Reggie Perrin: Episode 1
Any remake, or 'reimagining' of a popular show is always subject to the same question: Why? Whether deserved or not, the received opinion amongst those who care is normally that the original is better, and that any attempt to recapture what made the original so great is doomed to failure. Despite this weight of expectation, David Nobbs has teamed up with Simon Nye to do a 'reimagining' of Nobb's iconic Seventies sitcom, The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin, with Martin Clunes as Reggie Perrin, the middle-manager suffering a mid-life crisis. Here's my look at the first episode, considering each aspect in turn...
How DARE they remake such a classic!
Obviously, we have the reaction that doing such a remake is a monstorous idea, and although challenging the formidable reputation of such a show with a modern-day version is beset with pitfalls, Martin Clunes probably said it best in his Radio Times interview; "It's his novels, so he can do what he likes with them". This is the problem with proclaiming what a writer should or shouldn't do with their creations; if they're not yours, what right have you to do so? The whole argument stems from the assumption that a bad remake would taint the original, but this is nonsense. I can't think of a single remake in film or TV which has taken something away from the original, and perhaps the best example of this is the sequel to The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin, The Legacy of Reginald Perrin, which was unsuccessful in capturing the magic of the original, but hasn't made any difference to it. In fact, it seems as if it's been largely forgotten, which is a shame, as it was rather sweet in its own way. So, as you've worked out that I don't have a problem with remakes in general, let's see how successful I thought Reggie Perrin actually was...
When I attended the studio recording of one of the episodes, the series was called Perrin, which I thought was ideal, as it provides a link with the original series without making the association overbearing. When the first episode came to air, I was surprised to see that the title had been changed to Reggie Perrin, which gave me misgivings. Calling the series after the colloiqual title of the original may have seemed to make sense from a purely marketing perspective, but it does have dangers of putting rather too much expectation on the remake. It's not totally clear from the title whether the series is meant to be a straight remake, or a reimagining with slightly different elements, and I feel this does translate to screen a bit. I can't help but feel that Perrin might have created a more useful mental picture for the audience.
An effective remix, which keeps the best of the original. Not bad at all.
The Laugh Track
Again, this has become another contentious issue, because of the bizarre effect of The Office being successful without one, and the TV industry suddenly deciding that a laugh track isn't fashionable any more, regardless of whether a show suits one or not. Happily, this is now on the wane, and Reggie Perrin was recorded in front of an audience, which suits it well. However, the laugh track does have problems; it sounds oddly distant at times, yet is also too loud in the overall mix, leading to it being an occasionally distracting and irritating presence. This is a real shame, because the show has 'traditional sitcom' stamped all over it, and there's still a lot of people who will take any opportunity to criticize laugh tracks, as if any show without one is automatically superior. Hopefully the track for the rest of the series will be better balanced.
So what of our hero himself? Martin Clunes, famous for playing a young disillusioned middle-manager in Men Behaving Badly, is perfect casting, especially with the involvement of Simon Nye, who hasn't written better material for any other actor. From the evidence of the first episode, Clunes is having no trouble at all at essentially playing an older Gary Strang, which fits into the format rather well. I'm looking forward to his performances in the rest of the series, as he carries the first episode, with no other perfomance even touching his in terms of fullness and bathos. The only thing that doesn't quite ring true for me is his concern that his fellow commuters have forgotten how to talk to each other; the original Perrin detested the people he sat next to each day, and competed against them using the Times crossword. Is this evidence of Nobbs having a 'better in my day' rant?
I didn't get where I am today by expecting Neil Stuke to put in a note-perfect impression of John Barron, and he doesn't. Although he gets a couple of decent jokes in the first episode, Stuke can't make his CJ have the same malevolent presence, but he's not given a lot to work with in the first place. Which brings me onto;
Having seen the first episode and the recording of another, I can confirm that Fay Ripley doesn't get one interesting line in either, which is a shame, because the writers are clearly trying to emphasise the changed nature of marriage in the intervening 35 years. Unfortunately the overall message, which seems to be that couples don't have time to talk to each other, again isn't that effective when you consider that Reginald and Elizabeth Perrin had lots of time to talk, and that didn't help Reggie's slide into mania. I suspect that the writers are as unsure about the wife's role as I am, and it will be interesting to see if they give Ripley the chance to express the 'still waters run deep' nature of Pauline Yates' Elizabeth Perrin.
The Wellness Nurse
Doc Morrissey's replacement reminds me of the many critisms made of an increasingly nurse-led NHS, and NHS Blog Doctor will give you a good idea of what GPs feel about this. Her New Age-y banter and self-penned leaflets render her as useless as Doc Morrissey, but there is some confusion in the message. When she asks Reggie what he needs, he answers "A doctor", which does seem to suggest that the writers have forgotten that Doc Morrissey wasn't much cop either.
The Yes Men
Replacements for Tony "Great" Webster and David "Super" Harris-Jones, this pair camp it up a great deal more, possibly trying to mask the fact that they don't actually have any jokes. Although it's possibly inviting an unfavourable comparison with the originals, I do think having a catchphrase each might help them structure a better performance. Still, time will tell.
The Rest of the Supporting Cast
The title probably tells you how I feel about them; there isn't yet a performance among them that stands out, even Reggie's supposed love interest, Jasmine Strauss, is played rather blandly by Lucy Liemann. We shall see, though, as it's early days.
...are really rather good, actually. I laughed long and hard at quite a few of them, with Reggie clipping a hedge into a bunny and inadvertently beheading it being my favourite of the episode. The dream sequences are actually sharper in tone than in the original series, which fits Clunes' performance and Reggie's character, and do surprise the viewer, which makes up for some of the weaknesses elsewhere.
The short version: They've not fucked it up.
The long version: Although there are problems, documented above; again, Martin Clunes probably puts it best: "It will stand or fall on whether it's funny or not". And it is funny, which mitigates the effect of the problems. The one thing I think would improve things is a better sense of what the series actually is, as at the moment it appears to be an uneasy balance between a reimagining and a tribute. If you don't want unfavourable comparisons with the original, it would make sense not to invite them, and the first episode hasn't quite avoided that. I do want to watch the whole series, though, and I hope enough people out there want to as well.