Yesterday I came across something very interesting indeed. When the halloween episode of Inside No. 9 was broadcast on Sunday evening, I thought I’d give it a watch. I usually like Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton’s work. A few minutes into the program, though, the sound cut out. To check there wasn’t something wrong with our TV, I changed the channel – the sound was fine for bbc1. I changed it back and bbc2 was still silent, so I decided to watch the news instead.
Earlier though, I had come across a link to a Guardian article praising the program for it’s innovation. That, of course, aroused my curiosity so I decided before reading the article in full to give the episode another go. Strangely, though, the same thing happened: it started like any normal drama or sitcom would, with an old guy finding an old lady’s mobile phone, trying to reunite it with it’s owner. But then the same thing happens: everything goes silent.
The guardian article mentioned something about unusual happenings, so I decided to persevere this time. Besides, I was watching it on Iplayer where surely technical problems would have been dealt with. But instead of the sound coming back, the program cut to the bbc2 logo and the announcer apologising for technical issues. I began to regret not sticking with it two nights ago as the effect would have been intriguing: viewers would have been left wondering whether the beeb was having a meltdown or whether this was part of the show. Not watching it live the effect was somewhat lost..
What followed was half an hour of remarkable television which played with the viewer. It wasn’t clear what one was watching. At one point an old episode of Inside No. 9 was tarted, apparently to replace this faulty one, only for the new episode to return. Actors were shown in their studios, watching themselves on live tv and talking about the live twitter feed. Brecht’s fourth wall was torn apart so that we were left wondering where fiction stopped and reality began.
That, however, is what intrigues me. This program begs for analysis. For the bbc to agree to broadcast something like this, it would have to have been planned out to the last detail. Yet it gave the appearance of non-fiction. The actors spoke about themselves as they watched themselves on live tv speaking about themselves. It had a sense of the Real to it, exceeding the scripted and planned. At the same time, we know what we were watching is a pre-planned fiction by the fact it must have been filmed, edited and broadcast. After all, programs like this don’t automatically appear into existence. Try as they might, then, the program makers have to rely on viewers suspending their disbelief if they want to pull something like this off.
By and large, though, I think they succeed. The very fact that one is taken aback by the sound problem as the program begins means one is never totally sure what is real and what isn’t. From then on, the writers and directors play with the viewer, interweaving fiction and reality so that the mobile phone problem from the beginning of the program reappears at the end. We see hand held and head mounted footage cut together with news broadcasts, both of which we associate with reality but which we know must be part of the program. The result is highly inventive, intriguing, and very apt for a halloween special.