"Cold Comfort" appears to be series 2's "experimental" instalment, following series 1's near-silent comedy "A Quiet Night In"—which has become an Inside No.9 tradition; seemingly inspired by the success of Psychoville's fourth episode, which was filmed in (seemingly) one uninterrupted take. The gimmick for this half-hour was about the difficulty of crafting a compelling story with a camera placed in a static position—looking down the lens of CCTV camera 9, at Comfort Support Line telephonist Andy (Steve Pemberton). Although a bit of narrative flexibility was available, by virtue of the fact there were three other camera angles visible in camera 9's feed.
But still, the difficulty of writing a dramatic and funny story over thirty-minutes, with just one point-of-view for the audience (after a brief prologue of Andy arriving at work) can't be underestimated. And it seems there were also extended takes, meaning performances couldn't be built from different cuts and improved with clever editing.
Was "Cold Comfort" successful in its aims? By and large, yes. It was easily the funniest episode since the premiere, too. I especially liked the moment when Andy was forced to pee into a plastic cup, which co-worker Joanne (Nikki Amuka-Bird) believed was apple juice—and almost loitered too long after their conversation, meaning Andy was perilously close to having to drink his own urine. The episode also had fun poking fun at the often tedious work of call centres such as this, whose brief moments of having to deal with a genuine soul in need of help is sandwiched between calls from time-wasters, attention-seekers and, ahem, masturbators.
The plot took a little while to get going, in some respects, as the true drama of Andy's first month only started to coalesce halfway through—when an overdosing teenager called Chloe rang the company, then seemingly died on the line after requesting poor Andy sing Take That's "Shine" to ease her inevitable passing. This awful event then segued into a shell-shocked Andy's temper snapping over an old woman grieving the comparatively trifling death of a cat (which led to her committing suicide), and his eventual realisation that dead "Chloe" is actually a crank caller whose identity is already known to him...
Having guessed the double-twists of last week's tale, I was relieved "Cold Comfort" managed to outmanoeuvre me—despite the fact I'd grown suspicious of Andy's work-shy colleague Liz (Jane Horrocks), this was intentionally so. The stated reasons for "Chloe" pulling pranks wasn't wholly convincing to me, and the surprisingly nihilistic final shot perhaps not fully earned or plausible... but still, this was a memorable exercise in comedy-drama, well-executed by Pemberton and Shearsmith (also making their directorial debuts).
written & directed by Reece Shearsmith & Steve Pemberton • 16 April 2015 • BBC2