In the UK: Fridays, 9.30pm, BBC1
Is what was relevant in 1976 relevant today? I didn’t get to where I am today without knowing the answer to that kind of question, but the BBC has answered with an unequivocal yes by choosing to remake The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin. Originally starring Leonard Rossiter, this saw Sunshine Desserts office drone Reginald Perrin gradually finding the boredom of everyday life taking its toll on his sanity. He starts to daydream, having fantasies about his secretary and just about everyone else, including his mother-in-law (always accompanied by a picture of his hippopotamus), and starts to act out in bizarre ways – before eventually faking his own death.
Reggie Perrin, as it now is, stars Martin Clunes as Perrin, now gainfully employed by Groomtech but still finding life to be somewhat disappointing. As indeed, are we.
Compared to many sitcoms, Reggie Perrin is certainly a step up. Adapted by both David Nobbs, the creator of Reggie, and Simon Nye, who created Men Behaving Badly, the script does at least have originality and some funny lines. On the one hand, it manages to be faithful to the original, with many of the same characters being present, there’s a nod to Sunshine Desserts during Reggie’s commute and the frequent excuses for train delays as relevant now as they were then.
On the other, it’s also been updated to cope with modern business life, with CJ now ‘Chris’ because everyone uses first names now, the apple of Reggie’s eye now being a fellow manager rather than his secretary and a workplace therapist offering de-stressing solutions, if not any actual psychological help for the increasingly delusional Reggie.
But in many ways it doesn’t feel like it’s been updated enough. The show’s attitudes to women don’t look like they’ve left the decade fashion forgot, even if we’ve been spared the hippo for now – his wife is even a member of a women’s group. The show’s depiction of office life tries to tread the line between satirical and relevant and fails for a multitude of reasons, ranging from Perrin’s eccentric behaviour to the simple problem of a multi-camera studio filming.
It also fails on lesser scores: the idea of a carriage full of commuters listening to iPods and not talking to each other isn’t exactly new and a large number of people probably wouldn’t want to talk to their fellow passengers anyway; Neil Stuke who plays Chris is as hopeless as he’s always been; and Clunes is no Leonard Rossiter, although he’s not half bad. Perrin’s behaviour also verges on the stalker-esque rather than the endearingly Mitty-esque, so it’s also far harder to empathise with him than Rossiter.
But a few points do strike home and although Groomtech’s pumice issues aren’t exactly relevant, they were at least chuckle-worthy and it’s possible to extrapolate from there to other industries’ equally pointless projects.
Not exactly dagger-sharp, Reggie Perrin is a reasonable stab all the same at a sitcom, even if it doesn’t yet seem to have found its target. It could develop into something better over the rest of the series, since the original, at least, wasn’t afraid of shaking up the status quo. Whether this remake will have equal guts remains to be seen, but I’m not getting a good vibe at the moment.