Mr Sloane episode 1 review: Meet Mr Sloane

Review Louisa Mellor
23 May 2014 - 15:00

Does new sixties-set Sky Atlantic comedy, Mr Sloane, have more to offer than a winning central performance by Nick Frost?

This review contains spoilers.

1.1 Meet Mr Sloane

If you were to judge Mr Sloane solely on the likeability of its cast, it’d be a five-star production. There aren’t many more appealing actors working in UK comedy than Nick Frost and Olivia Colman, and both are at their genial best here. Judged on its script and laughs though, Sky Atlantic’s new sixties-set comedy is simply too gentle a thing to give a rave review.

A character piece set in the resolutely non-swinging end of 1969 London, Mr Sloane follows the titular sadsack (Nick Frost) in the aftermath of losing his job and wife Janet (Olivia Colman).

Janet, whom we meet here only in flashback and dream sequence, has left Watford in search of herself. Her husband, Jeremy Sloane (“like Sloane Square”) could also do with a bit of self-knowledge by the looks of things. His life, which chiefly comprises drinking with his piss-taking mates, is at a standstill until he meets a young woman named Robin at the local hardware shop. Robin is American, gorgeous, half Sloane’s age and - for reasons as yet unbeknownst to the audience - starts to flirt with him over the U-bend selection.

Episode one timidly stages a series of familiar comic scenarios – slob overindulges in booze and food, man brushes off the nosy neighbour, class runs amok for the useless substitute teacher – alongside some less familiar, more piquant action. Things open with Sloane’s botched suicide attempt, an act that quickly establishes the character’s haplessness, and the stultifying routine of his laddish drinking buddies (including Peter Serafinowicz as a slimy ladder-climber). It’s proof that creator Robert B. Weide - formerly a producer/director on Curb Your Enthusiasm - hasn’t left his macabre sense of humour entirely on the other side of the Atlantic. The satirical edge of Weide’s directorial film debut, How To Lose Friends And Alienate People, (adapted from the Toby Young memoir and starring long-time Nick Frost collaborator, Simon Pegg) got lost somewhere between the page and the screen, but Mr Sloane doesn't run that risk, not having anything much in its satirical sights to begin with.

This first episode flits around in Sloane’s timeline, revisiting his and Janet’s first meeting, their wedding, and once venturing into his subconscious with a dream sequence that showcases Olivia Colman’s power to transform in an instant from mumsy and comforting to magisterial and withering. The chronology jumping livens up a low-impact first hour that's largely spent building Sloane’s pitiful life. One sequence sees him devour an entire chocolate cake and several beers before dozing off in his pants - a snoring manatee on a Rayon sofa - before awakening to stand up for the National Anthem.

For a period-set comedy, thankfully little time is devoted to ironies of the ‘computers? Pah. They’ll never catch on’ variety, though internal ironies (Sloane predicts the brightest of futures for he and Janet on their wedding day, and an out of control self-help tape spouts life-affirming statements while everything is falling apart) are thuddingly present.

Instead, late sixties Watford serves as a drab backdrop to a drab life, a brown and mustard-coloured place where pints of bitter are sunk in dimpled-glass jugs and children are left unattended in pub car parks with a cracked window and a packet of salted nuts for company. It might be set in the same year as Mad Men’s final season, but - inexplicably magnetic appeal to mini-dress lovelies aside - there’s little Don Draper-ish about Mr Sloane.

Frost, on whose shoulders the series rests, has a great deal more to offer than affability. There’s his wicked way with a punchline for a start. When Sloane covers up for his misbehaving self-help tape having broadcast a mantra about his attractiveness to the aforementioned neighbour with a lascivious “You heard what I said”, he hasn’t been funnier. It the meeting of his comedy of understatement though, with some of this script’s more extrovert moments - the chaotic schoolroom scene for instance - that feel less well-matched. Frost is more Ronnie Barker than John Cleese, more powerful in quieter moments than screaming over the noise.

As a take on the classic comedy character of life’s everyman loser, Mr Sloane is charming if familiar and so far risk-free. In the vein of a gently satirical campus novel, it’s a warm but not a thrilling watch, and doesn't have a great deal more than its central performance to recommend it.

Mr Sloane starts tonight, Friday the 23rd of May, on Sky Atlantic at 9pm.

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