The last Inside No.9 of series 2 ended with a horror-tinged instalment, rather like last year's climax "The Harrowing", but "Séance Time" had a great deal more humour. Here, we visited the abode of Hives (Reece Shearsmith), bespectacled assistant to clairvoyant Madam Talbot (Alison Steadman—not coincidental casting, given last week's Abigail's Party influence?) It began with a very eerie tone, as Hives dealt with house guest Tina (Sophie McShera), whose sister had arranged for her to have a reading with a spiritualist, and quickly became a surprisingly frightening mix of genre clichés—telekinetic tamborines, flickering lights, animated dolls—ending with a terrifying appearance from a blue-skinned demon (Dan Starkey) that reminded me of a similar jump-scare from Insidious...
And then came the unexpected, early twist: sweet, naïve Tina was merely the unwitting star of a revived hidden camera show called Scaredy Cam—Candid Camera for horror fans. Hives is actually a washed-up Jeremy Beadle-style presenter with a very bad attitude, irritated his greatest success isn't back on a mainstream channel, but still determined to make this show a success. The way expectations were upended worked very well, partly because most of Inside No.9's twists occur at the end, and this setup was a brilliant way to create uneasy comedy—when the next mark entered Madam Talbot's front room, called Pete (Steve Pemberton). Unfortunately for Hives, Pete was considerably less gullible than Tina (instantly spotting a fishing line attached to a tambourine), and this replay of the same scenario became a hilarious, unravelling disaster.
The second twist of the episode was more predictable: real spirits lurk in the shadow of this séance set, whispering to Hives, and ultimately giving him a genuine fright that felt like ghostly karma for his mistreatment of cast/crew and members of the public. I didn't think the final scene was as comprehensible and satisfying as it could have been, as it felt like more groundwork needed to be done, but it was worth it for another brown-trouser moment involving a little boy crouched in a baby's crib. Indeed, there were lots of very well-executed scares here, nicely tempered with some fun jokes and the memorable sequence with uncouth Pete trampling all over the prankster's plans. That itself was a lovely statement about how old-fashioned horror imagery and well-worn tropes can be terrifying in the right hands, and plain ludicrous if you refuse to enter into the spirit of things (pardon the pun).
Psychoville only managed two series, although I'd argue it should always have been a miniseries, but something like Inside No.9 could run for years if Pemberton and Shearmsith's imaginations keep conjuring worthwhile ideas. The BBC don't appear to have enough faith in this series (rescheduling this finale a day early, refusing to release a Blu-ray box-set because of concerns about the financial merit), but if they have any sense they'll realise it's one of their comedy jewels and deserving of some support.
written by Steve Pemberton & Reece Shearsmith • directed by Dan Zeff • 29 April 2015 • BBC2