BBC Two – 10pm – Tuesday 2nd January 2018
Created and written by: Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith
Directed by: David Kerr
TRAFFIC LIGHT FIASCO
After arguably kicking off 2017’s festive television in the run-up to Christmas with a trio of celebratory “Anniversary Specials” marking 20 years of their surreal BBC breakthrough hit The League of Gentleman, two of the League return to bookend the yuletide schedules with the first episode in the fourth series of their wickedly macabre anthology series. All it would have taken was for Mark Gatiss’ Sherlock to have a New Year’s adventure as in years gone by, and it would have been nothing short of an outright TV takeover!!
“Welcome to Hotel Zanzibar, I see you have not stayed with us before?”
There is no such thing as a typical episode of Inside No. 9, but a theatrical farce written in iambic pentameter and rhyming couplets is as eye-catching and atypical as they come – it is clear to see why this particular episode was chosen to lead the new run. Presented by a pair of young bellhops who are also lovers (Jaygann Ayeh, Helen Upstart Crow Monks), “Zanzibar” features a ten-strong ensemble cast of unwitting guests who are each spending the night in adjacent rooms on the hotel’s ninth floor. Unwitting because they are about to become involved in a head-spinning farce of interwoven misadventures and blackly comedic accidents…
“So is all resolved, just like a theatre play.”
Bright in production decision yet dark in tone, “Zanzibar” is as smart and intricately crafted as it is self-referential and flat-out hilarious (“executive relief!”). You could be deceived into thinking this is merely old-fashioned comic tomfoolery, but the Shakespearean-aping script is so perfectly and acutely plotted, setting-up and paying-off each of the character’s individual dilemmas while simultaneously tangling them all together and concluding in a surprise reveal (“Two peas from the same pod, both shelled”). Even more outstanding, the camera never once leaves the corridor of floor nine or enters a single lift or room!
It’s a right old carry on featuring a wealthy Prince (Rory Kinnear) with a taste for the kinky and his jealous and conspiratorial bodyguard (Shearsmith), a “stale” couple (Kinnear again and Hattie Morahan) with vastly different intentions for their romantic getaway, a dementia-suffering OAP (Marcia Warren) and her panic-stricken son (Pemberton), a suicidal man (Bill Paterson), a hypnotist (Kevin “Twentica” Eldon), two very different tarts (only one of which is edible – the other played by Tanya Franks) and three people with colours for surnames! To say any more would spoil the slick show, but this is as strong and on-form as Inside No. 9 has ever been, and a perfect antidote to the influx of cheesy pantomimes so synonymous with this time of year.
CR@B’s Claw Score: