So it ends. But was the BBC’s brave attempt at updating the undeniable classic that was The Fall And Rise Of Reginald Perrin for today’s audiences a success, failure, or just another sitcom?
If you compare it with its illustrious predecessor, then no, it wasn’t a triumph, because despite having two celebrated writers instead of one, Reggie Perrin comes no-way near in terms of startling originality, quirky characters or shining wit.
Yet, if you judge it synchronistically as part of today’s family-orientated sitcom environment, then it stands out, and I’m sure Reggie would approve of the following analogy, like a rose growing in the middle of a car park.
Thanks largely to Martin Clunes’ sensitive portrayal of the lead character, Reggie Perrin managed to be a colourful pleasure in an otherwise concrete grey field. No classic, but entertaining and clever enough to rise above its sitcom constraints.
And that’s an achievement in itself, for those traditional restraints can so easily cripple a comedy, especially one where ‘cosy’ is the opposite of what’s being attempted. Blandness tried its best to creep in through stock characters and easy laughs fuelled by canned laughter, as dangerous to genuine humour as a fire is to everything around it when mixed with oxygen. But, somehow, Reggie Perrin survived the blaze.
That’s not to say that Reggie didn’t go down in flames in the finale. After six weeks of increasing tension, Groomtech’s head of disposable razors finally exploded while giving a key-note speech to the British Skin and Health Foundation delegation. Boss Chris’ plan to fight fire with fire and exorcise his employee’s stress-overload with more pressure rebounded spectacularly.
Taking the stand, Reginald Iolanthe Perrin lets R.I.P. against all the false beliefs of a consumer-orientated society where happiness is measured not by personal satisfaction, but by how much you own. His own company’s product line is the perfect embodiment of all that is wrong with a superficial, skin deep, view of the world.
“What have I done with my life?” he questions, working himself into a frenzy. “I’ve sold razors so people can shave the stubble off their faces. And what happens? Next day it GROWS BACK AGAIN!”
Complaining that he doesn’t know the names of the flowers or trees, but has perfect recall of eyebrow pencil sales figures, he concludes: “Is there a God? I don’t know, but at least I know I don’t know and that’s the point: I believe in NOT believing.”
The anarchist inside has emerged at last, armed with that most devastating of weapons: Insight. Dragged from the podium, Reggie knows there is no going back – not to Groomtech, not to his enervating, middle-class way of life, and not to Nicola, his wife.
Picking up a pre-packed suitcase, Reggie journeys on, ending up by the beach, the crashing waves and open air far more soothing than any number of executive toys. It could be the start of a whole new adventure, or the end of one that went wrong so many years before.
“Why not just end it all?” he asks himself, calmly and quietly. “Prove once and for all I’m not a fraud. Just walk out to sea with my hands raised above my head and, finally, only two fingers are visible – a last, defiant gesture to a hostile world.”
As the credits roll, we leave Reginald Perrin alone, naked by the sea, hovering somewhere between life and death. Uncertainty, the only certainty… for the moment.
It’s a poignant, iconic close to a great episode and also the last of three references to the original series (the other two being a picture of C.J. on the front of Boss Magazine, which his counterpart Chris is reading, followed by the recitation of C.J.’s mantra “One, two, three, four, make them wait outside the door”).
The fact that these nods to its predecessor are the stand-out moments is very telling. I may be being unfair when I say this, but I believe having Simon Nye writing the majority of the show was a failure. The good ideas seemed to have been all David Nobbs’ creation and that’s what sustained my faith in a very hit-and-miss show.
Do I want to see another series of Reggie? Definitely, because at its best it has proved there’s more than enough room for an update. But I think Nobbs should write it by himself, dispensing with all the cheap gags which have dragged things down.
Perhaps we will get to see Reggie opening a 21st century version of “Grot” on-line. Forget point-and-click shopping; pointless-and-sick is the way forward. He might even venture out into something that wasn’t even imagined back in the 1970s, like organising a Big Brother-style TV show to bring down today’s hollow, insidious instant-celebrity culture from within.
There’s so many ways the title could go in the future, if the BBC does the right thing and recommissions it. Then Reggie Perrin might be able to stand on its own two feet rather than harking back to what has gone before and, with David Nobbs in charge, become as sharp as the fabled 10-blade razor.
Check out our review of episode 5 here.