If you’ve ever had one of the moments of introspection and wondered just what you’re doing with your life then you’ll probably appreciate Reggie Perrin series one.
Because Reggie, played by Martin Clunes in his first sitcom in a decade, is the epitome of personal dissatisfaction. He’s stuck in a pointless job marketing razors – which achieves nothing as stubble always grows back – surrounded by half-wits, and married to someone who spends more time at action groups than home.
It’s not often you see a comedy based around someone slowly cracking up, but the BBC knew they were on relatively safe ground commissioning it considering they’d made the whole thing before in the 1970s with The Fall And Rise Of Reginald Perrin, starring Leonard Rossiter.
You could ask the question ‘why bother?’ when the original was so good, and indeed many doom-mongers did so before the first episode had even aired on BBC 1. It’s a fair point, but Perrin creator David Nobbs and Men Behaving Badly writer Simon Nye make an admirable attempt to update the show for the Noughties.
Reggie is still a frustrated character yearning for freedom, but in a different kind of world. In the 21st century, a wife’s place is no longer in the kitchen and a manager doesn’t necessarily know much about the particular company they’re currently running. Only the poor quality of the rail service remains unchanged from the 70s.
Thrusting Reggie into the present has helped attract a whole new audience, one that might not have even been born when the original was broadcast. Part of the charm of the series was that the viewer related to the situation and shared the catharsis of a comedic champion rebelling against mundanity. Establishing that special sense of connection is made a whole lot easier with a contemporary backdrop.
The updated environment aside, there’s a lot of other things about the remake that work.
Clunes is on top form as the titular character, proving wrong all those who had severe misgivings about anyone daring to step into Rossiter’s shoes. As the series was always primarily about the feelings of disillusionment and alienation that the lead character had to contend with, in the final analysis it hasn’t done any damage recasting Reggie. Indeed, Clunes makes for a more rounded and sympathetic Perrin than Rossiter, whose manic delivery always gave the impression he was somehow removed from his own meltdown. And that extra sensitivity makes the darker moments the character experiences all the more poignant.
Love interest Jasmine, played by the delectable Lucy Liemann, is a welcome addition to the ranks of supporting characters and gives Clunes many opportunities to show off his penchant for physical comedy, especially earlier on in the series, when his lust for his counterpart in balms and lubricants momentarily hijacks his concentration.
The fantasy elements – an essential part of the Perrin formula – are generally hilarious, with the various violent ways in which Reggie dispatches his boss, Chris (Game On‘s Neil Stuke), being particularly funny. Over the course of the six episodes he is tortured in almost every way imaginable by his silently raging employee, my favourite being where Reggie effortlessly whacks him round the head with a desk ornament for being obnoxious.
Finally, there are some nice lines and gags sprinkled throughout, such as Reggie’s irreverent rants against society and stress-busting insults aimed at his enthusiastic-but-dim underlings, Anthony and Steve.
Unfortunately though, even if its always watchable, as a whole Reggie Perrin just doesn’t deliver the amount of belly laughs you’d expect from having two top writers at the helm. Perhaps they were too different in styles to successfully integrate, because at times there seems to be a battle taking place over whether to look backwards and ape Fall And Rise, or project forwards and remould Reggie as Men Behaving Badly‘s Gary, sans Tony, a decade on. It’s to Clunes’ credit that he resists, but there are some crude jokes that do make you wonder when he’s going to get the ‘beer glove’ out.
Another failing is with the supporting characters. Nobbs always aimed to present figures that were, underneath their peculiarities, true to life. Yet with the exceptions of Reggie, wife Nicola and Jasmine, they all seem a bit one-dimensional and unbelievable in this remake. And sadly, veteran actors Wendy Craig and Geoffrey Whitehead as Reggie’s mum and father-in-law are wasted for most of the series, only really coming to life in the dramatic finale.
I think those new to the world of Reggie Perrin will appreciate the sitcom best. To them, all the jokes and set-pieces will be new and fresh, and they won’t be hampered in their enjoyment by comparing it, often unfavourably, with its illustrious predecessor. For everyone else watching, it will be surprisingly better than anticipated, but no classic.
Regards the extras, there’s a making-of documentary – Reggie Perrin Rises Again – featuring insightful contributions from the writers and principal actors alongside behind-the-scenes footage, a brief but lively Studio Tourconducted by actors Kerry Howard (Reggie’s secretary, Vicki), Jim Howick (Anthony) and Nick Mohammed (Steve), an Outtakes reel and the Studio Warmup video that introduced the audience to all the cast.
There are also audio commentaries on episode one, with writers David Nobbs and Simon Nye, and episode six, with series producer Ben Pharell and director Tristram Shapeero. The former is interesting in illuminating the thought processes that went into the remake, such as the view that, as Doctor Who had managed to reinvent an iconic series, there was no reason the same couldn’t be done with Reggie Perrin. The latter, for explaining how the show was physically put together.