Nic Wright

TV review: Inside No. 9 – ‘The Harrowing’

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Over the past six weeks, viewers of Inside No 9 have been treated to scenes you’d be forgiven for thinking you’d never find on the BBC, let alone in a prime-slot comedy series.

Smoldering child molesters, dead dogs and an agonizingly-exact portrayal of depression, all brought to our screens by the inimitable, uncompromising and often unholy union of Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith.

In a digital age of catch-up and on demand, where television is at our beck and call, Inside No 9 is a rare beast; a televisual event.

A show to make time for, to discuss, it has made a significant, winning creation of a format long considered throwaway.

Each episode has mastered a tone at once unique and over-arching, the way any great anthology series should be; fierce, autonomous creatures, but unquestionably members of the same species.

And for this, the final chapter, we visit a number nine massively darker than any we’ve been plunged into before.

Of all their works, The Harrowing is the most obviously influenced by the beloved Amicus productions of their childhoods. It’s all there; the eccentric gothic shut-ins, and the terrible secret in the attic of a looming house, the unsullied victim…

While still boasting some cracking lines, this is most obviously horror-soaked of the lot; the previous installments might have made your skin crawl, and your jaw drop, but The Harrowing, as its title suggests, aims to turn you inside out.

Hector (Shearsmith) and Tabitha (Helen McCrory), a curious pair of siblings with a fondness for satanic paintings and Poe references, employ schoolgirl Katy (Aimee-Ffion Edwards) to house sit for the evening.

Soon, however, Katy begins to feel unsettled by the house – and the mysterious man upstairs.

Though hammy the set-up may seem, a sense of dread slowly and surely builds. So much so that it’s easy to forget you’re watching a comedy, such a genuinely disquieting scene is set.

To make funny television is difficult. To make frightening television is equally difficult. To have both at once, working together without stepping on one another’s toes, is a feat rarer than pigs flying.

After six episodes, there’s little more to be said about the quality of the writing, the pitch-perfect delivery of the performances, the matchless pleasure of anticipating a brand new story every week, like a series of fiendish, hilarious Christmases, but what can be said about The Harrowing is this; the abrupt, abject revulsion of it is wretch-inducing.

And that is truly the highest compliment I can pay it.

The only thing that will comfort sleep-disturbed Inside No. 9 viewers tonight is knowing series two will not be far away.

Inside No. 9 returns to BBC2 in 2015.