At this point in time, it’s safe to say that everyone has seen Black Mirror. It has gone from being an underrated gem to a critically acclaimed phenomenon that has engrained itself as the pioneer of modern sci-fi.
In 2019, two years after its debut on Netflix Malaysia, the Black Mirror hashtag was trending on Twitter despite it being Hari Raya Aidilfitri. It just goes to show that even receiving duit raya and eating rendang takes a backseat when a new season of Black Mirror is released. “Nantilah saya kacau dodol, nak tengok Black Mirror jap!”
However, since the show is on-hiatus and in my opinion, has lost its cutting edge in the form of Season 5, it’s time to introduce a new player within the genre. Granted it’s not new in the U.K, as clearly implied by Reece Shearsmith (creator/writer/actor of the show I’m about to praise), but it certainly isn’t talked about enough in Malaysia.
Meet Inside No. 9, a BBC show created, written and starring Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton. This show is an anthology series that is rooted in dark comedy and eccentricities of story telling. All episodes are unique and entirely different which makes the viewing experience a pleasant surprise every time.
The reason why I compare Black Mirror to Inside No. 9 is because they both have similarities that are difficult to ignore whilst also being starkly different from one another. Case in point, both shows are anthologies and both have insightful social commentary. Despite being similar, Inside No. 9 has distinct qualities that make it better than Black Mirror (however hard that may be to believe).
Without further ado, here are my reasons…
Why Inside No. 9 is better than Black Mirror (BM fans, don’t kill me)
1. Inside No. 9 is better at being an anthology series
An anthology is essentially when the episodes have no correlation to one another. Of course, to be witty and cute, the episodes might have easter eggs from previous episodes for fans to spot and scream, “Hey, I know that reference!” but the plots and characters are always changing. For the most part, this leads to several hits and misses.
Black Mirror was honestly my first introduction to the genre (The Twilight Zone was my dad’s generation-yes, I’m young) and in the beginning, there were rarely any misses, for the show kept presenting modern ways to tell an enthralling story. Of course the cool gadgets didn’t hurt either…
However, as the seasons carried on, the storylines and tech began to merge into one big entity, seemingly connected to one another. It felt like they were running out of ideas and recycling used materials to continue making more episodes.
For example, ‘Entire History Of You’ (S1) and ‘White Christmas’ (S2) are basically the same save for a few minor changes in story. The technology and the story is ultimately grander in the latter episode but all in all, they are connected. Another example would be ‘USS Callister’ (S4) and Striking Vipers (S5) which integrates an advanced form of VR gaming but with f*cked-up consequences that permeate into reality.
With Inside No. 9, none of the episodes are the same and there are a total of 30 episodes that span 5 seasons. Black Mirror has only 21 episodes within 5 seasons.
All episodes of the former show are unique with different settings and characters. The only similarity is that they’re all written, created and starring Shearsmith and Pemberton. This is not a fault however because the two are excellent at adapting any character and bringing them to life on screen.
Inside No. 9’s genre is not set in stone. Ultimately, it’s a dark comedy but the episodes can be about anything under the sun. This gives the writers creative liberty to make episodes as eccentric as possible without succumbing to nonsense when they’re out of ideas.
To illustrate the variety, ‘The Trial of Elizabeth Gadge’ (S2) is set in the 17th century and revolves around the execution of a witch while ‘The Last Gasp’ (S1) is about a modern pop star who visits a birthday party before dying while blowing a balloon which causes the attendees of the party to argue over who gets to sell the star’s last breath on Ebay. Do you see my point?
Consistently weird and entertaining, Inside No. 9 challenges itself to never write the same episode twice and so far, it’s succeeding.
2. Inside No. 9 preserves its dry, British humour
We can all remember the good ol’ days when Black Mirror was predominantly Brit since it originated from Channel 4 before moving to Netflix. During that time, the show had many dry, witty and deadpan jokes which cracked me up but since it began its Americanisation in Season 3, those jokes became few and far between.
Not to say that American jokes aren’t funny, but it really didn’t hit the same way British humour does. The sarcasm and edginess was no longer there and me, being an angsty teen (now reaching adulthood- sigh), missed its presence.
Inside No. 9, being a BBC show, continues its legacy of quintessential British humour and judging by the sheer Britishness of the creators, I could never imagine them Americanising their content just to cater to a bigger audience.
Every episode is hilarious in an off-kilter kind of way. You know when something terrible happens but its also so funny, you can’t help but laugh before feeling bad about it. Yeah, that’s Inside No. 9 encapsulated.
For fans of dark comedies, Inside No. 9 is the best show for you and it doesn’t make you feel that guilty when you laugh. Just make sure to watch it with friends who are as f*cked up as you. Speaking of…
3. Inside No. 9 isn’t afraid of f*cked up plot twists
I think M. Night Shyamalan and Christopher Nolan would be proud of the way Inside No. 9 structures and reveals its plot twists. It’s something Black Mirror used to do so well, shocking viewers with just how clever they were at distracting you from something that was there all along, waiting to jump out at you.
With episodes like ‘White Bear’ (S2) and ‘White Christmas’ (S2), viewers can’t help but shake their heads at how things took the most disturbing turn for the worst. Most times, the characters’ stories just end in the bleakest of ways. That is awesome. It shows the writers have no intention of pandering or fan service and they just write whatever the hell they want.
However, with the latest episodes from Season 5, ‘Striking Vipers’, ‘Smithereens’ and ‘Rachel, Jack and Ashley Too’, everyone gets a happy ending, no matter how far-fetched and ridiculous it may be. This may be a way to avoid offending fans or getting negative reviews for being too bleak but it’s the most cowardly way of doing it.
Inside No. 9, as mentioned before, is always different. Somehow, with ever-changing characters, the fans are always immersed in their stories and end-up rooting for the protagonist. Despite that, Shearsmith and Pemberton aren’t afraid to break our hearts by putting these characters in the most unfavourable situations without any chance of redemption. The plot twists are often mind-blowing and tragic but genius in conception and realization.
The best episodes that illustrate this are ‘The 12 Days of Christine’ (S2), ‘The Riddle of the Sphinx’ (S3), ‘Once Removed’ (S4) and ‘Thinking Out Loud’ (S5). Of course, I can’t say what these episodes are about but trust me, the plot twists will have your jaw on the floor.
Proof’s in the pudding
TLDR: Inside No. 9 is my favourite show of all time, which is surprising even to me since I just discovered this show in 2019.
With limited runs of BBC works in Malaysia, I understand why not many Malaysians have seen Inside No. 9 and the only reason I found it was because I was on a determined hunt for a show that could beat Black Mirror.
But now that you know, I hope you take matters into your own hands and by this I mean, just go watch the damn show already! I’m practically begging you at this point!
And if you’re too lazy to read my detailed explanation on why this show is truly the best of its kind, just look at the Rotten Tomatoes ratings of Black Mirror and Inside No. 9. It speaks for itself.
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