I didn’t get where I am today by passively acquiescing to other’s opinions on a TV programme, so I viewed the first episode of BBC’s controversial remake of Reggie Perrin without something a lot of critics had sworn by. Prejudice.
In the history of light entertainment there doesn’t seem to have been a show more maligned before an episode even managed to make it to the screen than this one.
From the moment news got out back in January this year that The Fall And Rise Of Reginald Perrin was to be revived for a new series, with, shock horror, Martin Clunes as the lead, people seemed to flock around Leonard Rossiter’s grave simply to measure how much he was spinning in it.
Now I would be the first to say the original is a classic, rising far above most sitcoms dating from the 70s, before then or after. Rossiter was perfect for the role of a middle-class sales executive slowly unravelling before the eyes of colleagues, friends and family.
I am also, in general, not a fan of re-makes: Unless they do something different with the material. And by different I also mean worthy. A recent example of the opposite would be Alexandra Burke’s take on ‘Hallelujah’. It’s like taking a potent, stimulating drink, say a mature whiskey, filtering out all the flavour and character and offering it to the masses as water.
Everyone drinks water, but there’s nothing special about it.
Is Clune’s take on Reggie as bland and inoffensive as water? No. But neither is it to be cherished like a fine whiskey. Instead, it’s a refreshing brew simply meant to perk you up.
Let’s get this out of the way now: it is not as good as the original, despite the fact Perrin creator David Nobbs was consulted throughout by new series writer Simon Nye of Men Behaving Badly fame.
The bleakness and desperation that made the original so arresting and resounding are still there, but in a softer package. Everything seems brighter, gentler – from the salsa-styled re-working of Ronnie Hazlehurst’s haunting theme tune to the stage lighting itself.
Reggie’s fawning underlings Steve and Anthony are no Tony and David, whose harmonious catchphrases ‘super’ and ‘great’ are as sadly absent from the show as boss CJ’s farting chairs.
They seem to be one-dimensional dimwits, as is his new secretary, and reek of My Family-style glib characterisation. OK, in the original the majority of characters were one-track records, but the grooves were deeper and their sense of being real was therefore greater.
Also, though Reggie might constantly be delayed with getting from A to B, the episode opens with him already on the edge of a nervous breakdown and seems to hurry itself along from then on in.
The slow burn build-up, continual repetition and gradual realisation by Reggie that something’s very wrong have been sacrificed for modern day audiences in this, the Ritalin Age of TV viewing.
But despite this the remake has a lot to commend it.
Clunes makes a different Perrin to Rossiter, being less manic and self-torturing, but is highly watchable as the only intelligent person left in a mad world. His abuse of Steve and Anthony harvest some great one-liners and his glum facial expressions speak volumes.
Game On‘s Neil Stuke parodies the new breed of young, trumped-up fast-track bosses perfectly and is as gloriously pompous as his ’70s counterpart CJ. The scene where he invites Reggie to sit down in a seat five times smaller than his own is classic, and an apt image rich in symbolism.
Moving Wallpaper‘s Lucy Liemann is in fine form as Jasmine, the ambitious new colleague Reggie lusts after, and one of the key indications that here is a series that has updated for the modern age, reflecting the empowerment of women in today’s society. Reggie’s wife, Nicola, is another case in point.
Things have moved on since the 1970s and targets have changed. The replacement of Doc Morrisey with a complimentary therapies practitioner is in line with the times and a ripe subject for lampooning.
Prince Charles might favour them, but alternative medicine is as ineffectual at getting to the root cause of Reggie’s troubles as a sex-mad quack.
The underlying message is that the art of genuinely communicating has died, alienating people from one another just as a consumer-driven work ethic and middle-class monotony alienated the original Reggie.
So Reggie Perrin still has something important to say to us and says it well using today’s language. People do still find themselves feeling trapped, and it’s a credit to Simon Nye that he didn’t feel equally constrained by the lionising of The Fall And Rise in re-working the show for 2009.
I don’t think it will ever sit on as high a pedestal as its predecessor, but it’s good entertainment and that alone has proved all the doom-mongers wrong.
The fact that the opening episode attracted an audience of over 5m on a Friday night shows two things.
One, the traditional sitcom isn’t dead (not everything can, or needs to be as inspired The Office) and two, people are willing to watch and enjoy a good remake.
The titular character’s full name might be Reginald Iolanthe Perrin, but it’s certainly not R.I.P. for the resurrected Reggie.