Inside No.9 – 8.5 Review: 3×3 / Hold On Tight!


Well… that was something very different!

You could be forgiven for being confused when this week’s episode started – in another audacious gambit from Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton, instead of the programmed episode, Hold On Tight! guest starring Robin Askwith, it seemed like BBC 2 were airing an episode of an obscure new gameshow hosted by Lee Mack.

Now I should have seen this coming. The creators have previous form with this kind of narrative hi-jinks. The Devil Of Christmas was an authentic tribute to the Nigel Kneale multi-camera horror series of the 1980s, complete with creaky acting and sets. Dead Line went even further, a note-perfect, convention breaking Halloween special, which blurred the line between reality and fiction – making those of us watching it live genuinely worried that something had gone wrong.

They still got me with this episode though: Hook, line and sinker. It’s no coincidence the On The Buses homage, Hold On Tight! was the most promoted episode of the new season, complete with stills and clips included in the season promo – it’s an amazing bit of behind the scenes trickery (again foreshadowed by Shearsmith’s appearance on Richard Herring’s Leicester Square Theatre podcast – RHLSTP!). I was getting increasingly infuriated that the scheduled episode wasn’t available, until my wife despairingly pointed out the significance of the gameshow’s title 3×3. That, combined with the increasingly odd responses from the stiff, slightly humourless Oakwood family, meant it soon became apparent that there was something fishy going on.

It’s a bold episode, and totally in keeping with what we expect from the series at this point. The best thing about Inside No.9 is the way it keeps us guessing throughout, and this episode might be the most perfect encapsulation of that idea. So many questions were raised over the course of the episode; are the contestants going to be killed? Are they all part of some strange dystopian commune? Had the show gone full Twilight Zone and cast all the contestants as guinea pigs in some elaborate laboratory experiment? Audiences were even questioning whether it was actually an episode of Inside No.9 at all!

The final revelation might be a little simple, but the execution, and the slow drip feed of hints that something isn’t quite right is masterful. What I really appreciate about Shearsmith and Pemberton’s approach to episodes like this is their patience – with Dead Line, they didn’t immediately cut to the repeat of A Quiet Night In, but instead we see the channel struggling to keep the live show afloat, before the creepy elements start bleeding into the “Live” show. Similarly, the writers show an admirable amount of restraint in 3×3, refusing to show their hand until the very end, albeit with a few clues peppered throughout.

Because of course it’s not just a quiz show, as Pemberton and Shearsmith paint a disturbing, John Wyndham-esque tale of experimentation and telekinesis in the Oakwood family, comprised of Mum, dad (Gemma Page and James Tucker) and their timid daughter Catherine (Saskia Wakefield). The creepy details lie in the margins of the show, away from the quiz that serves as the meat of the episode. All the important story beats are there, but occur in the background, appearing in furtive glances or little throwaway moments, before the first genuine hint that something isn’t quite right, where Catherine pre-empts an answer before Mack even asked the question. (The answer was Matthew Hopkins, the Witchfinder General – a figure of fascination for the writers, and another clue that all is not what it appears.)

The only thing that let the episode down for me was the explosive climax, which was a touch too abrupt. I think it needed a bit more build up, and a touch more horror to really sell it. Many audiences might draw comparisons with Stranger Things, (especially since Gemma Page, who bears more than a passing resemblance to Agent Connie Frazier from the Netflix show) but it reminded me more of the ending to Brian De Palma’s The Fury – it just needed a bit more build up to earn that finale.

As with Dead Line, the effect is somewhat diminished when you don’t watch the episode live, and I’m not so sure that this one will hold up to repeat viewings as well as their previous bold gambits, but I thought the same thing about Dead Line, and when I watched that the other day I was just as shaken up as I was the first time I saw it. Even watching it for the second time today I’m picking up on details I completely missed the first time around, such as Catherine making the rival team lose points, and the neat reference to The Day Today rapper Fur Q – “you’ve gotta kill people, to have respect for people…”

I have to say part of me was disappointed that we didn’t get to see Robin Askwith in an episode of Inside No.9, but what we got instead was the show at its most daring – further proof that now the end is nigh for the series, the Shearsmith and Pemberton are pushing the boundaries of what is possible within the format more than ever before.

Inside No. 9 can be watched on iPlayer – and check out my Series Blog here


3 thoughts on “Inside No.9 – 8.5 Review: 3×3 / Hold On Tight!

  1. Speaking as a big fan of Inside No 9 from the start,and Pembleton & Sheersmith’s work across ‘LOG’,’Psychoville’& ‘IN9’,I feel that I can judge them fairly. In this instance though, I feel as if I’m like the little girl in ‘The Kings New Clothes’and the only one who can see the truth whilst everyone continues to see some sort of genius here! It was absolute numb minding tedium having to suffer 20 plus minutes of Lee Mack’s excruciating act,and some terrible am drama “acting” from the increasingly annoying families.
    P & S have taken their audience for fools in making them believe they were getting a 1970s parody of ‘On The Buses’and then delivered this drivel. Awful.


    • I think Nick’s review is very fair in the middle here, but (personally) kinda wished we’d had a little less gameshow and headed off into something else for the last 10 or so.

      The trick worked for many who didn’t even click what they were watching, and so in this context, just sometimes, the target might not be the usual viewer… in the sense that not everything is necessary for ‘you/me’ etc…

      Granted, not completely my favourite but nevertheless an interesting, different take once again.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: Inside No.9 – 8.6 Review: The Last Weekend | critical popcorn

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