Tuesday, February 6, 2018

One Foot in the Grave

Growing up in the '90s and non-discriminatorily watching pretty much whatever comedy was on, I hadn't spared a thought for Victor Meldrew in the years since. It wasn't until I noticed that the series was written by David "Jonathan Creek" Renwick that I took notice and revisited it as an older, wiser, more judgemental tosspot.

If, like me, your memories of this deceptively traditional sitcom only go as far as Richard Wilson saying his catchphrase and a few accidental pet deaths, I'd recommend giving it another watch.

I don't key-lieve it:

Comic Relief special
Christmas special
Real-time episode

Alive and Buried (1x01) ****

I would never have considered giving this quintessential 90s sitcom a dedicated re-watch if not for the pleasant discovery that it was another brainchild of David "Jonathan Creek" Renwick. When I thought back to childhood memories of the eternally unfortunate and irascible Victor Meldrew and his wife who is the definition of long-suffering, I remembered it being funny enough - but that was before my annoying critical faculties kicked in, when I'd give pretty much anything with a laugh track a try. Was this one of the good ones that I'd unfairly reduced to a catch-phrase in my mind?

It stands up extremely well. I'm only a few episodes in, but I'm already confident it's up there with the finest sitcoms of all time. Even more impressively, I think my grandparents thought the same thing, or at least my granddad did, and it's always nice to find unlikely things that bridge the generations. My nana really liked Jonathan Creek too, Mr. Renwick truly has a gift.

This first episode is the 'origin' of the show's premise, which I can't say I was ever aware of, as Victor is forced into early retirement from his long-serving office job when they develop a box that can do the same job to a better standard. After spending some time moping around the house and monologuing to himself, his subsequent attempts to make something out of his empty life inevitably lead to misery and frustration as the universe conspires to dump him in misunderstood situations. Expect that to be the basic formula for the 40-odd episodes ahead.
"It's not been a very good week, has it? Perhaps an electric fire in the bath might be the answer" - Victor Meldrew

The Big Sleep (1x02) ***

Victor gets a bit preoccupied with death, which is perfectly understandable since everyone around him seems to be dropping like flies.

The sinister tone that the series would increasingly plough in the years ahead is firmly set here, with the quite shocking death of a yoga instructor mid-meditation that the studio audience seems perfectly game for. Anyone at home who had hopes of another cosy sitcom detailing the light-hearted misadventures of a sweet old couple is in for a shock.

I love Victor's observation that the birds unfailingly choose to crap on his side of the fence. The universe truly has it in for him, and as we see, God's in for a good talking to when his time comes.
"That's another evening of rip-roaring, humdingery entertainment drawn to a close then" - Victor Meldrew

The Valley of Fear (1x03) *****

There's a lot packed in to these 30 minutes. Firstly, there's the infamous frozen cat debacle that apparently led to record complaints and secures the series' 'dark' reputation (fewer were as affronted by the fitness instructor croaking the previous week).

There's also the incident in which Victor accidentally locks an elderly woman in the loft for 24 hours, whose desperate knocking is unfortunately a dead ringer for the noisy central heating. Poor Victor really isn't to blame a lot of the time; that's one of the reasons he's so bloody loveable.

Meanwhile, Victor headlines a neighbourhood watch committee of the old folks in response to increasing levels of crime and hooliganism from the local lads, and if you've ever seen an episode of the series before you'll already know that by the end, Victor has proven to be the greatest menace to society of all. It's the morbidly fascinating journey that's so entertaining.
"How's it supposed to have kept warm? Rubbed two fish fingers together to start a fire?" - Victor Meldrew

I'll Retire to Bedlam (1x04) ***

Victor's relentless moaning is starting to wind Margaret right up, but you can't blame him as he's trapped in the shed by escaped bees, forced to babysit for monstrous grand-nephews and implausibly locked in overnight at the opticians.
"I wonder what bounteous joys the rest of the week has in store. Bubonic plague? Nest of scorpions in the hoover bag?" - Victor Meldrew

The Eternal Quadrangle (1x05) ***

Margaret gets suspicious when Victor starts doing odd jobs for a woman artist who sidelines as a nude model, while her own admirer gets the wrong end of the stick. There's a brief sub-plot about crossed wires in the telephone system, which might be some kind of ingenious metaphor for the situation. Let's just say it isn't up to Renwick's Jonathan Creek standard.
"I don't think I've got any naked men to keep me company. Fresh out, I'm afraid" - Margaret Meldrew

The Return of the Speckled Band (1x06) ****

There are lots of characters involved in this one, from the Meldrews' long-suffering neighbor Mrs Warboys whom Victor accidentally poisons and feeds live alligator eggs to a man feigning disability so as not to be awkward and an escaped seven-foot python.

