Friday, 24 April 2009

Reggie Perrin, BBC One

I've reviewed Reggie Perrin here for Orange. Sadly, it's not a glowing recommendation...

I should point out that I'm not a hater and I hadn't written it off before I watched it. While I enjoyed the original series, I'm sure there are modern concerns that would push the twenty-first century Reggie over the edge just as much as his 70s counterpart.

But the thing that stuck in my craw with Reggie Perrin was just how antiquated the whole thing seemed, from the squawking and intrusive laughter track to some of the ancient-looking beige sets, which don't look like anyone's house that I've been in since 1980.

Since The Office and The Royle Family blew the doors off the sitcom with their single-camera filming and rejection of the laughter track, the 'dark' approach that seemed to become pretty much the default setting for new sitcoms would have suited Reggie's inner bleakness perfectly.

Instead, it's like punk never happened. If you know what I mean...

From what I've seen, it's been a mixed year for British sitcoms so far. On the one hand, the energetic and imaginative Plus One seems to fall through the cracks, while the joy-sapping and utterly unconvincing Free Agents got all the love.

Meanwhile, Moving Wallpaper generally failed to impress (there wasn't much to it outside Ben Miller's monstrous producer), but at least The Inbetweeners is still causing squirms of embarassed recognition. FM had its moments as well; once you got past the cringey on-air 'banter', the plots and characters worked well.

Sadly, I'm drumming my fingers and awaiting the return of 30 Rock, Curb Your Enthusiasm, The Office (US) and Entourage.


Sofluid said...

I must say that, judging by the adverts, I wasn't too impressed from the offset with this comedy.

Unfortunately I haven't seen the original show, so felt less compelled to watch it. Alas I didn't watch it. Therefore I'm not really in any position to comment on its content and clarity, but, as I said before, from the offset and judging by the adverts, it wasn't too appealing to me.

It seemed to have the usual cheesy lines associated with canned-laughter comedy. When I see an advertisement for a comedy, I want to see real wit and originality.

Personally, I love shows like The IT Crowd and oldies like Spaced. My Family was pretty good for a while, until it dried up, but they continued anyway and now I just think the whole thing's a bit weak.

I think comedy is incredibly hard to write though. In my opinion it's one of the hardest genres to write with an original voice.

Tom Murphy said...

"oldies like Spaced"

God 'elp me...

Tom Murphy said...

I think you've probably got a point about the effect the production style has on the comedy.

If something's being filmed in the studio with an audience, I guess it'll always look for the 'easy wins' - the punchline or bit of physical comedy that'll get the big laugh.

I suppose the chandelier episode of Only Fools and Horses exemplified that - a brilliant comedy moment with the rest of the episode contriving to lead up to it.

Alternatively, something that takes a more filmic approach will go for the slow burn - although there's always a danger that the dramatic bit will outweigh the gags. I think that was my problem with Free Agents; the jokes weren't funny enough to compensate for the unconvincing dramatic bits.

The shows I've enjoyed most recently are those that keep the gags coming and flirt with the absurd - stuff like Plus One, 30 Rock and The IT Crowd.

Robin Kelly said...

You're right about audience sitcoms in that they do have to go for the simple laugh and can't do anything too subtle but wanting people to laugh out loud isn't a bad goal for comedy writers.

The problem is that if you don't find it funny you notice the audience laughing but if you do find it funny you don't notice the audience. I'm Alan Partidge series 1 was very funny, series 2 was awful. People were convinced, wrongly, that series 1 didn't have a studio audience and complained about it being added to series 2.

While I love single-camera comedies, too often they're not funny. In fact on more than one occasion the BBC have announced commissioning a sitcom and then when it is delivered or aired one episode they begin calling it a comedy-drama or even drama to reduce expectations that there will be actually anything funny in it.

Writing for an audience forces you to raise your game but as Shell says comedy is much harder to do than drama.

However, to prove how subjective the whole comedy thing can be, I thought Plus One was contrived and lacked truth and so had few funny moments while Free Agents felt totally true and I found it hilarious.

Poorskeleton said...

No. No. No.

A grand idea spoilt by a really intrusive laughter track. Anyone who is old enough to remember the horror of watching the American versions of MASH (with laughter track) when one had been brought up on the British version (sans canned laughter) will realise how ghastly it is.

I know when something is funny and I will laugh at the funy bits. Please god do not make me listen to the braying of some hyped-up audience that have apparently been tagged on from some 60's sitcom (may even be the original laughter track from Perrin of the 70s).

I hope that this is some incredibly ironic nod to the 70's and it will be removed as we get used to the idea that this is the 90's. Otherwise Mr Nobbs mantlepiece will be reduced to a stock laughing.

Poorskeleton said...

ok I may have ended up on here twice (thrice) apologies... Put it down to computer based aggravation.

Sofluid said...

Re: Tom ""oldies like Spaced"

God 'elp me..."

Ok, so maybe I was a little hasty in my usage of the word "oldies".

How this for an oldy though! I rather like the comedy Steptoe and Son!