moreover, were recognizably rooted in human frailty, while Planer and Opie made another arresting pairing of veteran and newcomer to rank alongside Felicity Kendal and Johnny Flynn, or Psychoville’s Eileen Atkins and Daniel Kaluuya.
Yet it was, by the standards of this series, a little predictable and prosaic. The twists felt telegraphed, the tugs on the heartstrings a little half-hearted, Keith’s switch to cold-blooded killer didn’t convince and the gags felt crowbarred in. All that said, there still aren’t many better ways to while away half an hour than in the company of these two and their twisted imaginations.