Victor actually gets off comparatively lightly in this one, or at least his ultimate horror is cruelly left to our imaginations after the closing titles.
"I don't believe it!" - Victor Meldrew

In Luton Airport, No One Can Hear You Scream (2x01) ***

Not having had the best time in Athens, the Meldrews return to find their home has been destroyed, and Victor's inevitable outbursts when wandering the ruins to find newspapers and free samples still being delivered through the freestanding front door doesn't elicit any sympathy from their erstwhile neighbours.

Moving into their new home, apparently the site of a grisly suicide, Victor is unenthused to be reunited with Nick from the first episode, who's devoted to his invisible live-in mother and over-familiar with his new neighbours in a way that sets the status quo for the rest of the series. Now we just need Angus Deayton to move in on the other side.
"Twenty-five years it took to grow that apple tree. I planted it in the spring of 1965. Feeding it, spraying it, mulching the soil, washing it through the droughts, giving it an annual dressing of potash and hydrogen every January. Not one sodding apple" - Victor Meldrew

We Have Put Her Living in the Tomb (2x02) *****

That was the nastiest one yet, upping the dead animal ante with two tortoises, both of which meet their maker in quite horrific ways. Naturally, this is the episode I remember most strongly from childhood. I wonder whether it received more or fewer complaints than that time Victor found a cat in the freezer?

The usual contrived misconceptions are also taken up a notch here, though experienced viewers will have been able to project plot developments as soon as the stray suicide note was introduced.
"It's all gone now. There's no more pastry" - Victor Meldrew

Dramatic Fever (2x03) ***

The Meldrews are trying to make the most of their twilight existence as Margaret gets back in to amateur dramatics while Victor writes a terrible sitcom. We don't find out whether it features a world-weary retiree and his suffering wife, so the show doesn't descend into Larry Sanders/Seinfeld-season-four-style metafiction and alienate the casual audience who survived all the animal murders.

Elsewhere in the story, Victor's long-running feud with litter bugs reaches its dramatic conclusion and he ends up with an overflow pipe round his neck. His intentions were noble. Why does he have to suffer so?
"Is that the sort of thrill you get when you plug your finger into a light socket?" - Victor Meldrew

Who Will Buy? (2x04) ***

The Meldrews' absent neighbours Patrick and Pippa (Angus Deayton and Janine Duvitski) are now in play, but an awkward evening watching an incomplete Poirot and helping Victor's ventriloquist dummy go to the lavatory are just the beginning of their woes.

While crossed wires and odd personalities keep things reliably funny on Victor's side, Margaret gets a story involving the cruel murder of a blind man, with several jokes at the expense of him not being able to see. I usually admire this show's bleak excesses, but I guess I have some limits after all. Evidently I have more compassion for humans than tortoises, does that make me a terrible person?
"Is it possible for me to go on after someone else other than Orphanage Explosion? It just seems a rather tricky act to follow" - Victor Meldrew

Love and Death (2x05) ****

Victor and Margaret are invited by friends to stay at their busy boarding house out in the country, where Victor accidentally glues a glass to his head, gets beaten up by dwarves, receives an unwelcome reminder of his own mortality and has to avoid the flirtations of their host.

Apparently not having got any for some good while, the Meldrews also wind up believing they were mutually taken advantage of, and get their sweet, inappropriate revenge. They don't mean to be terrible people.
"Those swing bin liners aren't made for cormorants" - Vince Bluett

Timeless Time (2x06) ***

I admire this episode for trying something different, but it is sadly a little boring. Taking place entirely in the Meldrews' bedroom as they struggle to get to sleep thanks to a hypersensitive car alarm, in exaggerated real time, this would translate to stage extremely well, but I can imagine casual viewers switching over when it came back around in repeats.

