Friday, 1 May 2009

Reinventing Reggie

Once upon a time (back in the late 1970's to be precise) there was a popular sitcom called The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin. It featured Leonard Rossiter as a man gradually approaching a mid-life crisis fuelled by the ever-mounting irritations and frustrations of life. Running to three series, it was a huge hit with British TV audiences and now it's back, refreshed and recreated for 2009.

The first episode of the new series - simply titled Reggie Perrin - was shown last week and starred Martin Clunes in the title role. From what I've seen so far, it's a reasonable attempt to breathe some new life into an old comedy show, and that's not at all easy to do.

On occasions such as this when a classic show is practically re-written from scratch, the final product is often met with derision and negativity. That's because all the while you're watching the new version, your mind is picking up on the similarities to the old one instead of enjoying the programme itself.

It's only natural, after all it's the duty of the programme makers to give at least a slight nod in the direction of the original through visual or audible cues. That's certainly the case with Reggie Perrin right from the moment the remixed, reorchestrated version of the old theme tune is heard.

There's some subtle and not-so-subtle references to the old show (the 2009 version sees Reggie working for the company next door to Sunshine Desserts and his boss is 'Chris Jackson' rather than 'CJ') but Reggie Perrin never comes across as a direct like-for-like updating of the original scripts.

Those original scripts were written by David Nobbs and this time he's joined forces with Simon Nye (Men Behaving Badly) to rework the stories seen back in the 1970's complete with modern-day references and an altogether different actor playing Perrin himself.

So far, it seems the choice of Martin Clunes as counterpoint to Rossiter is an inspired one. He appears more than competent at conveying the annoyance which prompts Perrin to react so irrationally. While Rossiter played the role as an at times frantic and neurotic man, Clunes' character is calmer and more likable while being considerably more sarcastic, which is just as valid.

Having not yet seen the latter programmes in this new six-part series, one cannot comment on how Perrin's complete nervous breakdown is dealt with by Clunes but the signs so far suggest he'll make a very good job of it. What may not be as enjoyable to witness is the overreaction of the audience (presumably due to a laughter track) heard during Episode 1 last week. We can only hope the BBC adopt a more subtle approach to conveying the comedic qualities of the show in subsequent episodes.

All in all, then, this experiment in repackaging a once greatly admired programme may well prove to be a success itself, albeit not on the scale seen thirty years ago. There is, however, much to like and the relevance of Perrin's irritation with the world around him continues to this day. If you're looking for office chairs that make flatulent noises and stock footage of waddling hippopotami though, you're probably best off sticking with the original.

Reggie Perrin can be seen every Friday on BBC1 at 9.30 pm.



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