Review of Inside Man: Buckle up for a crazy yet amazing thrill ride
Without a question, the debut episode of Inside Man (BBC1, Monday) ranks among the silliest hours of drama on television in recent memory.
In general, being stupid is bad. not in this instance though. This four-part thriller’s first episode is so completely insane that you have to suspend your disbelief while hanging from a crane. The second episode will be released on Tuesday. Also, it’s pretty clever.
Given that Inside Man was created by the excellent writer and notoriously unstable Steven Moffat, this shouldn’t be shocking. His work as the showrunner for Doctor Who encompassed both the sublime and the absurd.
The television series Sherlock, which he co-wrote with Mark Gatiss, had a great beginning but eventually vanished so far into its own foundation that Hercule Poirot, another fictional detective who works with Sherlock, wouldn’t be able to find it with the aid of a pack of sniffing dogs.
The movie Dracula, which Gatiss and I co-wrote, was a creative and energizing retelling of the widely-adapted Bram Stoker novel. The Time Traveller’s Wife, Moffat’s first foray into American television early this year, was a failure and has already been canceled.
Inside Man makes Moffat’s unpredictable nature a strength. Young journalist Beth Davenport (Lydia West from It’s a Sin and Years and Years) is harassed on a train by a repulsive creep in the film’s opening scene.
Only one other passenger steps in to help her: math teacher Janice Fife (Dolly Wells, Dracula), who tells the harasser she is broadcasting live to Facebook while pointing her camera at him. Janice is a bit of a technophobe, so it’s a bluff, but it works.
The scene then shifts to a US maximum security facility. Jefferson Grieff, played by the legendary Stanley Tucci, is a criminal psychologist who murdered his wife (seriously!). He is currently on death row. He admitted guilt and is ready to go to death, which he believes is a just punishment for his crime.
In some ways, Jefferson resembles Hannibal Lecter in a good way. He assists law enforcement in solving crimes, but will only take on cases that have what he refers to as “moral worth” — a quality that is conspicuously absent in his most recent prospective client, a cunning US senator (our own Simon Delaney) who is accused of sexually assaulting two women 30 years ago. He naturally refutes it.
Strangely, every time the senator has sex with his wife, someone deposits the same amount of money into his bank account. Jefferson declines to assist since he has realized what is happening and can smell the senator’s guilt from a mile away.
When in handcuffs, it’s difficult to take notes, so Jefferson relies on Dillon Kempton (Atkins Estimond), a Death Row convict with a photographic memory, to remember everything that is said. Dillon is a hilarious man with a great line in witty one-liners.
In his defense, he claims that he was a cannibalistic serial killer who killed 17 women and ate his own mother’s foot.
The fact that Moffat can get away with turning a mass murderer into a comedic relief character is indicative of his fire and nerve as a writer.
Back in England, David Tennant plays Harry Watling, a vicar whose teenage son is being tutored at home by none other than Janice, who shows up for their most recent meeting.
A troubled young guy with a history of self-harm, Harry’s verger, had begged Harry earlier in the day to conceal a USB drive so his aggressively controlling mother, who looks through his belongings, wouldn’t discover he had been downloading porn.
Importantly, he doesn’t say what kind of porn, which will soon become terribly obvious.
The real action begins when Harry, an unusually tolerant man of the cloth, agrees and takes it home. Without giving too much away, erroneous assumptions and misunderstandings mount like falling leaves, and the episode concludes with the hurt Janice imprisoned in Harry’s basement and the vicar and his amazingly forgiving wife (Lindsey Marshal) scrambling to figure out how to fix this disaster.
Beth has been to America in the interim to speak with Jefferson. She will probably hold the key to how the two stories eventually converge.
Inside Man can either be dismissed as absurd, which it is, or you can embrace the absurdity and enjoy the experience. Include me.