Still, its sharp focus and dialogue-heavy script do offer plenty of gems, as Victor's contemplations range from the trivial to the deeply philosophical and their reminiscing uncovers a tragedy from the past. Then Victor mistakes a dead hedgehog for his slipper to break the seriousness of the moment.
"I wonder what the point is in living. It doesn't seem to get you anywhere, does it?" - Victor Meldrew

Who's Listening? ***

The first Christmas special is double the length of a normal episode, and as expected it packs an awful lot in. From an unwanted delivery of 263 garden gnomes to Victor's acting debut as the back half of a pantomime cow, a temporary hostage situation, an expensive mistake involving a bottle of vintage plonk and a Christmas miracle, there's sure to be something for everyone, but it isn't up there with the classic sitcom specials.

More interesting for loyal viewers is Victor's sentimental side getting a rare chance to shine, even if the universe doesn't treat him any better as a result, as well as Margaret going completely mental and Patrick being firmly established as Victor's aggrieved foil as he gets his shooty revenge.
- "She's got a very infectious laugh."
- "So does a hyena with anthrax" - Margaret and Victor

The Man in the Long Black Coat ****

Victor and Patrick's neighbourly rivalry has continued at pace since last Christmas, which is an entertaining comic strip in itself. It's not enough to sustain an entire extended episode though, so Victor also has his haemmoroid trouble made public and becomes a menace to society again when some dodgy manure bought for his allotment transpires to be radioactive.

There's typical morbid mistaken identity when Victor believes he's been entrusted with Nick's mother's ashes and proceeds to spill them on the carpet, but if that wasn't dark enough for you there's a miscarriage thrown in too, because it wouldn't be a One Foot in the Grave special without five minutes of solemn tragedy.
"I've seen you trying to train Mrs Lacey's cat to be sick on his rockery" - Margaret Meldrew

Monday Morning Will Be Fine (3x01) ***

The Meldrews have been burgled with the aid of their neighbours, and Victor tries to look on the bright side by finding ways to fill the hours until death in ways other than watching TV. Unfortunately and inevitably, their attempts at social interaction backfire terribly thanks to a case of mistaken identity, lies pile on top of each other, and Victor is apprehended by the authorities again. Still, it keeps him occupied.
"I've been arrested, apparently. I won't be a tick" - Victor Meldrew

Dreamland (3x02) ***

Another shake-up of standard sitcom form by Mr Renwick, this one is presented as a red herring murder tale with intermittent narration by Mrs Warboys, just one of many hints in the series pointing towards the writer's infatuation with the mystery genre that would be fully realised in Jonathan Creek.

I'd say Margaret is pushed to her limit by her husband in this episode, but really it's no more the case here than in most of the previous installments. Meanwhile, Victor reluctantly buys dead man's shoes and is molested by a horny chimp in a finale that's no less amusing just for being so inevitable.
"Chimpanzees, orangutans, the lot. We never have fathomed out why they find him so erotic" - Margaret Meldrew

The Broken Reflection (3x03) ****

Victor receives an unwelcome visit from his idiot brother, who's good for slapstick. Patrick and Pippa go on holiday again and foolishly trust their house to the Meldrews' care, so they only have themselves to blame. I don't have a lot to say about it, but it's a good one.
"Might just as well go away for the week and ask the Terminator to come in and water our plants, we'd sleep a lot easier" - Patrick Trench

The Beast in the Cage (3x04) *****

Another real-time experimental episode, the Meldrews being stuck in a bank holiday traffic jam is a lot more entertaining than that time they couldn't sleep, and still just as bleakly philosophical. I'd be surprised if this wasn't my favourite episode of the whole series, but I'm not even half-way through yet.

