Reggie Perrin: Episode 5
Bloody hell. Five episodes in, is something actually happening in Perrin?
Don't get me wrong; this episode still has the same old problems. It's not so much that the series is formulaic that's the issue - it is, but then so is Keeping Up Appearances, and that's fantastic. (The sound you hear is people clicking their browsers closed in disgust.) Perrin being formulaic, at least for its first series, would even fit with the series' intent - Reggie is supposed to be bored of his life, and to show his repetitious daily grind and would make total sense.
Still, the problem is, that - with the odd exception - most of the elements of the series just don't feel interesting enough in themselves. Reggie's conversations with Jasmine; the meetings with the Wellness Person; the interplay with his wife... none of them ever seem to take flight. And so when they don't, you start longing for the series to break free of the stuff that isn't quite working, and be more like the original series. Frankly, I want Reggie to go mental.
That's not to say that there aren't funny moments here. Nearly all the best ones are with Chris, which continue to be the highlights of the episode - partly because Neil Stuke continues to be by far the best supporting actor (Chris's indignant "Sorry?" after Reggie calls him a twat down the phone is brilliantly delivered), and partly because it's where the script's real meat always seems to be (Chris, after Reggie noticing he has his desk back: "Yes, that's right, I felt I needed a barrier.") Probably the funniest moment for me is the exchange when Reggie informs his boss that "To be honest, Chris, it's all going tits up"; Chris responds with a relaxed "I'll let that go". No reaction from the audience, and I'm well aware it loses every single shred of humour written down, but the way Neil delivered the line tickled me to hell.
Oh, and then there's this:
Indeed, this episode sees huge revelations about Chris, and is a nice comment of management being parachuted in to save an ailing company; this is the best deconstruction of modern business the series has done yet, and worth any number of "jokes" bitching about headphones. The other main plot, about Reggie cycling to work, makes some good points, too; unfortunately, it's not especially funny, but it's a well-observed point that people being told to cycle everywhere, and yet you're not actually allowed to take your bike with you on a commute to work. (Whilst watching, this started a rant from my girlfriend, who pointed out that if trains still had guard vans, this wouldn't be an issue - and unlike some of the complaints about modern life this series, a genuine example of how things have got worse.)
Meanwhile, the 70s housewife routine done by Nicola is OK, and clearly intended to be a comment on how the portrayal of women has changed since the 70s series. Unfortunately, it raises a rather unfortunate problem; Reggie's wife Elizabeth in the original series was a far more interesting character than Nicola, and thus the point is slightly lost. I certainly don't want to go down the route that everything was fine and cosy for the portrayal of women in the 70s; that's bullshit. But it's worth noting that the cliches about Who companions - that all they stand there and scream a lot - is the exception rather than the rule; the same kind of misconceptions also occur about the role of women in many comedies, including Perrin. The point here feels misplaced.
(And maybe I'm just being oversensitive, but I'm very bored of the consistent mainstream sitcom idea that all women hate pornography. It showed up endlessly in Men Behaving Badly, and now it's popped up here. I don't think a single one of my female friends objects to porn.)
Other aspects of the show continue to be less successful than they should. The running gag of the demolition ball on Reggie's mother felt like it had run its course after one outing, let alone nearly every episode - and I usually like running gags. And the cutaway of Steve, Anthony, and Vicky begging was amusing... but also feels like it's done more for their character development so far than anything else this series. And that's not a compliment. Meanwhile, William is feeling less odd now I've got over the shock of how the character is portrayed; he also gets by far his best line so far this series: "483, isn't it?"
(Also: maybe it's just me, but I'm getting sick to the back bloody teeth of the train announcements being unintelligible. They're probably quite funny, but such a strong voice effect is put over them that I don't get the jokes. This is especially irritating in this episode, when it's supposed to be one of the first laugh lines in the episode.)
Well, he's cracking up.
But back to Reggie; and yes, in this episode, there is a marked change in Reggie himself. This is more manic, more cracked than we've seen him so far this series; it's not a coincidence that he ends the episode screaming in his office. And a good scream, too. (The scene with Chris taking the credit for Reggie's hard work, and then handing him the ultimate insult: "Cheer up!" - is deeply unpleasant, in a very intentional way.) The fact that Reggie's breakdown is deepening is signposted from the very first scene; his snarling on the train is worse than we've seen him before. If the show isn't going anywhere with this next episode, I'd be extremely surprised - and that can't come soon enough.
The problem is, you can dissect a show all you want; you can point out two or three great jokes, or how a show is dealing with important issues. But the most important thing for me is the line-by-line dialogue. Is the show, minute-by-minute, keeping me interested? Perrin is doing enough to keep me watching, and enough to like - but it just plain hasn't got enough good jokes, and Clunes is really the one holding the whole show together. Oddly enough, the episode both hints at good things for the future, whilst still slightly trying my patience.
Next week's episode will be crucial. They either go for it... or I worry about where the series goes from here.