Say what you like about the Inside No 9 boys, but when they want to trick you, they really go for it. Fans of the show sat down to watch ‘Hold On Tight!’, a long-awaited episode of the show set on a bus, featuring a star of 70s comedy. But, as everyone at Warwick knows, you can wait for a bus for a long time, only for it not to show up at all. In its place the show treated us to a rug-pull even greater than ‘Dead Line’ by announcing a hastily rescheduled quiz show hosted by Lee Mack.
It kept the nation on edge for half an hour, as we all took to social media to figure out whether this was real or not
I’d urge you to watch this one before reading the review, for maximum effect.
It kept the nation on edge for half an hour, as we all took to social media to figure out whether this was real or not – and the rug-pull led to one of the show’s most shocking moments. But, after the dust had settled, it’s hard to feel like the initial joy at the surprise actually resulted in a good episode.
‘3 By 3’ presented a quiz show of the same name, hosted by Mack, in which three teams of three contestants competed for a cash prize. One of the teams, the Oakwoods, inch closer and closer to the final round, and the chance to win some money – but there’s something a little amiss between mother and daughter Margaret and Catherine (Gemma Page and Saskia Wakefield).
this might be one of the most layered scripts that Pemberton and Shearsmith have produced
When I reviewed ‘Dead Line’, I noted that I was lucky to have watched it live, because the impact of the episode would simply not have had the same impact on BBC iPlayer. The same thing is true here – most of the enjoyment of this came from watching it live, wondering whether this was the real deal, and feeling on edge as you expected something to happen. For the most part, however, ‘3 By 3’ plays it completely straight, so there’s not a lot of rewatch value here unless you’re a massive fan of naff daytime quizzes.
I don’t want to claim that there’s no story here as a result, but the very nature of the format requires it to be a little hidden. You can piece the bits together, and if you want to get the most out of ‘3 By 3’, you kind of have to – otherwise, you’re essentially hoping that unease will get you to the unexpected end. As is customary when I write these reviews, I rewatched and found that there’s a lot to work with in the script – unexpectedly, this might be one of the most layered scripts that Pemberton and Shearsmith have produced, and we didn’t even know it was coming.
it’s unlike anything else Inside No 9 has put out, and it shows that there are still surprises to come
It’s a triumph that the episode felt so natural, but it’s a shame that that naturalism also resulted in quite a flat half-hour. This is nothing to do with any of the actors – Mack (host of the excellent The 1% Club) brings his customary charm as the host, and it’s impressive the way that the writers have his style of humour to a tee, even though the scriptedness of the jokes gives them a straight lack of life. The decision to use unfamiliar actors as the contestants adds to that natural air, and Page and Wakefield stand out as markedly different to the rest of the cast – there’s a coldness, a stiltedness to their interactions that really helps chill things. Wakefield underplays it particularly well, and is all the more terrifying as a result.
‘3 By 3’ was a really effective surprise, and I think it worked well in fooling the audience, culminating in one of the show’s most shocking moments. But it’s hard to ignore that, for 95% of the episode, it’s a naff and not particularly entertaining quiz show, and I wouldn’t fault any of the people who turned it off long in advance. Give it a go – it’s unlike anything else Inside No 9 has put out, and it shows that there are still surprises to come.