There haven't been as many real stand-out episodes of the series as I expected (so far), but this has got to be up there with the sitcom greats, and captures Victor at his put-upon best as we join him 4.5 hours into a stare-off with a horse's rear end. The way things escalate in spite of the cramped setting is brilliant, as Mrs Warboys returns from the pub half way through and the outside world increasingly intervenes until Victor has enough and winds up the windows, only to be heckled by a recorded singalong from his aggravated car mechanics.
- "I wish I was dead."
- "I wish you were dead" - Victor and Margaret

Beware the Trickster on the Roof (3x05) ***

Patrick and Pippa fail to find any interested buyers for their house thanks to its undesirable location next to Victor Meldrew, while Victor and Margaret are similarly burdened by a bad luck charm. Though in fairness to scepticism, their misfortunes are no more extreme than usual, as Victor unintentionally orders a toy taxi instead of the real thing and a misprint lands Margaret with an urban cow.

I confess to having recorded the sound of noisy workmen myself, this is a pretty clear reflection of my future.
"That's not a teddy bear, that's the Abominable Doctor Phibes in a fur coat" - Margaret Meldrew

The Worst Horror of All (3x06) ***

Victor spends time in the emergency room and lands a new job for several minutes before realising he's had it with human interaction in general. He and Margaret also accidentally babysit the wrong old man and hide in the dark to avoid an undesired visit from 'friends,' and Victor can't believe the things that are ending up in his skip. The audience has taken a shine to that catch-phrase now.
"Talk about undignified, having to lie there while two student nurses sponge your genitals with turps. One more joke about rubbing me up the wrong way, they'd have been reporting to the casualty department" - Victor Meldrew

The Pit and the Pendulum (4x01) ****

Starting a new year by ticking all the boxes, Victor's comic strip style feuding with neighbour Patrick continues at pace, there are misunderstandings galore and the highest animal body count yet.

Seasoned viewers won't be able to relax after Patrick's cute sausage puppy is introduced, but fortunately it makes it through the episode unscathed. The series does have some limits after all.
"They're talking about us. I just caught the words 'arsehole think he's playing at'" - Victor Meldrew

Descent into the Maelstrom (4x02) ***

There's more of a focus on Margaret this time, as her mother's recent passing coupled with 35 years of marriage to Victor finally sees her collapse under nervous exhaustion. Victor's attempts to take care of the home go about as well as you'd expect, and a middle-of-the-road episode turns into something special by the end with some cracking revelations.

No one died today, though Nick spends about half of the episode flat out on the Meldrews' kitchen floor.
"WILL YOU SHUT THE F... front door quietly when you go out later?" - Margaret Meldrew

Hearts of Darkness (4x03) ****

This series gets darker all the time, and I'm all for it. What starts as an unfortunate day out in the country for the Meldrews and friends ends up in a more disturbing place as Victor chances upon a home for the elderly run by abusive staff.

There are plenty of laughs before old people start getting beaten and the titters ebb away. Highlights include the gang getting stuck in a boat, Victor and Mrs Warboys getting stuck in cement and Victor's altercations with other road users again (he shouldn't be let out of the house).

The whole thing's shot on location, at the tail end of the period when that still meant a distinctive washed-out look, and the soundtrack is more dominant than usual in its ominous tones. If you were a foreign visitor to the United Kingdom tuning in for your first taste of British humour, you would be understandably confused.
"Excuse me, what language are you talking in now? It appears to be bollocks" - Victor Meldrew

Warm Champagne (4x04) ****

Victor has now managed to piss off pretty much everyone in the neighbourhood, including some with artistic skills and evident time on their hands, and his customary bad luck continues as a freak milk tanker accident sends a lamp post through his bedroom window and a misreading delivers an elderly woman into his bed. Meanwhile, Margaret flirts with the notion of adultery, further proof that she's probably the most developed of these caricatures.

Personally, I'm still more titillated by the trivial and petty neighbourly feud that this week sees Victor being forced to search through several weeks' worth of dog excrement to retrieve his shed keys. It's been a while since Patrick got his comeuppance now, this must all be building to something.

I'm always confused when watching mid-90s shows how the characters use much worse word processors than we had bundled with our Amiga. I guess the idea was that audiences would be confused without the green text.
"He's the most sensitive person I've ever met. And that's why I love him, and why I constantly want to ram his head through a television screen" - Margaret Meldrew

The Trial (4x05) ****

It's back to basics and then some in the most stripped down episode yet. As soon as the tortoiseless opening titles introduced Richard Wilson as the sole star, it was clear we were in for something special, and while it isn't exactly up there with my favourites, I do superficially love it when David Renwick shakes up tradition. He seems to do that in about half the episodes, to be fair.

