Friday, 24 April 2009

An Unstructured Review Of Reggie Perrin

(A review which might not be very interesting or well written, but it is timely. You’ll have to give us that.)

BBC One have starting showing their remake of classic 1970s Leonard Rossiter sitcom ‘The Fall and Rise Of Reginald Perrin’. It is being written by Simon “Men Behaving Badly” Nye and David “The Fall and Rise Of Reginald Perrin” Nobbs, and stars Martin Clunes (who played the part of a middle manager bored by office life perfectly in Men Behaving Badly). One writer who knows the character of Reggie Perrin inside out, and another who knows just how to get the very best out of the lead actor - the omens are very good indeed. It has been suggested that the show takes more of it’s cues from the original Nobbs-penned Perrin novels (then considered too dark and risqué for television, but hopefully now fair game), which is very promising too. Could it live up to our expectations?

Well, no. While there clearly needed to be a visible shift in mood to distinguish it from the original, going about it by simply shifting straight to Reggie getting angry with everything just made him seem liked a grumpy middle-aged sod. While Classic Perrin was merely wearied by the behaviour of his minions, NuPerrin came across as a bit of a bullying arsehole. Having Neil Stuke as Reggie’s boss (named Chris Jackson, though never referred to by his initials) was presumably to avoid direct comparison with the original CJ, but with Reggie’s boss clearly being much younger than him things seemed a little unreal, and not in a good way. Had Stuke been playing a cocksure dotcom millionaire, their confrontations could have veered toward new territory, but with him somehow being Stock 1970s Sitcom Boss Type A, it was hard to see what the character could offer. If they’d managed to transfer Matt Berry’s boss character from The IT Crowd, things could have been much better.


The jarring characterisations didn’t end there. In Classic Perrin, Elizabeth Perrin was a wife who genuinely cared about her husband, and seemed genuinely concerned about why Reggie was unwilling to open up to her. With NuPerrin, the rechristened Nicola Perrin barely seemed to give a flying stuff, more preoccupied with committee meetings and the like. Back at work, the marketing bloke is a dull methodical bore who reels off lists of research-based numbers and everyday conversations in the same dull monotone, and the staff ‘wellness officer’ is a bubble-headed new-ager. With the exception of love interest Jasmine, the people within the world of NuPerrin were uniformly one-dimensional – a shame, as that turned out to be one of the few failings with Classic Perrin. There could have been the chance to round out the characters personalities a little, but if there isn’t time to do that and cram in weak gag about self-harming emos (plus a reference to Amy Winehouse, so we know it’s set in 2009), it’ll just have to wait.



Strangely, there was no audience reaction to NuPerrin walking past Sunshine Desserts on his way to work, but a muted cheer at the first utterance of “I didn’t get where I am today by…”.


It might have been a better option to take a wholly new direction for the remake, instead of simply mentioning laptops, texting and screensavers now and then. Much as we’ll perpetually champion traditional audience-led comedy, in this instance taking a more naturalistic The Thick Of It-type approach – without an audience – could have worked well. While it might be too much to hope for the script being packed tightly with top-quality gags like (to make an inappropriate comparison) Arrested Development, and the budget wouldn’t stretch to aping (here’s another one) Scrubs, it could turn out along the lines of ‘How Do You Want Me?’, an earlier sitcom from Simon Nye. The fantasy sequences could still be included with such an approach, indeed, they might come over as more of a surprise.



(Key phrases quite deliberately missing from previous paragraph: “The Office”; “Canned Laughter”. If we’d used either of them, no court in the land would have convicted you for setting the BrokenTV offices on fire.)


There is hope. There’s a pleasing lack of catchphrase-heavy dialogue in NuPerrin. This is possibly due to lessons learned from 1996’s The Legacy Of Reginald Perrin, where devoid of the titular character, all that was left was a cast of characters saying everything was “great”, “super” and remarking on things that didn’t lead to them “getting where they are today” for seven episodes. Also, erm, it’s filmed in HD, which looks quite nice.

We’ll certainly be sticking with the show for at least the next couple of episodes, partly because we’ve still got faith in Nobbs and Nye to take this down a less well-trodden path, and partly because slagging off a sitcom based on the first episode is a bit like dissing a watercolour of a horse painted by a three year old child just before they grow up to be William Hogarth. It had better improve pretty soon though, because from where we’re sitting NuPerrin is coming across like seeing Horne and Corden ‘reimagining’ Hancock’s Half Hour.


2 .:

Matthew Rudd said...

I rather enjoyed it, and I'm not afraid to say so. I didn't expect to enjoy it at all, as a severe apologist of the original and a long-standing wish that Rossiter gets the posthumous credits that Barker, Morecambe and Cooper get for comic timing, so maybe the fact that I enjoyed it from a negative standpoint made it all the more worthwhile in the end.

Although I take your point about the shift from helpless entrapment to employee bullying, there are signs in the character that he does seek assistance and has vulnerability, not least the "I want *you*" moment when his wife goes out as he arrives home, telling him about the ham in the fridge as she shuts the door. This struck me as vividly as the "No, I love *Elizabeth*" moment in original Reggie's mind when he has the opportunity, while absent and incognito, to go off with an attractive woman.

Sometimes, also, you just have to count the laughs. I loved the pumice presentation, for example, while the daydream moments - Jasmine on Reggie's desk, smashing up the wellness person's hi-fi - were excellently done. I also think there's no harm in recreating Webster and Harris-Jones for the modern day, and as you say the fact that this was done without "Great" or "Super"-esque catchphrases offers real insight and credit.

I didn't like the new CJ very much, but then again were either character meant to be likeable? Evidence of Reggie's family seems absent so far too, though maybe that will change. They clearly aren't old enough to have a married daughter, or at least not one with children of her own, so the "I done biggies" potential seems to have evaporated.

I actually look forward to next week's go.

ChrisG said...

Imagine my complete lack of suprise when Sam Wollaston's review of this in The Guardian today did indeed mention The Office and the use of a 'laughter track'. I was even less suprised when I muttered something unspeakable about said hack under my breath as I read it. I really shouldn't put myself through it.
My review: expected it to be awful. Wasn't awful. Wasn't great either. Clunes not bad at all though. Will try again next week.

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