A remake-cum-reimagining of the classic British sitcom The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin (1976-79), Reggie Perrin (2009-2010) isn't nearly as darkly funny as the original show, which starred the irreplaceable Leonard Rossiter (Barry Lyndon, Rising Damp). The remake stars Martin Clunes, best known in America as Doc Martin. Clunes is quite funny, however, and his character intriguing, but the show itself is neither as innovative nor as biting as its title character. Its creators may have been aiming for a retro-'70s-style sensibility but if so it doesn't come off.
Acorn Media's two-disc set of Reggie Perrin is subtitled Set 1 but that was wishful thinking on their part: the BBC has since announced the show's cancellation, meaning the two series/seasons of Reggie Perrin, the 12 half-hour episodes in this set, are all she wrote. In their announcement, the BBC curiously noted that the show's stars, 49-year-old Clunes and 45-year-old Fay Ripley, cast as Reggie's wife, attracted an undesirably middle-aged demographic, suggesting the public-financed network was more interested in attracting younger viewers.
That would be a shame if true. While disappointed in Reggie Perrin this reviewer still found each episode good for a few laughs and felt it got a bit better as it went along. A similar fate befell another flawed but favorite American sitcom of recent years, The New Adventures of Old Christine, also about 40-something characters facing mid-life crises. It's not a positive trend.
Co-written by Simon Nye (Men Behaving Badly, which starred Clunes) and original series creator David Nobbs, Reggie Perrin chronicles the sorry life of a middle-class, middle-management executive at a cosmetics company where Reggie runs the disposable razor division. Perpetually 27 minutes late on every morning commute (usually by train) with his living-dead-like countrymen, Reggie is reasonably secure financially but utterly dissatisfied with his existence.
Wife Nicola (Ripley), a schoolteacher, largely ignores him while his boss, Chris (Neil Stuke), is a pretentious, hyperactive twit. Reggie's secretary, Vicki (Kerry Howard) is a moron, sunny company "Wellness Person" Sue (Susan Earl) is blithely ignorant of real human emotion, and underlings Anthony (Jim Howick) and Steve (Nick Mohammed) are hopeless sycophants.
Only effervescent balms and lubricants executive Jasmine (Lucy Liemann) offers any relief. She's intelligent and witty, so naturally Reggie is instantly attracted to her, and for most of season one contemplates having an affair.
Clunes is surefire funny expressing contempt toward the incompetent and obnoxious, but while he's terrific throughout Reggie Perrin, the actor is pretty much on his own. Boss Chris and deputies Anthony and Steve especially are standard sitcom stereotypes several big notches below the writing of Clunes's character - and unworthy of Reggie's vitriolic insults. They're easy cardboard targets: Reggie's barbs seem wasted on such trivial characters so exaggerated they don't seem connected to the real world the way Reggie is.
With wife Nicola there's a different problem. They trade amusing quips on such topics as sexual politics and growing older but it's always on a very superficial level. The same holds true with Jasmine, whose qualities Reggie admires and, while certainly there, are nonetheless generic and underdeveloped. Frequent broad sight gags springing from Reggie's imagination, fantasies of Reggie striking his boss with a colossal wrecking ball, for instance, but these moments of surrealism only pull the show further away from a real-world human behavior, an anchor the show seems to have needed.
However, Reggie Perrin does gradually build steam, partly out of repetition of ideas not initially funny but which pay off over time, such as the horrific - and identifiable - train commutes that bookend most episodes. By Series 2, I liked Reggie Perrin much more than I did at the end of the first several episodes of Series 1.
Video & Audio
Shot in high-def video, Reggie Perrin resembles three-camera American sitcoms rather than, say, Clunes's Doc Martin. One critic described it as merely looking "cheap" which it sort of does. The 16:9 enhanced widescreen shows are presented on two single-sided discs with a total running time of 341 minutes for its 12 shows. The Dolby Digital Stereo is up to contemporary standards, and comes with optional SDH English subtitles. The only Extra Feature is a modest behind the scenes photo gallery.
Despite some misgivings I was sorry to see Reggie Perrin come to an end, though I'd rather have Clunes return to Doc Martin for another season, playing that similar but much better developed character. Still, this is mildly Recommended.
Stuart Galbraith IV's latest audio commentary, for AnimEigo's Musashi Miyamoto DVD boxed set, is on sale now.