Live episodes of TV shows can often end up being an anti-climtic gimmick, but unsurprisingly, Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith managed to make the format work beautifully for the special live Halloween edition of Inside No 9.
Pemberton and Shearsmith never seem short of inventive ideas for Inside No 9 – the premise of which is a glimpse inside a different ‘number 9’ for each episode, with a brand new story and characters every time. This time, the Halloween offering, Dead Line, was billed as a live special, and it got off to an engaging enough start – featuring an elderly man who’d found a mobile phone in a cemetery and was trying to figure out how to return it to its owner.
I couldn’t watch the episode live, so I had to record it, and when the sound went off a few minutes into the story, I assumed it was my recording that had failed, so I switched to iPlayer, only to discover the same sound fault on there. I even switched the subtitles on. Boy, am I gullible.
The ‘technical difficulties’ the BBC were experiencing with the live episode turned out to be an elaborate prank, which sucked a lot of people in, including me. Once I saw the subtitles, it was obvious that the sound cutting out was part of the show, something which a lot of people watching live apparently didn’t realise. Twitter was ablaze with people lamenting the technical problems and saying they were switching over to watch something else. The episode’s director had also apparently said in the run-up to the show that he was worried about technical issues, and The Sun had reported a few days previously that the Inside No 9 team had been forced to stop filming at Granada Studios because they had been scared by paranormal goings-on. It was all a delicious set up for what was to come.
Once I realised the technical problems weren’t real, I settled down behind a cushion to watch the rest of the episode, deeply unnerved. I found the fake problems really unsettling – it really threw me – which was obviously the intention. The BBC2 apology card came up and the announcer said they were experiencing ‘gremlins’ and would return to the show as soon as possible. It did return, but then the same ‘problems’ recurred, so the announcer said they were switching to a repeat of one of their most popular episodes, A Quiet Night In, and that the Halloween show would be broadcast at a later date.
This is where it really ramped up, because as A Quiet Night In started, we got a glimpse of a terrifying spectre in the background of one shot, before the footage abruptly switched to a security camera in Pemberton and Shearsmith’s dressing room. There were a few laughs as they bitched about the BBC and their co-star Stephanie Cole, before they became aware that they were being broadcast live on BBC2, leading to Reece Shearsmith tweeting live, “Are me and Steve Pemberton on BBC two now?” during the show.
It’s this kind of attention to detail that elevated this episode to one of the best thirty minutes of TV I’ve ever seen. As the unfriendly studio ghosts hijacked the live feed, the picture dipped in and out of the security cameras, and to an old episode of Most Haunted set in Granada Studios, then back to the security cameras. Is there anything more creepy than a security camera panning back and forth in a ‘haunted’ TV studio, when you just know that next time it pans around you’re going to see something that shouldn’t be there? At the point where the BBC announcer came back on to apologise once again for the technical problems, with ghostly whispering in the background, I was about ready to go and ask my neighbours if they’d come round to hold my hand while I watched the rest of the episode. Also, did I mention that my house is number 9? I feel like that’s pertinent information…
Once again Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith have managed to pull something really original out of the bag. Yes, this show was probably influenced a lot by 1990s mockumentary Ghostwatch, but Inside No 9 put a terrifying, fresh spin on the idea of pranking their viewers. There was a point during Dead Line where I was deeply unsettled, hiding behind my cushion and wondering what was going on, and I actually said out loud, “I don’t like this, I don’t trust them.”
And I don’t trust them, but that’s exactly why I keep watching. I can’t wait to see what they come up with next.