Friday, 24 April 2009

Reggie Perrin

Reggie Perrin, BBC 1's reinvention of the fondly-remembered 1970s sitcom The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin, seems sadly on the basis of tonight's premiere largely a misfire. It needn't have been, because the seeds of something sufficiently distinct from the original were present. 'Kisses to the past' grated because they were unnecessary and invited comparison with the old series when the new Reggie Perrin needed to stand on its own two feet - being Reggie passing Sunshine Desserts on his way to Groomtech, and the nostalgic applause-seeking, and winning, "I didn't get where I am today..." from Chris.

I found it difficult to believe that Reggie's workplace adequately represents the modern office. The boss who ignores his underlings' carefully planned schedule is probably universal, but I suspect that the practices of different sectors of the economy have diverged more since the 1970s, making it more difficult for Groomtech to be representative of the middle-managerial workplace. There was indeed something oddly retro about the whole thing, when utter contemporaneity - agitational, even, in the best Sydney Newman tradition - was needed. I'd have put the Perrins in a more modern house; and I'd not have mentioned Carshalton Beeches in the script when Reggie clearly rides a Chiltern train... A Radio 4 preview in the last few days pointed to the Women's Social Action Committee as thirty years out of date, and I'd agree.

This is a second signature project commissoned by Jay Hunt which has not quite captured the spirit she was presumably seeking, as the revival of Minder was initiated by her at Five, and Reggie Perrin was her first public commission at BBC 1 (though it may have been on the books before). Martin Clunes is good enough to be about watchable, but too often comes across merely as a needlessly cruel manager rather than someone suffering in despair at the world in the manner of Leonard Rossiter. If Jay Hunt hoped to use Reggie Perrin to revive the British sitcom in the way that Doctor Who has revived family drama, I fear that she has instead only pointed to its weaknesses, revering a golden age of the 1970s without understanding why the hits of that era worked.