This review contains spoilers.
5.2 Death Be Not Proud
If last week’s episode was a generous half hour’s entertainment for the general public, then Death Be Not Proud was one for the fans. Not Inside No. 9 fans, but Psychoville fans, devotees who’ve been clamouring for the black comedy to return since it ended almost a decade ago.
Return it has, in the form of this surprise crossover featuring none-more-dysfunctional mother-son duo Maureen and David Sowerbutts. Ladies, gentlemen and embittered party clowns: welcome to the Pemberton/Shearsmith Cinematic Extended Universe.
We were already there, sort of. In Bernie Clifton’s Dressing Room, an ex-comedian-gone-straight explained that he’d had YouTube clips of his former act taken down because he couldn’t afford “to go into a meeting with HSBC and someone’s found me as Tina Turner with tights on my head and ping-pong balls for eyes”. That was a sly in-joke for fans of Pemberton and Shearsmith’s 2009-2011 Psychoville. This was a 30-minute deluge.
The first five minutes (ensuring the secret was kept, all that was made available to press before it aired) were played straight. We met young couple Beattie and Sam – Jenna Coleman and Kadiff Kirwan – new homeowners who’d scored a bargain on their flat thanks to its grim past. The murder house story became a haunted house story, complete with nods to Poltergeist. Then came a ring at the door, an unmistakeable haircut and Joby Talbot’s musical Psychoville sting.
There were clues even before Steve Pemberton introduced himself as David, but you’d need psychic powers to have spotted them on a first viewing. Talk of a corpse in the bath (Maureen’s final resting place at the end of Psychoville), a background radio mentioning Wood Green (the location of David and Maureen’s flat), the ghostly blender action (referencing David’s love of smoothies), the smiley sausage, the ping-pong eyeballs, the return of Psychoville director Matt Lipsey … it’s all there, waiting to reward this show’s now-customary second or third watch.
What followed was a bonus Maureen and David episode, told in flashback. A series of darkly comic sketches outlined the Sowerbutts’ peculiar dynamic, proof that Pemberton and Shearsmith’s talent for unsettling comedy is going nowhere. The characters clearly still fit like a glove, with Shearsmith’s sour, malevolent Maureen a scene-stealer every time.
Those two weren’t the only return acts. Sarah Solemani’s gormless Emily was back, David Bamber’s murder mystery boss Robin was wedged in wearing a nappy in one particularly weird scene, and Shearsmith doubled up for a cameo as nightmare children’s clown-for-hire Mr Jelly. Even Maureen’s death scene was recreated, complete with a replay of the excellent John Donne/did gag.
With all the Maureen and David action, there wasn’t much time to establish Coleman’s character as somebody unhinged enough to stab her partner and then sashay around cheerily while his body rots, but even that was set up in the mildest of ways with Sam’s “you are susceptible…” note of warning for her not to get obsessed with the flat’s history. Anyway, Coleman and Kirwan were less guest stars here and more red herrings.
What a non-Psychoville viewer would make of the episode boggles the mind. Maureen and David’s dance routines (a new one! Soulja Boy’s Crank That!) feel like a standalone joy, but without the jolt of recognition, could just inspire befuddlement. The same goes for the characters themselves, exaggerated, warped comedy types whose wrongness could equally make you recoil as laugh. One thing’s certain, between the bath-sludge corpse and the baby-boiling, nobody can accuse Inside No. 9 of going soft in its old age. Indulging itself maybe, but never softening.
Any indulgence has been well earned at this stage in the show’s career. The crossover was a punt worth taking. Loyal fans will have been delighted by the treat of it all and the odd newcomer will have been enchanted enough to seek out the Psychoville back catalogue (on Britbox currently, not BBC iPlayer). As for the non-odd newcomer? Well, easy come, easy go.
Read Louisa’s review of the previous episode, The Referee’s A W***er, here. And here are the nerdy details spotted in Death Be Not Proud.