Review of One Foot In The Grave: The Complete Box Set
"I don`t believe it!"
Just getting it out of the way. Otherwise the suspense could be unbearable, a One Foot In The Grave Review with no sign of the oft-repeated catchphrase. Personally, I had never seen an episode before receiving these review discs. There are some comedies I avoid, comedies that at first glance seem so formulaic and staid that I would never consider watching them. Three men in a bathtub rolling down a hill in Last Of The Summer Wine was an instant turn-off, postmodern class comedy Keeping Up Appearances was another, and grumpy old man sitcom One Foot In The Grave was one that I had no interest in. For one thing, it seemed aimed at a wholly different demographic, and I don`t really need tips on grumpiness, as it`s only a matter of decades now.
I thought I had escaped the classic BBC sitcom, beloved of millions, until the dread stomach of Santa Claus crested over the horizon. Yes, another Christmas is imminent, and with it the bane of postmen everywhere, the boxset. In this case it is the Complete One Foot In The Grave, ten years of programmes, six series and assorted specials, as well as extra features, all offered up for your delectation. Not for mine obviously, as I only get three discs as a taster, the hour-long specials Starbound and Endgame from the fifth series, all six episodes of the final series, as well as a documentary. So naturally, I`ll be reviewing these discs alone. You`ll have to make your own mind up about the other discs.
If you are as ignorant about this series as I am, all you really need to know is that Victor Meldrew is a perennial grump, who after taking compulsory retirement from his job as a security guard now has to come to terms with life as a pensioner, and it`s his long-suffering wife Margaret who has to deal with the aftermath of all the surreal events that occur.
And… cue Eric Idle.
You would expect a sampling of the BBC`s output throughout a decade of broadcasting, although I only got shows from the final two series to view. The final series was broadcast in anamorphic 1.78:1, but earlier programmes are in good old-fashioned squarevision. What I saw was clear and unblemished, although there was an awkwardly placed layer change in the Season 6 disc, which made me wonder if the disc wasn`t skipping.
It`s your basic DD 2.0 stereo track, with optional English subtitles. Everything is clear and sounds just like it did in the original broadcasts. The subtitle font is a little on the small side though.
If the proportion of extras to shows is continued in the vein that I have seen, then there should be a fair helping for fans, although I guess that they simply replicate the extras that came with the individual season releases. As the hour long specials Endgame and Starbound don`t appear in the episode listing above, I`m assuming they are being considered as extra features, although that would be a little rich in a boxset purporting to be a Complete Series set. If that Comic Relief sketch isn`t in here somewhere, then get in touch with the Office of Fair Trading.
What I found on the three discs I got, aside from the hour long specials was limited to a commentary on the first episode of the sixth series, supplied by writer David Renwick, and actor Richard Wilson. It isn`t going to establish new standards in yak-tracks, but is pretty informative and worth listening to once.
Also on a disc by itself is the One Foot In The Grave Story, a documentary looking at the legend that is Victor Meldrew. Presented by Angus Deayton, this has the creator David Renwick, and the actors from the show looking back at the series and the characters. This lasts 45 minutes and is presented in widescreen. I believe it is the same programme that was broadcast just prior to the final episode back in 2000.
Well, that was a smart idea, giving me the final series and expecting me to review the whole boxset just from that. For the first three or four episodes, I`m sitting there, depression sinking in as the laugh track reveals a faux audience on the verge of wetting themselves, while I`m trying to figure out just what is so funny. By the sixth series, the characters were well established; the interplay between them settled, and a shorthand existed between the writer and the fans of the show. Where a single baleful look could have the audience rolling in hysterics, I lacked the experience with the show that would let me in on the joke. Still, by the time I was halfway through the discs that I had been sent, I was beginning to see why Victor Meldrew is such an institution.
After all, who hasn`t had a Meldrew moment in their lives, or indeed have them on a weekly basis? Recently, I was in supermarket where I spotted a special deal that wasn`t so special, "Buy one packet of Shortcake biscuits for 48p, or two for a pound." I pointed out this stupidity to one of the assistants and went on my way. Two weeks later, I`m back in the shop and in the same aisle I spot, "Buy one packet of Shortcake biscuits for 50p, or two for a pound." That isn`t a bargain, that`s arithmetic! At moments like this I`m sorely tempted to unleash Victor Meldrew`s incantation of incredulity, albeit spiced up with some choice profanity. The point being that Victor is an everyman, a character that vocally reacts to the inanities of modern life, those absurd situations where the average citizen just grins and bears it, while saving a grumble for later in private. It`s this quality that makes the show such a draw.
That said, it is a prime time BBC1 comedy, the sort of slot that is occupied by Ever Decreasing Circles, My Family, or Only Fools and Horses, and as such is a little too middle of the road for my tastes. It has all the golden clichés of suburban sitcom covered, the semi-detached houses, the awkward relations with the neighbours, as well as the ubiquitous sofa. It does have an occasional edge to it that pushes it just past the nine o` clock watershed, a degree of darkness and just a hint of bad taste. There are also one or two moments each episode of absolutely surreal absurdity. What I found most disagreeable about it was just how intricately plotted each episode was. It seems that coincidence and contrivance is the show`s credo, and every innocuous event that happens on screen ties in with every other in some trivial way. By the episode`s climax, I guess I was supposed to have a plot related epiphany while my sides split. That didn`t happen. Still, I looked forward to Victor`s rants, practically moments of stand up where he commented on the latest annoyance in a veritable ocean of irritations. It was like a bit of alternative comedy, a vision of Ben Elton as a pensioner.
Of the episodes that I watched, Threatening Weather was my favourite, as for much of the runtime; it dispensed with the usual plot convulsions and pared it down to the basics. It`s the middle of a heat wave, the power has gone out, and Victor and wife Margaret are stuck inside trying to keep cool. It`s just two people interacting for 20 minutes or so, and it is hilarious. On the other hand, Tales Of Terror is an example of a programme obviously in its final series, overly clever and self referential, with their cleaner writing a play based on the Meldrews.
One Foot In The Grave is a cut above the usual BBC1 sitcoms, the sort of show that comes round all too rarely. It has some genuine bite to it, an observational slant on the absurdities of every day life that should resonate with a broad audience. As such it shines brightly in a sea of sitcom mundanity. On the other hand, I`m not a fan of the plot structure and contrivance that goes into the typical episode, and my appreciation of BBC1 sitcoms waned just as the Croft & Perry era passed. But what do I know about it? The ratings speak for themselves, and if you want the complete One Foot In The Grave in a handy fistful of plastic, then this boxset must surely appeal. One for fans only, all several million of you.
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