written by Steve Pemberton & Reece Shearsmith | directed by David Kerr
There was a wonderfully twisted idea at the heart of "Last Gasp", but it wasn't enough to spur push this half-hour to great comic or dramatic heights. The set-up was sublime, the central dilemma amusing, and the execution typically brilliant, but this instalment of Inside No.9 felt weaker than the previous three.
Tamsin (Lucy Hutchinson) is a terminally ill young girl, whose parents—Jan (Sophie Thompson) and Graham (Steve Pemberton)—have arranged to meet a world-famous pop star, Frankie J. Parsons (David Bedella), through the WishmakerUK charity, represented by Sally (Tamsin Greig). Unfortunately, Frankie dies soon after arriving at their home, but not before he's inflated a purple balloon with, quite literally, his last breath. And as the tragedy sinks in with everyone, including Frankie's minder Si (Adam Deacon), out of it comes a morbid greediness when Graham realises selling a celebrity's "last breath" could reap them all a fortune.
The idea behind this episode is a lot of fun, riffing on the fact online auction sites like eBay often sell ludicrous items for huge amounts of money (such as tissues or chewing gum a celebrity used), often without any kind of verification of proof. The spell of celebrity makes a lot of people extremely gullible. "Last Gap" found a funny way to dramatise the beginnings of a similar sale; albeit one that definitely isn't a scam, just a highly disrespectful and money-grabbing ruse.
Inside No.9's been on a roll for weeks, and while this was an underwhelming half-hour, that's partly because the bar's been set very high. It was a pleasant watch and contained several funny moments, but it just didn't manage to go anywhere very unexpected... and just sort of ended, leaving you with a wry smile. Thankfully, the performances were good—especially from Thompson as the mousy housewife, and I liked the sour expressions from child star Hurchinson as the sickly "Tam-tam" (who was the most mature person in the entire house).
Anthology shows rarely hit home runs every single week, but I wouldn't call "Last Gasp" a bad episode... it was just difficult to develop as a narrative. I also notice there was no role for co-writer Reece Shearsmith this week, so it's good to know the dual presence of S&P isn't going to be forced if it's unnecessary. It also felt it was a shame a genuine pop star wasn't involved (Peter Andre?), because Frankie and his music didn't feel even slightly appealing to a girl of Tam-tam's age, who had One Direction posters on her bedroom wall. It might have given the episode an extra dimension with the involvement of a real pop star or minor celebrity.