Mr. Sloane (and the Top 10 Depressing Sitcoms)
Coming to DVD next week, Mr. Sloane is one of the more unusual sitcoms we’ve seen on our TV screens in recent years. Set in Watford in 1969, the series stars Nick Frost as Jeremy Sloane, a man for whom the sixties did not swing, and one whom the decade’s ideals of rock & roll, free love and substance experimentation seem to have completely bypassed. Instead, Jeremy is a straight-laced accountant who fails in a suicide attempt after he loses his job and arrives home the same day to discover that his wife (played by Olivia Colman) is leaving him to ‘find herself’.
Jeremy’s attempt to reinvent himself as a supply teacher is short-lived when he is pelted with books and other items on his first day in the job, and his social life seems limited entirely to spending his evenings in the local pub with his three friends Reggie (Brendan Patricks), Ross (Peter Serafinowicz) and Beans (Lawry Lewin).
Anyone who hasn’t seen the series could be forgiven for thinking that sounds quite depressing, but think again: Mr. Sloane’s creator is Robert B. Weide, the producer behind shows like Larry David’s Curb Your Enthusiasm and the film How To Lose Friends & Alienate People. In other words, this is a man with considerable experience in turning situations that are ostensibly very awkward and depressing into something very, very funny.
So it is with Mr. Sloane. Nick Frost is excellent in his deadpan portrayal of the unfortunate Jeremy, while Peter Serafinowicz and co. are right on the money in their roles as Jeremy’s sympathetic but ultimately unhelpful friends. Things only start to pick up for Jeremy when he meets Robin, an American girl who takes a shine to the down-on-his-luck former accountant and may yet be able to help him turn his life around.
Sometimes heart-breaking, sometimes hilarious, but always entertaining, Mr. Sloane is a very British sitcom, but it’s far from being the only situation comedy where the situation in question is more than a little depressing, so we picked out ten of our favourites…
10. Twenty Twelve
Starring Hugh Bonneville and Jessica Hynes, Twenty Twelve is set during the final run-up to the 2012 Olympic Games and brilliantly satirises not only the way the Games were organised, but also the way they were promoted. Hynes is outstanding as the apparently clueless head of public relations and Bonneville’s perpetual state of harassed bemusement is often excruciating to watch as he tries to cut through seemingly endless bureaucracy. What makes Twenty Twelve really depressing though is that you can never quite shake the sense that it’s closer to the truth than you’d like to believe.
Starring the late Rik Mayall and Adrian Edmonson as Richard Richard and Edward Elizabeth Hitler, Bottom features two of the saddest losers you could ever imagine living in what might just be the worst flat in Hammersmith. Along with their mates Dave Hedgehog and Spudgun, these four misfits are useless, charmless alcoholics whose combined sexual conquests amount to little more than sneakily leafing through the underwear section of a Littlewoods catalogue. Thankfully though, as well as being very depressing it’s also one of the best examples of slapstick comedy in the modern era.
8. The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole
Adapted from the novels of Sue Townsend, The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 3/4 brought the acne-ridden teenage intellectual from Leicestershire to our screens for the first time. Socially awkward and infatuated with Pandora, a girl ridiculously out of his league, Adrian consoles himself by writing some of the worst poetry ever witnessed and jotting down his many thoughts in his diary. For many the sense of adolescent awkwardness will be all too familiar, but you can’t help but laugh at the lovelorn thirteen year old taking himself so seriously.
7. Arrested Development
Mitchell Hurwitz’s fly-on-the-wall style sitcom details the lives of the Bluths, a family so dysfunctional they make The Simpsons look normal. Tobias’ limited acting abilities are surpassed only by Gob’s spectacular ineptitude as a magician, but they both look like masters of their own destiny compared to the hapless, child-minded Buster. If this is representative of the modern family unit, we should all be very depressed indeed. But is it funny? You bet it is...
6. The League of Gentlemen
6. The League of Gentlemen
Occasionally depressing, often downright weird but always very funny, this ground-breaking series set in the fictional village of Royston Vasey contains some very sad characters indeed, including failed rock star Les, cursed veterinarian Matthew Chinnery who kills every animal he touches, and basically everyone at the job centre. Part sketch show, part sitcom, The League of Gentlemen is one of the most original shows we’ve produced in recent years and though it is usually hilarious, there’s no getting away from the fact that some of its funniest characters are also very depressing indeed.
5. The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret
David Cross stars as Todd Margaret, an American who blags his way into a job in London as the sales director for an energy drinks company, the first of many poor decisions he makes as his life spirals steadily out of control. With no real experience, no understanding of the British and only one employee, Todd is on the fast track to nowhere and he knows it. Depressing and hilarious at equal turns, this is highly recommended
4. I’m Alan Partridge
The follow-up to Knowing Me, Knowing You…, I’m Alan Partridge finds Norfolk’s most famous television personality down on his luck. With his chat show cancelled and his marriage over, Alan finds himself living in a travel tavern where he is a laughing stock among the hotel staff and his only friends are Michael, the Geordie hotel porter, and his secretary Lynne. The series charts Alan’s increasingly desperate attempts to secure a second series of his chat show as he alienates everyone around him through a mixture of selfishness and social awkwardness. So depressing at times it’s cringeworthy, but thanks to Armando Iannucci’s writing it remains incredibly funny.
3. The Office
Ricky Gervais’ mockumentary series broke the mould for what a sitcom should be and has influenced countless other shows as well as spawning as U.S. version starring Steve Carrell, but the office of the Slough-based paper company is filled with some of the most depressing characters imaginable, not least the comically delusional David Brent. Office bullying, embarrassing bosses, even the doomed office romance, The Office has it all. It’s watch-through-your-fingers stuff at times, but it it’s as funny as it is awkward.
2. Nighty Night
Created by and starring Julia Davis, Nighty Night is a comedy so bleak it’s barely even a sitcom, but as dark as the humour may be, it is still very, very funny. Featuring an impressive cast that includes Rob Brydon, Rebecca Front, Ruth Jones, Kevin Eldon and Mark Gatiss, the real star here is Davis’ own character Jill, a woman so self-absorbed she is borderline sociopathic. One of the best examples is a scene in which Jill uses Tarot cards to dish out some truly horrendous marriage advice to her friend Cathy (Front). It’s certainly depressing, but it also showcases what a brilliant comedy writer Davis is.
1. The Fall & Rise of Reginald Perrin
Based on the novels by David Nobbs, The Fall & Rise of Reginald Perrin has one of the most depressing and bizarre concepts we’ve ever seen in a sitcom. Stuck in a rut in his middle-management job, harassed by his boss, harbouring fantasises about his secretary and struggling with his marriage due to ‘erectile dysfunction’, Reggie decides to fake his own death. Leaving his job and family behind, Reggie creates a new identity for himself and opens a shop called Grot, a place which sells useless items that he assumes will be a spectacular failure, only to see it become a huge success. His attempts to sabotage the business by hiring incompetents repeatedly fail as each of them reveals hidden talents. The original series starring Leonard Rossiter is hands down the most depressing sitcom ever, but it’s also very funny and one of the most unique shows you’ll ever see.