Thursday, January 22, 2009

“I didn’t get where I am today by not recognizing a bad idea when I see one…”

I got an e-mail a couple of hours ago that alerted me to news from that Shout! Factory will finish out the 1966-71 Marlo Thomas sitcom That Girl on May 5th. (It should be said, however, that no official announcement from the Factory has been released—only that some sharp-eyed TV-on-DVD fan spotted a pre-order listing on Always encouraging to hear the word that a series will be completed on disc (Factory did the same thing last November with McHale’s Navy)—though they’re not entirely pure as the driven snow when it comes to these things (there’s a second season of The Bill Cosby Show that has yet to surface).

I went over to the website to see if there were any more announcements I should know about, and was excited to learn that Infinity will release the third and final collection in their Suspense: The Lost Episodes series March 17th. I have the previous two sets in the dusty Thrilling Days of Yesteryear archives, and they really are must-haves for any fan of the long-running radio series even though they are episodes from t--------n, as my pal Joe Mackey is wont to refer to the glass furnace. Also of interest to classic TV fans: a collection of “lost” Davey and Goliath episodes, due to be re-released April 7th. (You remember Davey and Goliath—it was that series you had to sit through before the real cartoons came on Saturday mornings.) According to the TVShows announcement, this set was actually released back in September of 2007 but quickly went out-of-print (and some reports state the collection never got released at all); fortunately for all of its fans, the series has been restored to its full fortunes.

But the news that really caught my eye is that Koch Vision will be bringing the classic Britcom The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin to DVD, a most welcome bit of news to those fans who remember watching the series on public television stations during the late 70s/early 80s and discovering what a superb comic concoction it was—with character great Leonard Rossiter as Reginald Iolanthe Perrin, a middle-aged ice cream executive comically experiencing a mid-life crisis. (Perrin also featured several actors who would later go on to bigger and better things, notably Geoffrey Palmer, who co-starred with Dame Judi Dench in the sitcom chestnut As Time Goes By.) The details are still a little sketchy on this one, but as of this posting the set will be due out May 5th (and a week later in our neighbor to the North).

Now, if you have a region-free DVD player this probably won’t seem like a big thing—Second Sight/BBC Worldwide Ltd. released the entire series in a Region 2 set back in October 2003, so it has been available for quite some time. The blurb at TVShows says there were 22 episodes over three series (the 22nd is apparently a “Christmas cracker” [Yuletide special]) but I think that special is a figment of someone’s imagination because all the sources I checked state there were only twenty-one. It’s been some time since I looked at the episodes on the set, but I remember the first and second series as being hysterically funny, while the third series (it has its moments) can’t quite measure up to the previous ones. Perrin was brought over to these shores and adapted in an American version (Reggie) that starred Richard Mulligan in the Rossiter role and lasted about seventeen minutes. (Honest to my grandma, it was that bad.)

No, what intrigued me about the news of this DVD release was a link to this article that announces that the Beeb is doing a new version of the sitcom (to be titled Perrin), starring Martin Clunes as the harried executive…and I’m not certain this is a good idea.

Here are the pluses: the series will be a joint project between David Nobbs (the show’s creator, who based the program on a series of novels he wrote) and Simon Nye, the man responsible for one of the best Britcoms from the 90s, Men Behaving Badly. (This explains the presence of Clunes, who starred in that series.) Clunes is an engaging actor; though I have to admit I’ve only seen his comedic turns in Badly and an earlier BBC series No Place Like Home (Brent McKee has seen Clunes do drama, and if Brent likes him his say-so is good enough for me). The revival series will also feature Fay Ripley (whom I’ve seen in Cold Feet and How Do You Want Me?) and one of the grande dames of situation comedy, Wendy Craig (Not in Front of the Children, And Mother Makes Three/Five, Butterflies). There’s been a real positive buzz generated about the revival; according to BBC-1’s controller Jay Hunt: “It feels as fresh and sharp now as it did all those years ago.”

Now for the minus—and it’s a big one. Leonard Rossiter, the sitcom’s original Reggie, is still dead. Rossiter, who took the role and singularly made it his own (even surpassing his other classic creation, the weaselly Rupert Rigsby from Rising Damp) has provided Clunes with some tremendously big shoes to fill. This idea is nothing new, though; in 1996, the Beeb tried a revival series entitled The Legacy of Reginald Perrin, which reunited most of the original cast in a short-lived comedy that found the titled character deceased and the “heirs” in his will performing acts of absurdity in order to benefit. (I’ve not had the privilege of seeing Legacy but from the accounts that I’ve read, it was a pretty dismal affair.) Author Nobbs, who wrote this series as well, wisely chose to kill off the Perrin character because he knew no one would be able to replace Rossiter; somebody must have opened up a big honkin’ checkbook to insure his participation in this new venture.

The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin was a one-of-a-kind sitcom; a series that broke a lot of the conventional BBC light entertainment rules in that it was one of the first “serializations” of a popular novel that caught on with the public as comedy rather than drama. The BBC article doesn’t state why the decision was made to remake the series, but since I’m hard-pressed to think of any show that became a success by being an update of a former series, I have to assume that there are going to be a great many fans disappointed.


Kliph Nesteroff said...

Davey and Goliath was definitely already released. I rented it over a year ago. Actually it seems more like two years ago, altho if that release date is correct I guess my memory is wrong.

The Baby said...

Aw jeez, now I cannot get "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God" out of my head.

Matthew Coniam said...

Britain calling...
You'd better believe we're disappointed! It's appalling!!!
'Legacy of Reginald Perrin' was pretty desperate, but it's a masterpiece compared to this monstrosity!