Victor is stuck at home alone, on call for a jury service that never arrives, and his pointless pottering and hypochondria are amplified. Wilson doesn't let down in this one man show, veering between musing philosophically about insect murder and yelling down the phone to off-screen managers of various companies that have done their best to make his life more miserable.

If the two-hander set in the Meldrews' bedroom was calling out for an amateur stage production, this one's pleading for it.
"I wonder if I was to pick that scab off it would start bleeding?" - Victor Meldrew

Secret of the Seven Sorcerers (4x06) ***

In total contrast to the minimalism of the previous episode, this one's packed full of overlapping plots. Victor's taken on a new job as a doomed lollipop man, his house keeps getting invaded by the fire brigade responding to prank calls, there's a man locked up in a trunk and another one in the downstairs lavatory, and Patrick and Pippa arrive at the most opportune time to observe the full extent of their neighbours' madhouse. So much for the peace talks.
"I wonder what bizarre aquatic species I can expect in the groin this time? Stingray up the rectum? Perhaps I'll get off lightly with a couple of barnacles on the foreskin" - Patrick

Victor in the Bath ***

This little scene filmed for Comic Relief or Children in Need (one of those) is a non-essential but fun appendix to the 1993 series. Taking its cue from 'The Trial,' Victor is home alone and enjoying a soak, as you'd gather from the title, waxing lyrical on the various facets of life troubling him at that particular moment and only being momentarily interrupted by a confessional answerphone message from Paul Merton's crooked dentist.

There are a few quality moments - notably Victor's implication that he was too comfortable to bother getting out when he needed the toilet - but I was mainly distracted by wondering whether they filmed this in my grandparents' bathroom. Maybe that's what all pensioners' bathrooms looked like in the 1990s.
"Can I use these condoms on the continent, or do I need a European adaptor?" - Victor Meldrew

One Foot in the Algarve ****

At 90 minutes, this 1993 Boxing Day special might as well be considered the movie, and true to sitcom film form the characters go on holiday. True to the series' form, there are enough frustrations, misunderstandings and violent comeuppances to fill three regular episodes. It's a satisfyingly dense serving.

Past episodes have tried to cram a multitude of plots into 30 minutes, but here the assorted characters and incidents are given a little more time to be fleshed out. Some are just for daft laughs, like the amorous donkeys following Victor everywhere, some are more serious, like Margaret's insecurity about approaching 60, and a lot of them are typically dark, with Mrs Warboys being presumed dead twice.

Peter Cook's paparazzi character is particularly memorable, especially as this was his final screen role. There's really no reason for him to go to all this trouble and unnecessary stealth, as he presumably could have just asked for his film canister back, but this special might have been a little too depressing without his Dick Dastardly antics and pratfalls lightening the mood.
"I wasn't all that keen on coming to Portugal at first. But now we're about to leave, I never want to see the bloody place again as long as I live" - Margaret Meldrew

The Man Who Blew Away (5x01) ****

It's a new year, but Victor is still suffering from the usual problems life throws his way, with the addition of pranking kids and elaborate character assassination through the medium of Christmas crackers.

The Meldrews also receive an unexpected and undesired visit from a talkative bloke they once met on holiday 17 years ago, who they manage to talk out of his fourteenth suicide attempt and miraculously have a beneficial effect on. It's not all doom and gloom, though it is mainly.
"If we couldn't laugh at all this, we'd be committing suicide" - Victor Meldrew

Only a Story (5x02) ***

Mrs Warboys and her escapist bird are staying with the Meldrews while her flooded house clears, and unusually it's Margaret who's finding this harder to tolerate. That's largely thanks to Victor feeling more relaxed than usual following his visits to a 'reflexologist,' who turns out to be nothing of the sort.

