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Saturday, July 23, 2011

REGGIE PERRIN: SET 1 -- DVD review by porfle

Back in the 70s, my local PBS station (KERA Dallas-Ft. Worth) had what they called the "British Comedy Block" on Sunday nights.  It was anchored by "Monty Python's Flying Circus", followed by a selection of some of the best Brit comedy shows available at the time.  One of them, "The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin" starring the great Leonard Rossiter as a middle-class office drone going through a mid-life crisis, became one of my favorite TV shows of all time. 

Fast-forward to the next century, and along comes a remake simply titled "Reggie Perrin" to give the old serial another go with a new cast and an altered storyline.  But while the twelve episodes contained in the DVD set REGGIE PERRIN: SET 1 struggle desperately to reach the same level of silly, yet delightfully witty humor that made the original so much fun, the result is a dull, dense, and sometimes dreary affair that only a laugh track could find truly amusing.

In Rossiter's hands, Reggie was an ordinary man slowly worn down by the repetitive tedium of everyday life, his haggard hopelessness gradually turning to bitter cynicism and a revolt against conformity.  Martin Clunes ("Men Behaving Badly", "Doc Martin") comes off more like a classroom malcontent from the start, already cynical and misanthropic before indignity upon indignity turns him into a different person.

It's such a one-note interpretation of the character that when Reggie finally does that thing that he does after reaching what's supposed to be his breaking point (as immortalized in the original series' opening titles), it comes and goes with barely any meaning at all.  Clunes does what he can, but the storyline is unfocused and the writers don't seem to have a clear direction for the character.  Aside from touching a few key bases from the old series, what we get here is hardly more than a low-level serial sitcom that gets a laugh now and then by buffeting the viewer with a hail of cheap gags. 

Longtime Perrin fans will no doubt appreciate the more literal nods to the old series, as when Reggie pauses in front of Sunshine Desserts before proceeding to his current workplace, Groomtech.  His manically overbearing boss, Chris Jackson (Neil Stuke), picks up a business magazine with the glaring face of the original C.J. (John Barron) on the cover, reminding us of how much funnier the original C.J. was. 

The two share a common catchphrase ("I didn't get where I am today without...") while Reggie continues the tradition of explaining his daily tardiness to his secretary ("27 minutes late--shrubbery on the line near Peckham") and responding to his wife's cheery "Have a nice day at the office" with "I won't."

At work, Reggie still has two young marketing toadies gushing their own catchphrases over his every utterance ("I'm almost physically excited!" Steve enthuses about the new ten-blade shaving razor that squirts lotion) and a beautiful co-worker who tempts him with thoughts of adultery (Lucy Liemann as "Jasmine").  This time his secretary is the sublimely stupid Vicky (Kerry Howard), my favorite new character.  Reggie's wife, Nicola, is now a school teacher who has little time for him between work and social causes.  Fay Ripley lacks the comic timing to liven up her not-that-funny lines and seems somewhat miscast in the role.

While season one ends with Reggie's mock suicide, it's never the "through the looking glass" experience it was in the original series--not only does a changed Reggie fail to return in another guise at the start of season two, he doesn't seem to have changed much at all.  Still, the storyline plods on with his subsequent takeover of Groomtech and creation of the intentionally-useless line of Grot products. 

By this point, the new series is an exercise in labored whimsy, joylessly rehashing things by rote without bringing anything new and imaginative into play.  Even Reggie's frequent revenge fantasies (such as killing his bosses in various ways) become monotonous.

The two-disc DVD from Acorn Media is in 16:9 widescreen with Dolby Digital sound and English subtitles.  The sole extra is a behind-the-scenes photo gallery.

REGGIE PERRIN: SET 1 may provide some laughs to viewers unfamiliar with "The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin", but I can't imagine it being a very memorable experience on its own.  The show seems to get tired of itself long before the final episode.

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