Near spring's end, ABC announced that it was bequeathing to the nation a slew of "new" summer programs as viewer relief from reruns and, not so parenthetically, because somebody at the network realized that pay TV networks like HBO and Showtime program new-to-television material all year long.
However, as each of ABC's shows premieres, there is less and less to cheer about (one may even contemplate tuning to HBO for the umpty-umpth rerun of "The Pirate Movie," a fate worse than almost anything). "Reggie," which gets a "special premiere presentation" at 9:30 tonight on Channel 7, then moves to a 9 p.m. Thursday time slot Aug. 4, is a torpid case in point.
As has been done before, Hollywood producers took the concept of a British TV series ("The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin," seen here on PBS) and tackied it up. The original was not high comedy; some laughs were provoked by a huge leather chair that made what the British call "rude noises" when people sat in it. But based on a book by David Nobbs, and executed with a crisp kind of zip, it came sensibly to a conclusion after a scheduled number of episodes.
The British base TV shows on books; the Americans base them on other TV shows.
"Reginald," as opposed to "Reggie," had tone, attitude and a cohesive sense of purpose. One could perceive something serious and human being expressed beneath the farce. A middle-aged man was facing the prospect of having gone as far as he believed he would ever go in life; he looked around, found things terribly unsatisfying and drifted off into wish-fulfillment reveries about pretty young things and desert islands.
In the ABC version, the wish-fulfillment reveries remain, but sex is about the only subject that ever comes up, and it comes up in that smug and cackly, sitcommy way. The show opens with Reggie (Richard Mulligan, that jabbering tower of Jello) and wife (Barbara Barrie) in bed having a postcoital discussion about the husband's latest bout of impotence. "I used to fly you to the moon," he moans.
Soon the family's idiot son Mark (Timothy Busfield--where do they get these grating young wimps?), who refers to his mother and father as "parentals," announces that he wants his latest girlfriend (Lisa Freeman) to spend the night with him in his room. Later, Reggie shouts "hormone alert!" when he sees the two necking on the living room couch. And still later, the young girl makes a pass at Reggie in his office at the ice cream company where he has worked for 20 years.
And so on and so on, sex sex sex sex sex.
Late in the program, Mulligan is rather moving when he delivers a soliloquy about his hapless lot in life, but this comes across as only a token instant of seriousness in an otherwise groveling fugue on horny themes. There is one funny exchange, between Reggie and his secretary (Jean Smart): Reggie says, "Nature's odd, isn't it?" and she says, "I've often found it rather embarrassing."
So is most of "Reggie," but its resemblance to nature ends there.