It’s safe to say that when we first meet Jeremy Sloane, the eponymous hero of Sky Atlantic’s new tragicomedy, he’s at just about his lowest ebb. It’s safe to say this because the first time we meet him he’s securing a noose around his neck, stepping up onto a chair and kicking it out from under his feet. As shocking an opening gambit as that may sound, it actually becomes one of the show’s best gags and an indication of its knack for mining the humorous from the most horrific.
Of course there’s no need to issue a spoiler alert (but if you really want one: spoiler alert!) – Sloane’s suicide bid ends in spectacular failure. He is, after all, played by much-loved funnyman Nick Frost, and no show would ever recover from the image of Frost’s lifeless corpse swinging from a rope. Fortunately, as his very much living body comes crashing down from its temporary suspension, the only way for the rest of the episode to go is up. Albeit up on a mildly uneven gradient.
Mr. Sloane is the creation of Robert Weide, the man who, along with best friend Larry David, brought us the scabrous cult comedy Curb Your Enthusiasm. Where the latter is set in contemporary Los Angeles and features the everyday confrontations on an uncensored, unrepentant David, so the former is its polar opposite: set in Watford in 1969, with the mildly repressed company man Sloane at its heart. It is very English and very period.
As we quickly learn, Sloane has recently suffered two tragedies in his life – being abandoned by his wife (played by newly-crowned BAFTA queen Olivia Colman) and losing his job to a former protégé. The ‘comedy’ in ‘tragicomedy’ comes from Sloane’s attempts to pick up the pieces and get his life back on track, starting with a spectacularly misjudged attempt at supply teaching. Although this induces more gentle ‘hah’s than outright LOLz, more often than not there is a comfortable amount of mirth over the course of the hour.
Not everything works. Weide has yet to master the art of conveying ‘pub banter’ in a way that doesn’t come across as cringeworthy as Richard Curtis’s attempts to do ‘working class’, while a lengthy gag involving a self-improvement tape (or rather eight-track tape, as the period detail demands), falls falteringly flat. And it will be interesting to see if Ophelia Lovibond’s American love interest develops beyond the stock fantasy ingénue, introduced as she is in a psychedelic-patterned dress that screams “LOOK AT HOW DIFFERENT I AM FROM EVERY OTHER STAID CHARACTER IN THIS SHOW!” Curb fans looking for its English equivalent will certainly come away disappointed.
The real asset here is Frost, a performer with such a natural propensity for comedy he could probably make castration seem funny. His range extends well beyond funny too, helping flesh Sloane out as a man out of time, content to listen to Gilbert and Sullivan and chase safe domesticity while the revolutions of the 1960s completely pass him by. If Weide can keep things a little less Curtis and fully utilise Colman (who only appears briefly in flashback in this first episode) and Lovibond, enthusiasm for a regular Friday night date with Mr Sloane may become ever less curbed.
Mr Sloane is on Sky Atlantic, Fridays at 9pm
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