I’ve discovered a fundamental law of comedy: the level of a lead character’s personal contentment is inversely proportional to the level of humour generated.
In other words, the more chaos there is, the funnier it becomes – and this is no-where better illustrated than with BBC 1 sitcom Reggie Perrin, which has now reached the half-way line.
It’s been a slow start, but Reggie’s ever-growing disillusionment with things is now beginning to spill over into other people’s lives, with amusing consequences.
Though the show is never laugh-out-loud hilarious – except to the over-excited studio audience who, by the evidence of the laughter track, must have been in full giggle mode by the time they took their seats – it is consistently entertaining.
In the third episode, Reggie re-evaluates his position at Groomtech – a company that firmly believes cardboard razors are the next big thing – and looks to his wife Nicola’s occupation as a teacher as a potentially more satisfying use of his time.
Maybe he wants to intervene with the next generation before they become as witless as his colleagues, who, with the exception of love-interest Jasmine, are all familiar one-note caricatures who could easily be given Snow White And The Seven Dwarves names such as Dummy, Dippy, Daffy, Dreary and Bossy.
Or perhaps for Reggie it’s one of the first offensives in a one-man-army revolution against the established order?
For underneath the amiable, sympathetic exterior of Martin Clune’s interpretation of the character lurks an office-bound Che Guevara intent on waging war against the daily annoyances of modern life such as ridiculous health and safety restrictions.
Che would have felt right at home in the pot-plant forest that Reggie transforms his working space into, upon hearing that boss Chris doesn’t allow plants at Groomtech.
Ever the revolutionary, he then proceeds to get rid of them again when everyone else, including Chris, follows his lead and literally turns over a new leaf.
It’s all so wonderfully petty, and supremely British. If Reggie Perrin were set in America, I’m sure he would have gone postal by now and shot everyone, instead of just fantasying about it.
Further disruption to the workplace is caused when Reggie invites one of secondary school teacher’s Nicola’s uncontrollable classes in to learn more about the world of business.
He’s already fired their imaginations with a shining deconstruction of the three economic models during a school visit, to test the water on his potential career-change.
“There are three basic economic systems,” he begins, authoritatively hovering next to a PowerPoint presentation. “Capitalism, communism and probably your favourite, stealing.”
The kids gasp at their speaker’s candid tone while Nicola’s jaw drops at what she’s hearing.
Deciding that we’re all reluctant capitalists, Reggie continues, “It’s a bit like being at a parent’s party. There’s lots to eat and drink, but it all feels a bit sh*t.”
You can sense the release of so much pent-up anger and frustration coming out in this, my favourite scene in the whole series to date. It’s sharply funny and satisfying to see someone, even if they fictitious, shake off all the social restraints that bind and do something hardly anyone does these days: Speak their mind.
It may be wrapped up in a cosy traditional sitcom format, but Reggie Perrin has an undeniable cathartic element to it which makes it ideal Friday night viewing for those worn out by another week of desk-chained tedium.
In the end Reggie’s new-found enthusiasm for education doesn’t last long as the class are more concerned with examining every inch of his office (maybe to see what they can pinch?) than with absorbing wisdom.
Disappointed with their actions, he changes the lesson to what temperature water freezes at, illustrated by having them stand outside shivering in the cold. To Reggie, it’s innovation, but to Nicola, and probably the authorities, child-abuse, so its unfortunately back to the drawing board for him as he returns gloomily into the Groomtech building.
There’s still one last chance for defiance, however, when upon his train ride home Reggie gets the nerve to invite all the sardine-impersonating standard class passengers into the spacious first class carriage where he’s been upgraded to after writing page upon page of complaints.
He might see it as a strike against the capitalist class-barriers but the train conductor doesn’t share his socialist sympathies and charges him over £800 for all the extra fares.
This altruistic gesture is one too far for Nicola and she finally snaps at her rapidly-changing husband, perhaps partly because she caught him having his rashes closely examined by Jasmine earlier that day.
The episode ends with her asking who his attractive co-worker is, and the audience knows that however Reggie plays it, there’s serious trouble brewing in and around the Perrin household.
Things have been set up perfectly for the second half of the series (which presumably will end like the original with Reggie stripping off and running into the sea to fake his own suicide) and it’s like a disaster unfolding before your eyes: tragic but irresistible viewing.
Check out our review of episode 2 here.