Last night, Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton returned to BBC2 with a “live” edition of their comedy horror anthology Inside No 9. We were told that when Arthur Flitwick (Steve Pemberton) finds an old mobile phone in his local graveyard, he makes the mistake of trying to contact the owner. But some mysteries are best left unsolved, and as Halloween draws near Arthur is plunged into a nightmare of his own making. It seems that no good deed can go unpunished, in this world or the next.
The plaudits are coming in and the episode is being hailed as “groundbreaking” and “bold and ambitious”. Comparisons are being made with the mockdoc Ghostwatch. It was certainly clever and employs a similar forensic level of retro-telly making as their Christmas Special of a few years back. Audacious, yes, but I can’t help but feel it vanishes up its own jacksie along the way.
And as usual, beware spoilers.
The show, titled Dead Line, opened as you might expect with Pemberton’s character returning to his flat which has a natty pumpkin lantern out side with a number nine carved in the front. Arthur has found a mobile phone and wants to return it. He tries the last number called and after a strange conversation discovers he can return it via a local vicar. Enter Shearsmith.
Except as the two characters discuss something over tea and biscuits the sound goes dead. No wait it’s back. Gone again. Now we have a station ident and the announcer apologising for technical problems. Back to the show. And then it breaks again. The announcer says they can’t return to the scheduled show which will be broadcast at a later date. Here’s a repeat of a previous episode to enjoy in the meantime. Except that goes tits up as well. More apologising.
We cut to Shearsmith and Pemberton bitching in the dressing room. Stephanie Cole, who has legged it over from Still Open All Hours on BBC1, is left on her tod. We get odd cuts of a gameshow (Bullseye with Jim Bowen, I think?) where a contestant is nearly decapitated when the stocks he has been locked into fall over; an episode of Most Haunted on the set of Coronation Street.
If you can glean a plot, it seems that the old Granada TV Studio used for filming the show has been built on a cursed graveyard and a host of malevolent spirits have amassed on the site with ill intent. There is something very Eighties about the jagged cuts from clips to performers gossiping in their dressing room, to a rehearsal tape. It even adds a clip of an interview the creators gave on The One Show earlier last week. I found myself waiting for a punchline that didn’t arrive.
I’m wondering how Netflix viewers will take this episode when it goes further afield. It is tied tightly to the landscape of British telly. Perhaps too tightly.
Maybe I should rewatch with the AD and subtitles turned on?