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TV review: Inside No 9; Line of Duty; The Life of Rock with Brian Pern

It is amazing what can be achieved in half an hour with just a great script, an excellent cast and a large wardrobe. Written by and starring Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton, Inside Number 9 is a series of self-contained comedy dramas set in buildings or spaces numbered nine.

Episode one set a very high standard indeed, with an exquisitely crafted tale of jealousy, revenge, ambition, snobbery and murder centred around a country house game of sardines. With each new player discovering the hiding place, the wardrobe fills not only with bodies, but also hidden agendas, strained relationships, sinister backstories and rancid sweat (one eager participant, Smelly John, hadn’t washed since he was a teenager).

No review of Shearsmith and Pemberton’s work is complete without the adjectives dark and comic getting a mention, and I’m not about to break with tradition. But Inside Number 9 also offered poignancy, tension, intelligence, horror and several surprises. The lean, mean narrative didn’t just twist and turn, it folded back upon itself to provide a totally unexpected, profoundly disturbing and deeply satisfying denouement. Even Smelly John’s personal hygiene problem was revealed to be integral to the plot, rather than a mere comedy contrivance.

The writers also put in great performances as a bickering gay couple, supported by an impressively stellar cast that included Timothy West, Anna Chancellor, Marc Wootton and Anne Reid.

[pullquote]Inside Number 9 offered poignancy, tension, intelligence, horror and several surprises[/pullquote]

Police anti-corruption unit AC-12 spent the first series of Line of Duty harassing an innocent officer to his death, and series two starts with their investigative zeal appearing equally misplaced.

Detective inspector Lindsay Denton (Keeley Hawes) is the only officer to escape with her life when a police convoy carrying a top-security protected witness is attacked by an armed gang. Instead of being commended for her bravery or supported through her trauma, she is bullied by her colleagues at the station and questioned by AC-12, who believe she revealed the supposedly secret route the convoy was taking.

The fact DI Denton is experiencing financial and personal difficulties, not to mention a tendency to sneak off to make calls from telephone boxes, shouldn’t make her a suspect, should it?

Well, yes, according to detective constable Kate Fleming (Vicky McClure) and detective sergeant Steve Arnott (Martin Compston), who appear to be carrying on their ‘let’s see who can go the longest without smiling’ competition from the first series.

I loved the first series of Line of Duty, and am already hopelessly hooked on the second, seduced by its slick cynicism, fast pace, explosive set pieces and cliffhanger episode endings.

Comedy of the week has to be the spoof documentary series The Life of Rock with Brian Pern. Simon Day plays the eponymous narrator – a self-regarding, pretentious prog rock legend, whose career bears more than a passing resemblance to Peter Gabriel’s – eliciting contributions from genuine rock stars including Rick Wakeman, Roger Taylor and Jools Holland.

Rock music’s indulgences are an easy target for parody, with the mockumentary format a far from original approach, but The Life of Rock’s combination of affectionate derision, pure silliness and a non-stop array of gags is very hard to resist.

Inside No 9, BBC2, Wednesday, February 5, 10pm
Line of Duty, BBC2, Wednesday, February 12, 9pm
The Life of Rock with Brian Pern, BBC4, Monday, February 10, 10pm