Reggie Perrin: Episode 3
Three episodes in, are we allowed to compare the new Reggie Perrin to the old show yet?
It is generally considered bad form. Indeed, on Reggie Online, amidst some excellent points about why there's no reason the show shouldn't have a new adaptation, we also get the following stark warning: "...it should not be viewed in comparison to the original."
Now, don't get me wrong. Comparing a new adaptation too closely to the original can indeed lead you down the wrong path entirely. Certainly, expecting the new series to be exactly like the old would be stupid; if it was exactly the same, what would the point be remaking it in the first place? And yet, the uncomfortable truth is, in the first three episodes of the new series there is nothing - from the iconic opening titles onwards - done as well in the new series as in the old. It's not as well-acted, it's not as interesting, it's not as moving, and it's not as downright bloody funny. Now, that doesn't automatically mean the new Perrin is a bad show - but it does automatically put a "But shouldn't this be better?" air around the whole thing.
Interestingly, the one major problem people (including myself) thought the show would have - that Leonard Rossiter would be impossible to replace - is actually the one the series finds easiest to overcome. OK, fine, so Clunes fits my earlier observation - he's not as good as Rossiter - but he works. Observations that he's essentially playing Gary ten years on - Whatever Happened to Men Behaving Badly?, if you will - are obvious, predictable, and entirely fair. And yet it's probably the best casting decision they could have made. He carries the entire show effortlessly.
Which is just as well. Because one major problem the series has is virtually none of the other characters in the series are making much impact - and it's difficult to tell where the mediocre material ends, and the lack of the actor's ability to rise above the mediocre material begins. Anthony (Jim Howick) and Steve (Nick Mohammed) are especial offenders in this regard - replacements for Tony 'Great' Webster and David 'Super' Harris-Jones from the original series, it's taken three episodes for their antics to raise even the slightest smile from me - their interactions with the schoolkids. The rest of the time, it's hard to figure out exactly how they were allowed in front of the cameras in the first place. Even the "Bad Idea Generally?" gag - great on paper - doesn't work with these two.
Just fuck off.
The rest of the characters are just... there. Nicola, Reggie's wife; the Wellness Person; Reggie's friend, Monty... they just kinda sit there, not being especially interesting - a far cry from the original's colourful ensemble. Geoffrey Whitehead as Reggie's father-in-law William, meanwhile, is just strange. A not-especially-great impression of Geoffrey Palmer is not how you would have thought they would approach a Jimmy replacement, and I'm still boggling at it. As a whole, none of them are especially atrocious, and they get the odd good line - but they can get a bit Dullsville, Arizona. Jasmine especially - it's difficult to see what Reggie sees in her, beyond a pretty face.
Alone amongst the supporting characters, Neil Stuke as CJ makes an impression - and whilst none of his "I didn't get where I am today..." speeches work especially well, he does get the best new catchphrase in the show: "It's cold out there, Reggie." At the recording, I didn't think he'd pulled the character off - but watching it back, and building across the episodes, I really rather like his performance, and the scenes with him and Clunes are some of the best scenes in the show.
Speaking of which: yes, this is the episode I was at a recording at, so it's probably worth noting a few things. This was the first recording of the series, and the episode is pretty much exactly how it was shot then - I can't remember any serious cuts, and the only thing that we didn't see which was obviously shot later was the fantasy cutaway at the beginning of Reggie and Jasmin as cavemen. The vast majority of it was shot in front of the audience - only the obvious location work was played in via the monitors. (At the end, they also shot the scene in the previous episode where Reggie kisses Jasmine - no idea why. Actor avalibility, perhaps?)
It's also worth noting how absolutely fantastic Martin Clunes is with the audience at recordings. Instead of skulking around set, he was amazingly relaxed - chatting with the audience, chatting with the warm-up man - he made the whole recording a joy. (One memorable exchange - when the warm-up guy asked us whether we're having a nice time, and we all politely murmur yes, Clunes shouts from the back of set: "You should get out more!") The IT Crowd is one of my favourite comedy shows this decade, but whilst I'm sure the cast are lovely, they don't get involved with the audience much - they are politely shy. Which isn't really what you want, or need, at an audience recording.
(One other thing - the wideshot reveal of the plants would have got a far greater reaction from us if we hadn't sat there for five minutes whilst they wheeled the plants in, entirely spoiling the gag. Either shoot it as a cutaway to play in, or - even better - conceal part of the set whilst you do it, and then do the reveal by pulling away a cloth. This was done at one of the Teenage Kicks recordings I was at - and say what you like about that show, but that shows intelligence in how you deal with a studio audience.)
This is comedy.
So, as for Ep 3 itself? The thing is, for all the complaints, I have to refer back to m'colleague's review of Episode 1: "it is funny, which mitigates the effect of the problems". There's plenty that raised a laugh here: The Wellness Person's "lovely!" after Reggie talks about everyone having sex all afternoon, Reggie's aggressive customer feedback (and the excellent cutaway just as he's about to say something immensely rude to the customer services rep), "Bless you for travelling First Class" - and then just silly things like this:
REGGIE: I have to stop you there, Colin.
COLIN: OK... why?
REGGIE: No particular reason, I just want you to stop. (Beat) I know it's an old joke, but I'm saving my new material for somebody more interesting.
I'm a sucker for joke deconstructions as the best of times, but the great thing about that exchange is that it also totally works in character, as well.
The end of the show, unfortunately, reiterates what really feels like a continuing problem with this series: it just isn't extreme enough. Reggie sending a group of kids out into the cold? It's just not a terrible enough thing to do. They try to sell it with Nicola talking about "abuse", but it doesn't work. And then CJ turns up, having changed his mind about kids for precisely no reason whatsoever, which doesn't work either. (And also means the show misses out on a trick - why isn't there a scene with CJ and the kids together? It could have been fantastic.) The neck-snapping is effecive, mind - along with the gun from the previous episode, the fantasy sequences are one place where the show has occasionally retained a bit of bite.
Because this is the main problem with the show - it's been toned-down too much. The old show was weird, and bold, and felt like it was stretching the boundaries of audience sitcom - the new one doesn't. That doesn't mean it's worthless - but it's hard not to wish it could have been something a bit more. And the worst thing is, despite the show toning itself down, there's still idiot letters sent into the Radio Times about an (amusing) mensuration joke in Episode 1. Complaints about a fairly innocuous joke, in a post-watershed sitcom - that the RT thinks is actually worth printing. I despair.
Go on, fucking do it.
Admittedly, some of this toning-down may well be justified. Reggie in the old series was loopier in Episode 1 than he is by Ep 3 of the current series, and whilst there's clearly an ongoing plotline - Reggie's pursuit of Jasmine - there's more of a status quo in the current series, perhaps in order to ensure the show's longevity. If Reggie goes utterly potty before the end of the series this time round, then there are legitimate concerns as to how long you could keep going like that. Certainly, I can't see him going loopy enough to walk into the sea by the end of Episode 6, if they plan to follow that route. That might not be such a bad thing - but it's a pity this toning-down has filtered seemingly through every fibre of the show's being.
So, halfway through the series, where are we? The word "likeable" when talking about a show is trite and overused, and I was painfully aware of how inadequate it was when writing my Lab Rats reviews - and yet... with Reggie Perrin, yet again it's true. This is a nice show to watch, and despite the myriad of problems, one I look forward to every week. I suspect it's scientifically impossible to put David Nobbs, Simon Nye, Martin Clunes, and a studio audience together and produce something that isn't at least worth watching.
It's a disappointment... but a rather nice one.