Saturday, August 09, 2008

Rising From The Descent

My recent blog post on sitcoms with the theme of A Descent Into Madness has been bugging me. Or more specifically, one particular sitcom I put on the list. It is still definitely about madness but it turns the genre quite brilliantly on its head. It is of course The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin.

Consider the evidence (I've always wanted to say that). Reggie Perrin is not mad but has strong Walter Mitty characteristics and yearns to escape his humdrum existence. He is unfortunately surrounded by mad people who vex him at every turn. Brother-in-law Jimmy is convinced communists and fifth columnists are lurking in every wardrobe waiting to take over the country. CJ, his boss, is utterly unaware of what is going on around him yet his pomposity convinces him he's the most influential man in the room. Doc Morrisey is the incompetent and paranoid company doctor. Tom, the son-in-law, combines delusional eccentricity whilst also being crushingly dull. Finally, there is Reggie's wife Elizabeth, who actually isn't quite mad, but has a mischevious desire to surprise people with moments of exquisite strangeness.

Reggie has to put up with all this, finally deciding the only way to survive these people is to pretend to be mad himself. This begins by faking his own death and then attending his funeral disguised as someone else. Realising he misses his wife terribly, he continues to adopt a series of disguises in order to continue seeing her. She of course recognises it is him immediately but doesn't tell him because he seems to so much enjoy being somebody else. Finally they remarry, him still believing she believes he is someone else. Eventually, he is so much re-immersed back into his old life, albeit as a different person, he realises he is pretty much back where he started. Brilliant.

Reggie then returns to being Reggie and decides one last throw is needed to escape the boredom. He open a shop called Grot selling things he is sure nobody will want to buy, convinced that failure is now his only means of escape. It is a massive success despite Reggie's best efforts to fill the shops with increasingly useless products. People snap them up as interesting novelties. Reggie, still determined to destroy the business which is now thriving, employs all the mad people in roles to which they are utterly unsuited, but within the culture of Grot, they of course thrive.

Of my original list, The Fall and Rise of Reginald (Iolanthe) Perrin is one of my favourites. For a sitcom, it manages to explore some very dark ideas. I haven't seen a complete episode in 20 years but I've just had a quick recap via a few YouTube excerpts and it is as brilliant now as it was 20 years ago.

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