That's not to say it's an easier week for Mr Meldrew or anything, as his behind is impaled on rusty spikes and a printing error in the newspaper makes him the recipient of reader complaints, and then some.
"That someone could lie there with a nipple between their toes and not even realise..." - Margaret Meldrew

The Affair of the Hollow Lady (5x03) ***

In another realistic plot, Mrs Warboys wins a wax model of herself from Madame Tussauds and Victor is preyed on by a duplicitous widow grocer. The strength of Victor and Margaret's relationship is again reaffirmed, and a pair of boxing gloves helps to hammer the point home.
"Sometimes I wonder just how much priceless hilarity I can take in one evening" - Victor Meldrew

Rearranging the Dust (5x04) ***

It's the annual minimalist real-time episode, or 'another boring one' if you're not fond of the series' experimental streak. Personally I'm all for it, though it would be heavy-going if it was more than once per series.

This isn't really one of the stand-out ones, as Victor and Margaret wait to be seen by a solicitor to write their wills and Margaret has to endure Victor's childish restlessness, tendency to break things, excessively loud urination and inevitable disputes with everyone in the vicinity.

After series four's solo outing for Richard Wilson, I was a little disappointed that they didn't make this another two-hander, but the couple still get plenty of time alone to muse on their lives and the reasons they're together.
"I can only think of one thing worse than dying, and that's living forever" - Victor Meldrew

Hole in the Sky (5x05) ****

Victor and Patrick are finally forced to dine together and make peace, though it doesn't go quite as expected when the foreign waiters presume they are lovers. The status quo soon returns to normal as Patrick and Pippa head off on a sanity break, only to find Victor accidentally gatecrashing and hiding in the larder. They don't believe it.

To lift the episode above average, there's a strange but enjoyable sub-plot in which Christopher "Mike the Cool Person" Ryan plays a pair of twin builders who delight in pranking Margaret. I appreciate the more sombre and philosophical episodes like the previous one, but I do prefer my sitcoms to have a bit of daftness.
"If you want me, I'll be in the bathroom sandpapering my breasts" - Margaret Meldrew

The Exterminating Angel (5x06) ****

Victor lands a job as chauffeur for an oddly forgiving yuppie and manages to total each of his three precious cars in the space of several days, each more dramatically than the last. This is one of the series' more openly wacky episodes, and I'm all for that.

Things are still reigned in with a serious dramatic angle as Margaret tries to hook up her less psychopathic neighbour with his nurse, only for disappointment to follow. He's still got his mother, I suppose.
"Talk about an exhibitionist. I thought he'd one of those balloon animals tied to his waist" - Victor Meldrew

The Wisdom of the Witch *****

Certainly my favourite of the Christmas specials so far, though this is the first of a run of them so there are sure to be more classics to come. Rather than taking a break from the usual setting like the trip to Portugal, this is more like a regular extended episode, one that devotes more time than any other to my favourite running theme - the eternal battle between Victor and Patrick.

They tease us with Victor's prophesied death all the way through, which might have created real tension back in 1994 but not quite so much when you know there's a whole series and a half to go. The feuding neighbours end up spending the night in a creepy house with a creepier tarantula after the usual bout of misunderstandings and despicable characters leave Patrick locked up in Victor's boot during his long road trip up north.

Elsewhere in the generous hour we see Victor hoodwinked into working as a human scarecrow, tragic confusion between removal men and house clearers, Victor's cookery class and the most perverted hotel in Britain. With his run of bad luck and beatings from the world at large, Patrick Trench is clearly being groomed as the next Victor Meldrew when Victor's time really comes.
"Why do I get the feeling it's going to be one of those days?" - Victor Meldrew

Starbound ****

The series has reached classic status now, with strategic pauses being left in pre-recorded scenes for the anticipated audience reactions and Victor Meldrew's name being used a punchline. It's far from flogging a dead horse though, as David Renwick's flair for mystery makes these hour-long stories interesting throughout - it wouldn't be too long before his focus turned to Jonathan Creek.

When Mrs Swainey claims she's been abducted by aliens (abductions were big in the 90s), Margaret lets her imagination run wild and she mistakes Victor's newfound enthusiasm and restlessness to be a result of Cocoon-like shenanigans, rather than due to his accidental inhalation of a cocaine hoard. I remember the clip of Victor lawnmowering the carpet from childhood, but probably put it down to the machine going haywire. An exquisite symphony of destruction ensues.

