Television

'Mr. Sloane' Displays An Allenesque Dark Charm

Robert B. Weide's British period comedy Mr. Sloane was cancelled after just one season, depriving viewers of an engaging, wise and beautifully-made character study.


Mr. Sloane

Distributor: BBC Worldwide
Cast: Nick Frost, Ophelia Lovibond, Olivia Colman
Network: Sky TV
UK Release Date: 2014-06-30
Amazon

You know you’re on to a winner when, within the very first minute of its running time, Mr. Sloane manages to generate a hearty belly laugh from a potentially tragic and bleak circumstance.

Set in the suburbs north of London in the late ‘60s and mining similar ground to the seminal and bittersweet ‘70s British comedy The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin, this excellent six-part television series from 2013 focuses on the small-time existential crisis of the titular Jeremy Sloane (the always likeable Nick Frost), a chubby, sweet, middle-aged walkover whose outward smiles and affability hide an inner chaos that, as in all the best black comedies, forever threatens to thrust forth and shatter whatever fragile domesticity his suburban existence has cultivated and maintained.

In this respect, the cracks have certainly started appearing already. Despite faking an ordered and unremarkable life to those around him, Jeremy is in fact teetering on the precipice. A failed suicide bid hasn’t alleviated his depression, but it has damaged the ceiling plaster in his house. His discontent wife Janet (played brilliantly by Olivia Colman) has recently left; he is convinced, however, to the merriment of his bawdy drinking mates, that she intends to return to the fold as soon as she “finds herself”.

Newly sacked from his accounting job, Jeremy’s evenings are now spent drinking beer in front of the television. He also has a side-line in excessive chocolate cake consumption, all clearly part of an attempt to comfort eat his mind away from acute loneliness and heartbreak.

To cap it all off, his new job as an occasional supply teacher sees him lurch from one misunderstanding to the next, unable to command the respect of either the staff or his young pupils.

The only saving grace amidst this tedium is a potential relationship with the beautiful and intelligent young American woman Robin (Ophelia Lovibond), who satellites around him like gorgeous exotic bird, always close but just beyond the reach of his fingertips, at least for the time being. The young Brit actor Lovibond is a revelation: sassy, beautiful, and convincingly American in her accent, she lifts the material and offers a genuinely exciting new dynamic to the mundanity of Jeremy’s life.

With faltering relationships a key element, Mr. Sloane is often reminiscent of Woody Allen’s work, particularly 1972's Play It Again, Sam, with its focus on a depressed, loveable and newly-single loser’s attempts to function romantically in the harsh world of urban dating.

Like Allen’s vehicle, Mr. Sloane also utilises a similar narrative device that allows old friends, lovers and memories to encroach reactively into Jeremy’s reality -- as tangible, present beings and visions. For example, he often converses with his absent wife Janet, who appears as a phantom harpy, honing in on his emotional vulnerabilities and jabbing away like a vindictive crow. These Allenesque references come as no surprise considering that Mr. Sloane is the work of the Oscar-nominated American writer and director Robert B. Weide, who is a lifelong Allen devotee and the man behind 2012’s excellent and definitive Allen film biography Woody Allen: A Documentary.

Mr. Sloane's visuals and colour palette are exemplary. Despite being shot by Ben Wheeler on a digital format, the excellent post-production grading has ensured that the series has a convincing 35mm film look, which perhaps crystallises Weide’s ambition and cinematic pretensions.

Additionally, the tobacco-tinged cinematography the permeates the earlier episodes serves the narrative brilliantly. On a literal level, it evokes a time before public smoking bans, when British pubs and bars were thick and cloudy with nicotine pea-soupers; it also perfectly symbolises the gloomy, colourless and stale existence of the Jeremy’s life. Conversely, the later scenes that feature more hopeful developments in Jeremy’s life are punctuated with primary colours and a new sense of visual vibrancy, greatly aided by some impressive and vivid ‘70s costume design.

Despite the critical acclaim Mr. Sloane received, the show’s launch channel, Sky Atlantic, chose not to renew it for a second series, which is a great shame. As so many television broadcasters seem inclined to indulge in artistic infanticide these days, Mr. Sloane will never have a chance to grow, nor will it have the opportunity to tie up the various narrative strands that have been left untethered. (These lead one to believe that the filmmakers thought a second series was definitely on the cards).

Indeed, the fledgling and mismatched romance between sweet Jeremy and stunning Robin is crying out for a satisfactory resolution. Maybe it just wasn’t meant to be. Still, one can enjoy this one-and-only series and lament on what could have been.

The appealing extras on the disc include audio commentaries on three episodes and plenty of behind-the-scenes footage and discussion.

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