Four episodes into this second series, and Shearsmith and Pemberton still have some titillating tricks up their sleeve, as showcased in this weeks eerily mysterious episode.
Described by the writers themselves as their “boldest experiment yet,” the latest story to come from Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton’s dark anthology series, Inside No. 9, is certainly inventive in it’s telling of a chilling new tale.
Quietly amusing, incredibly eerie and just a little bit horrifying in places, this episode – entitled ‘Cold Comfort’ – takes place in an ordinary call centre. The volunteers who hold the phones at the Comfort Support Line, a helpline for the lonely and the vulnerable, are all relatively normal and friendly as new recruit Andy (Pemberton) comes to find in his first few days. But then, one evening, Andy takes a call that ends in tragedy and so begins a number of revealing twists and turns, as Andy discovers that not all is as it seems.
The episode guest stars Jane Horrocks (Absolutely Fabulous, Trollied) as Liz, one of the chattier volunteers at the centre, who often clashes with Shearsmith’s team manager George about her over-involved approach in dealing with callers. Nikki Amuka-Bird and Tony Way also feature as fellow volunteers Joanne and Michael, respectively.
As well as writing and performing, Shearsmith and Pemberton also took on the task of directing this episode. The way in which the entire episode is shot is very interesting and is perhaps one of the most creative elements of the episode overall. We see the events of the plot through the static lenses of four security cameras within the call centre: one in George’s office, one in a corridor, one in the main volunteers room, and another positioned directly in Andy’s call booth. To begin with this can be quite disconcerting as your eyes struggle to focus on what is happening in each of the four shots, which are all onscreen throughout the entire half-hour run. However, towards the end of the story as certain truths are revealed that feeling of not quite knowing where to look becomes so much more effective.
In terms of humour, this episode is quite understated as the writers opt to play closer to your fears than to your funny bone. That said, however, there are a few giggle-some gags embedded in the first half of the story in which the writers toy around with the potential obstacles that volunteers have to deal with during a call (i.e: what someone is really doing while they’re calling and the lengths a volunteer must go to to stay on the line with a caller). Horrocks is also a beacon of comic relief in this episode, as her likeable if slightly kooky persona sits cheerfully across from Pemberton’s increasingly troubled character.
Ultimately, this episode is a reminder of how interestingly and creatively a duo like Shearsmith and Pemberton can create a story that combines comedy and thrilling drama together as one. And, after last week’s episode, which received quite a mixed reception, it also shows something of a return to form for the writers who in this episode managed to create twists that were as sinister as they were engaging.
Inside No. 9 is broadcast on BBC Two and BBC Two HD on Thursdays at 10pm.