There are still plenty of smaller plots thrown in just for the sake of sick laughs (the more the merrier), including Victor accidentally putting a call out for donations of second-hand artificial limbs and surgical supports and Mrs Warboys failing to explain that the beloved dog she's pressured Victor into adopting doesn't require a kennel after all.
"What's the point of being sane when the entire world's completely mad?" - Victor Meldrew

Endgame ****

A high level of quality is expected and delivered in these annual installments, and this 1997 Christmas special was the final outing for the Meldrews for what felt like a long time. They play the fake death scare card again after Margaret's heart attack, but that's all their chances used up - next time it'll be for real.

Margaret isn't impressed by Victor's purchase of the most haunted caravan in Britain, and she continues to search for a reason why all these insane things always happen to them. Patrick and Pippa are sadly absent, but are basically replaced with a fresh pair of neighbours who start out feeling optimistic that the nightmares they've heard about No. 19 can't possibly be true, but soon end up in the same place.

Over the course of the episode, the Meldrews accidentally gatecrash their holiday cottage and Victor's accidental kidnapping of an Asian lady leads to his new neighbour being interrogated by the police and succumbing to stress. That house will be going back on the market soon, I expect.
"What in the name of bloody hell?" - Victor Meldrew

The Executioner's Song (6x01) ***

The Meldrews are revived for a final series in the new millennium and in widescreen. There's no sign of their unfortunate neighbours from the previous special, with no mention of how long they stuck it out or whether they were finally finished off, but Victor is still casting a shadow over Patrick's life from afar. Even his dog's apparently lost its voice after it saw Victor naked one time, and his wife has understandably started checking out other pastures now that her husband is becoming the thing he hates.

After the mystery plots and drama of all those Christmas specials, the return to comparatively silly antics is a little jarring, especially things like Victor accidentally stumbling across a secret brothel beneath the Shaghai Express (sic) and Margaret's charitable care work being abused (sick). But after 10 years, and with the burden of being an institution, the charm is still there.
"When I booked the table, it completely slipped my mind to ask about the underground brothel facilities" - Victor Meldrew

Tales of Terror (6x02) ***

Another uncalled-for ghoulish ending to an otherwise jolly tale about colonoscopies, fictional funerals and a pornographic number plate. The Meldrews are delivered insulting wallpaper before being bricked up in their bedroom by more contractors Victor's managed to piss off, and he only manages to use the lavatory thanks to the ever-helpful Nick.

It's a shame we don't get to see Victor playing am dram Nosferatu, he would have looked great in the part. Maybe it would have been too much of a challenge for Richard Wilson not to play the part exceptionally.
"It was so nice to see my brothel again after all these years" - Cousin Wilf via slightly dyslexic voice synthesiser

The Futility of the Fly (6x03) ***

The Meldrews' cleaner writes a play based on their unlikely experiences, offering a chance for some self-critique of a show or format that may have started to feel its age. They needn't let the likes of The Office bother them, this series had already earned its firm position in the top 10 British sitcoms and isn't likely to be shaken.

So with the writer's excuses out of the way, he's free to send the naked Victor and Mrs Warboys colliding in the bath, to put a severed, deep-fried finger into Victor's chips, to deliver an enigmatic, giant insect and to give Mrs W a tattoo when she expected dental surgery. I never realised how largely this series' humour relies on ridiculous misunderstandings, but there's more of that to come.
"Do you ever get the feeling you'd just like to go to sleep and not get up the next morning?" - Margaret Meldrew

Threatening Weather (6x04) **

The compulsory (and final) real-time episode, this sadly might be the least entertaining one of the lot. Victor and Margaret deal with a power cut on the hottest night of the year, but it's prevented from being a complete two-hander by the arrival of the obese and incontinent Mr Smedley from No. 14.

