Somewhere on a dusty shelf in the dark corner of hell, stands two small jars, glowing gently with the souls of Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton.
It’s the most plausible explanation as to why there hasn’t been a single episode that has fallen short in this second season of Inside No 9. There is, of course, also the possibility of them simply being good writers.
‘Is there anybody there?’ The phrase that’s most associated with séances does not get repeated verbatim in Séance Time, although it would be safe to assume such a question will be on the minds of the creators, as audiences potentially have a problem finding this final instalment, shunted as it is back a day in the schedules (to make way for W1A).
Whenever you get to see it, it falls once again to us to say that if you haven’t actually watched the episode, you should go away immediately and rectify that situation before reading any further.
Tina (Sophie McShera) finds herself at an old villa, complete with things that go bump in the night and a blue demon dwarf. After a genuinely scary opening, the curtain is pulled back to reveal that the whole thing is a hidden camera show, hosted by disgraced prankster Terry (Reece Shearsmith).
He is trying to forge a new career, without having to slum it on telly adverts, but the public won’t let him forget his earlier stuff (shades of the attentions of League Of Gentlemen fans, there). He’s angling to get a new TV series, and can’t afford for anything to go wrong. His team, made up of Cariad Lloyd and Alice Lowe, try to treat him with kid gloves, reassuring him that the programme is funny. ‘Funny?’ he snaps back. ‘Uh, and scary,’ comes the reply.
There is sometimes the sense that Shearsmith and Pemberton are exorcising some demons of their own, particularly via Alison Steadman’s waspish Grande Dame Anne, who manages to get some vicious sideswipes at community theatre while ignoring ‘warm prop’ Dan Starkey, who apparently has fond memories of making student films. Anne is still bitter, though: ‘I was very nearly Marple,’ she says to anyone who’s still listening. ‘They said I wasn’t sweet enough. Fuckers.’
All of which is elegant misdirection from the real meat of the plot. When the reveal happens, it’s a genuine sucker-punch that makes you slack-jawed in surprise as well as delight that you’ve been so effectively hoodwinked in under thirty minutes.
Before the title credits kick in, we manage to lurch violently from comedy back to straight-out terror, mainly by invoking one of the single most nightmarish moments of television horror (and if the name Danny Glick means nothing to you, you really have a lot of catching up to do on your DVD collection).
As this season closes, to declare any particular episode of Inside No 9 as a favourite – or best of – is, in truth, a fool’s errand. It’s equally pointless to define one episode or other as the ‘serious’ one, the ‘funny’ one, or the ‘scary’ one, and the fact that all of these programmes are produced by the BBC comedy department is perhaps misleading at best.
When the final episode is on a different day from the rest of the season, it’s tempting to question precisely what BBC2 are playing at. ‘What a shame,’ reflects Reece Shearsmith’s Terry at one point. ‘It’s fucking funny.’
Aired at 10pm on Wednesday 29 April 2015 on BBC Two.
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