This Week in TV: Ashes to Ashes, Reggie Perrin and Louis Theroux – A Place for Paedophiles

Only a few shows this week as it’s been a rather uneventful week however what we did get was the return of one massive programme.

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That is of course Life on Mars spin-off Ashes to Ashes, a show which got a mixed response in its first series with everyone comparing it to its predecessor. The main problem is replacing John Simm’s Sam Tyler, a kind of Mancunian everyman with Keeley Hawes’ Alex Drake, a police psychologist with parental issues, who the writers didn’t give us a particular reason to care about. The best thing about the first series was the fact that the central character was a woman let there be a certain amount of sexual chemistry with the real star of the Mars/Ashes series Gene Hunt played with bravado by Philip Glenister. In fact they could’ve just done a spin-off with Hunt and his deputies and it would’ve been fine, except we found out that Gene as well as Chris Skelton and Ray Carling were coma fantasies dreamt up by Sam Tyler in Life on Mars. We arrive at the second series and it now gives us the clues that Alex is in fact in a hospital bed and there are clues that her doctor may have something to do with her disappearance. The story in the first episode revolved around a dead vice detective who died at a strip club dressed as a woman. The investigation lead to the fact that the vice department was corrupt and the head of vice was quick to inform Gene that he was on to him and that he was trying to cut down on the amount of corruption that went on. But then it turned out that not he himself may be corrupt, it seems the theme of corruption may run throughout this season and that is an interesting way to proceed. Similarly in the last season Alex was on her way to discovering the truth behind her parents’ separation but thankfully that boring plot has been put to one side and now the plot about her attacker and her eventual progression back to the present day may be in store. As with Life on Mars, the retro feel allows them to play with both the music and the references so Alex’s daughter sends her a message through an old episode of Grange Hill with Mrs. McLuskey and later she hears a coma fantasy through an Alsatian. The chemistry between Hunt and Drake still exists whether it will amount to anything remains to be seen, however the fact that Gene will ever settle down again remains unlikely. This episode spelt a return to form for a franchise that was on life support following Ashes Series One, apart from a series subplot involving Chris trying to prove to his WPC girlfriend that he didn’t like strippers by doing The Full Monty, this was a tight one hour of drama and hopefully in can maintain this over the next seven episodes.

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Another series that harked back to the 1980s and before that the 1970s was the remake of the classic Fall and Rise and Reginald Perrin. Now simply entitled Reggie Perrin it sees Martin Clunes replace the late Leonard Rossiter in the main role. Perrin is still stuck in a dead-end job with a big-headed boss, an emotionally detached wife and nightmare train journeys. The big question is though why remake one of the best sitcoms of all time? It’s like if Mitchell and Webb remade Blackadder or if Horne and Corden tried their hands at The Likely Lads (to be fair Ant and Dec already did this unsuccessfully). Not to say that Reggie Perrin isn’t good there’s a wealth of good gags and updating the show allows for modern technology to be made fun of. The e-mail for a start wasn’t around in the Rossiter days allowing spam e-mails to be a constant joke as are i-pods on the train journeys that Reggie gets on. Although the update also means certain changes for the characters, Fay Ripley (who also played Clunes’ wife in those Tesco adverts) as Mrs. Perrin is now a teacher and jumping from committee to committee as in the old version she was a housewife. Reggie’s boss is still as pompous as ever and as Chris, Neil Stuke gets to utter the immortal ‘I didn’t get where I am today’ line. Reggie’s object of desire in the workplace has been replaced by a new co-worker, while his P.A. is just another useful office-worker with her head in the air. The company Reggie works for is now a shaving company before it was desserts. One of the biggest gaps in the first episode was left by the character of Reggie’s brother-in-law played by Geoffrey Palmer, however his father-in-law appeared in the second episode with the same old line, ‘bit of a cock-up on the catering front’. Best of all is the replacement of the Doc with the company’s wellness expert who calls Reggie a sad little sausage every time he complains of his depression. At the end of the day, Reggie Perrin was about a man who didn’t feel valued at the workplace or at home and had delusional fantasises, these fantasies are still present and still funny however Clunes isn’t as good as Rossiter in showing Reggie’s inner torment and there lies the rub. A funny show with the comeback of the multi-camera sitcom, would be really good but because of the remake factor, Reggie Perrin doesn’t quite live up to its predecessor and there’s no sign of Clunes stripping off and jumping into the sea any time soon.

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And we end on a rather serious note with another masterpiece courtesy of the brilliant Louis Theroux. In his newest programme A Place for Paedophiles he once again journeys to California and this time to Coalinga Mental Hospital which is essentially a place that houses men who have served prison sentences for sex-related crimes and are now being kept away from the public. It is a grimly clinical setting as some men linger in rooms while others seek treatment for their behaviour. Theroux is eager to point out that is not a prison and these men are free to leave, most refusing treatment because they think they’ve served their time and none feel turned on by youths any more. This is a difficult subject for Theroux to tackle as he can’t use his brand of humour in the very humourless topic of paedophilia. The other thing that Theroux struggled with was forming too close a bond with the patients, one in particular a Mr. Rigsby (no Rising Damp references here) who was fond of his artwork, Theroux though later read his case-file and realised what he had done. And this was one of the jarring things about this programme when Theroux revealed some of the crimes of these men it was quite shocking. As was the way that the woman described the process in which they found out if they were rehabilitated or not, by showing them images of children in suggestive poses eating fruit etc and transposing this with neutral images. There were sinister tones such as the male voice choir of the hospital rehearsing a version of The Addams Family for the Halloween party. At the end of the day though these men have served their time and later in the programme Rigsby tries to get house however then there are the repercussions of people finding out what they’ve done. So Theroux theorised that Coalinga was more of safe haven away from the pickaxes and flaming torches that might meet these men when they come out. All in all this was another fascinating insight into a place we may not have seen if not for the brilliant investigative skills of Theroux.

Next Time: Best – His Mother’s Son and Boy Meets Girl

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