The gags and philosophising aren't the best the series has thrown out, and I even got a bit annoyed by the tell-don't-show approach as Victor describes various incidents and oddball characters we didn't get the chance to see. The slightly sad ending arrives on cue.
"I've had it with the human race" - Victor Meldrew

The Dawn of Man (6x05) *****

This show still has it. This is up there with my favourites, thanks to an increasingly rare appearance from Victor's unintended nemesis Patrick (also his last appearance) and enough woeful misunderstandings and cases of mistaken identity to fill a series.

The stand-out story thread is Victor unintentionally buying cop porn rather than popcorn, then 'returning it' to what he believes to be Patrick's gay twin brother. Mr Swainey finally packs up and moves on, though only as far as the other side of the Meldews' house, and a justified altercation with a litterbug comes back to haunt Victor when the thug moves in on the other side.
"Just earning the respect of others as a decent and gentle human being is enough for anyone to be proud of" - Margaret Meldrew

Things Aren't Simple Any More (6x06) ****

The final episode is a fitting send-off for the series, skipping around in time to allow us to spend more time with Victor and Margaret and finishing with a generous medley of previously discussed events that they don't just leave to our imaginations this time.

Thanks to the non-linear approach and a slightly extended running time, this is more like several episodes in one, and it's the better for it. The ending is sad, but it's also a gleeful celebration of curmudgeonly frustration.
"How far up's a rectal thermometer meant to go?" - Victor Meldrew

Visiting Uncle Dick **

An unnecessary epilogue for the benefit of charity, this isn't as prestigious an ending as the final proper episode, but doesn't tarnish its legacy or anything.

If you think about its implications too deeply it's likely to be the most depressing episode of the lot, considering the several times Victor's mused on the prospect of having to endure this existence forever, so it's better to take it as the brief Comic Relief reprise that it is.
"If they bring him a cup of tea, they might as well pour it straight into the bag so as not to disturb him" - Victor Meldrew


  1. WelI, you put a lot of effort into this and I being a fan of the show agree with most of it, except for the some pretty low ratings for the exceptional 5th season and for one of my favourites, "Threatening Weather" which might play in a dark and somber environment, but is very witty throughout, containing far more hilarity than most farces or comedies in the theatre.
    A truly misunderstood and overlooked episode is the masterfully written "The Futility of the Fly" which might be mistaken for a random set of silly events, but it is far from it. It is a remarkable construct based on the crazy idea: how to write a story where a character thinks they would get dental treatment but get tattoed instead. And this is a complicated job.
    The first question is: who's going to be the source of information about the tattoo parlour? It cannot be one of the Meldrews because they would supply Mrs. Warboys with too much information, it must be a casual acquaintance they meet on a regular basis. So a cleaner is the perfect candidate (even if Margaret is in top shape and doesn't really need one).
    The incident in the bathroom causes Mrs. Warboy's dental problem and her shoulder pain is the source of the tattoo placement.
    There can be only one place where Victor learns about the whereabouts of the supposed dental surgery: in front of the tattoo parlour, otherwise they had to search for it, and everything would be revealed too soon.
    It is also important how the conversation between Victor and Kathy proceeds. Kathy starts speaking about the hypnosis, and if something didn't interrupt her, she would surely reveal that she didn't get a dental treatment whatsoever. But the cause of the interruption cannot be anything too consterning or prominent because they first have to speak about the treatment. So what should distract her attention from the topic? Something that Victor's carrying, e.g. a parcel. That parcel must be big enough to catch her attention, but also something light so that Victor can easily carry it. Because if Victor put it down,she might not notify it and they could speak more comfortably, going into details and revealing the secret. So, there must be something big and light in the parcel, and a giant fly is a perfect solution. (You can even get philosophical about it.)
    And why is this story made into a play? Because this experimental plot is too absurd to stand on it's own. Suspending our disbelief is impossible here, especially because of the fly: it doesn't fit into the plot, it can only be interpreted within the framework of the author's intention as described here.
    If the story is performed in a theatre and a director complains about the unlikeliness of it, a certain distance between the viewer and the plot is created and in this way everything is easier to accept for the viewer.

    1. Sorry I didn't notice your comment earlier, I haven't been getting notifications. These were all watched and "reviewed" on the fly, as writing about a series, however amateurishly, is an excuse for me to watch it. There are only a few shows like Red Dwarf that I know inside-out and actually feel qualified to talk about.