This week, series 2's penultimate Inside No.9 paid homage to farcical one-act plays, and in particular the trope of an important birthday going awry thanks to invited guests clashing spectacularly. It's Nana's (Elsie Kelly) 79th birthday, and her daughter Angela (Claire Skinner) and son-in-law Jim (Steve Pemberton) are putting on a delicious spread in their immaculate suburban home, where Angela's alcoholic sister Carol (Lorraine Ashbourne) and her practical joker husband Pat (Reece Shearsmith) are also in attendance. What could possibly go wrong?
"Nana's Party" was another great instalment, with the script and performances (especially from Outnumbered's Skinner as a fretful mum with OCD) elevating what might have been rather predictable and overdone material. There were still some moments where I guessed what was coming, but there was also a joy in waiting for the inevitable to happen—like the paramedic revealing himself to be a stripper joker Pat had booked for his elderly mother-in-law. And it was worth a vague feeling of familiarity for the sequence where Jim, and later his wife, crawled under their dining room table to poke their heads through a hole positioned underneath a pink birthday cake, to give joker Pat a taste of his own medicine… only to have to crouch there indefinitely, eavesdropping on home truths and unable to say anything. The best such moment was Pat passing his brother-in-law a dirty VHS tape, unaware that Jim's wife was in earshot the whole time.
It was like a miniature Mike Leigh drama in some respects (clearly owing a debt to Abigail's Party), and could easily be adapted for the stage with very little changes. I especially liked how the characters subverted expectations: Pat was a figure of intense irritation, arriving wearing a wolf's head and making tired gags every few minutes, but was eventually revealed to be very kindhearted husband; Carol was a hot mess battling the demon drink, but earned some sympathy when we discovered she's trying to get over an unsuccessful affair with her sister's husband. Like so many Middle England suburban comedies, it was all about the depths and heartaches lurking beneath apparently happy families, and on that score this episode really worked.
written & directed by Steve Pemberton & Reece Shearsmith • 23 April 2015 • BBC2