They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Let's hope the late Leonard Rossiter agreed with that sentiment. Reggie Perrin is a remake of a classic 1970s sitcom that starred Rossiter as the eponymous businessman having a mid-life crisis. This update has been co-written by creator David Nobbs alongside Simon Nye (who wrote Men Behaving Badly), with the star of that '90s sitcom, Martin Clunes, bravely taking the lead role...
A few things have changed by necessity: Reggie now works at Groomtech making men's razors (next door to the original's Sunshine Desserts office), and there are the expected cultural updates -– like train commuters with their heads stuck in laptops or iPods. Yet it's all very old-fashioned, really -- in its format (studio-set, live audience), middle-of-the-road jokes that lack any bite, and supporting players with unfunny, exaggerated personalities (a miserable, monosyllabic secretary; two young, sycophantic employees, etc.)
Martin Clunes is definitely the best thing about it; a genuinely likeable and watchable comic performer, who has the hangdog world-weariness of the character down pat, minus Rossiter's twitchy volatility. Consequently, Clunes' Reggie is more winsome and predictable, but also more charismatic. There's also promise in casting Fay Ripley as his wife Nicola, whose own life is full of distractions from her dour husband, and I quite liked Lucy Liemann (Moving Wallpaper) as a sexy co-worker called Jasmine whom Reggie's smitten with.
The sitcom's iconic daydreams (where Reggie's life suddenly takes a silly turn, before we snap back to tedious reality) also worked nicely –- although these moments did become predictable and easy to spot. And I'm not sold on Neil Stuke as Reggie's boss C.J (ahem, Chris Jackson), either. They've cast someone much younger than the original's John Barron, but Stuke seems to be playing the character as an older man, oddly.
Reggie Perrin can't hold a candle to its 1976-79 predecessor, but it wasn't anywhere near as awful as I was expecting it to be. Most of this is down to Clunes' performance, although I'm not sure even he's good enough to keep us watching once the novelty wears off. Still, it's much better than David Nobbs' 1996 attempt to revive the show, which unwisely based the whole show around the aftermath of Reggie's death because Rossiter had died in 1984! Still, you'd think the presence of Men Behaving Badly's creator would have resulted in something a bit more radical and progressive than this weak imitator
24 April 2009 BBC1, 9.30pm
Writers: David Nobbs Director: Tristram Shapeero
Cast: Martin Clunes (Reginald Perrin), Fay Ripley (Nicola Perrin), Neil Stuke (Chris Jackson), Lucy Liemann (Jasmine Strauss), Jim Howick (Anthony), Nick Mohammed (Steve), Kerry Howard (Vicky), Susan Earl (Wellness Person), Laurence Howarth (Colin) & Justin Edwards (Monty)