"WHAT IN THE NAME OF SANITY?!?!?!" - Victor Meldrew. A point of view I sympathise with fairly regularly. Also my reaction on noting that nobody has noded this excellent programme. Not properly, anyhow.
One Foot In The Grave, written by David Renwick and performed in a character-defining role by Richard Wilson, is one of the best, and darkest, comedies of the 1990s. It's typecast by those who haven't seen it as that programme about the grumpy old man, and if you refer to someone being a bit of a Victor Meldrew you assume they're being unreasonable and irascible, but it's a lot more complicated than that. The setting is the then-modern world of the 1990s with all the little stupidities and similar unpleasantnesses of that world dialled right up. It is notable because it is one of those programmes that is a lot deeper than it looks, and also a lot more grimdark as well. It's also incredibly well structured also.
Well, it goes something like this. Victor Meldrew is a building security chap who, on his 60th birthday, is pensioned off against his will because the building owner has bought an electronic box which buzzes people up automatically. As a result of this, and due to his advancing age as a result of which nobody will hire him, he is reduced to claiming the pension and mooching around at home all day. There then follows a cavalcade of other peoples' stupidity and recklessness and inability to listen, all of which is somehow his fault in the eyes of everyone else. He is assisted in this by his long suffering wife, Margaret, a florist, and his constantly cheerful next-door neighbour, Mr Swainey, who works as a carer for old folks, and his highly annoying other neighbour, Patrick Trench, who is well on the way to becoming Victor Meldrew 2.0 and hates Victor on account of it.
The main theme of the series is the utter stupidity of modern life and the utter stupidity that it attracts. Everything that someone wants done is a big deal, or unnecessarily difficult. I had a Victor Meldrew moment today, in fact, when I was on the phone to the Department for Work and Pensions on behalf of a client and was told that I could not have a letter about their benefit entitlement sent to me because of data protection (even though the client in question had specifically authorised them to disclose that information), but they could send it to the client's address to send on to me. Expressing my evenly worded concern about the sheer logic-devoidness of this policy got me hung up on. Similarly, in the programme, joining a video rental store required huge amounts of personal information and suchlike and Victor's understandable exasperation was met by shrugging and not-my-problem noises. And a delivery man, when asked to deliver a rubber plant and put it in the downstairs toilet, did just that - put it IN the toilet, and complaining was met by dismissive blowing sounds.
The other thing that One Foot in the Grave is notable for is its highly elaborate plots. Often, things that come up, even minor details, which end up being of some relevance to the plot. Even seemingly insignificant things come back to bite the characters (mainly Victor) on the behind. The result of this is that the end of each episode is a non-stop sequence of Chekhov's Guns all going off at once. One of the best examples of this is the episode, "The Worst Horror of All." In this, Victor's new job as a hotel doorman, the Meldrews' deeply annoying acquaintances Ronnie and Mildred (following a sequence where Victor dashes from cover to cover through the house to turn off the bathroom light and make them think they're on holiday), an infestation of fleas, a mistaken identity for a window cleaner, all come together at the end in one big lump. That particular bit is also one of the most cathartic in the entire series, incidentally, for anyone who's ever worked in a customer facing role - I know that during the various joe jobs I had as a student, I felt an urge to rip a punter's wig off and stuff it down the drain.
Occasionally the action veers into outright surreal territory, such as the episode where someone puts a discarded Citroen 2CV in Victor's skip, or where he goes to the toilet at a Chinese restaurant only to find that pulling the flush lever activates the secret lift to the brothel cunningly secreted in the basement. There are also moments of life imitating art as well. Or when he upbraids a local kid for breaking his window, the kid's father, a signwriter, erects a pub sign for "The Pain in the Arse" by Victor's house. The episode "Hearts of Darkness" pre-dates the Southern Cross care homes scandal by 15 years (albeit without the staff getting embedded in bags of cement).
Thing is, I am only 28 and I find myself turning more and more into Victor Meldrew every day. The bollocks of modern life, you just can't help it. The annoying habit of delivery people refusing to go above the ground floor for health and safety reasons (i.e. their employer has skimped on liability insurance) which is frustrating when one lives on the 5th floor and works across the 1st to 3rd floors. The stupidity one has to go through with official bodies when seeking information, and where they can and can't put you through to, resulting in you having to ring back and spend another 30 minutes on hold. Being looked on with suspicion for going swimming at my local pool between 6.00 and 7.30 pm, because that just happens to be the time when the schools do their swimming sessions (the fact it's also the time I get off work means nothing to these people. Remember - YOU are a paedophile until certified otherwise.) The condescendingness that staff in independent bookstores have towards me. The fact that if I bought a Mac (which I would not, because the last time I touched one it gave me ringworm) I would not be able to upgrade or replace any parts on it unless I paid triple for Apple approved parts and paid their "Genius Bar" to fartarse about and put it in for me, on pain of probably bumrape from Tim Cook. And although I don't have a garden, I would get just as bent out of shape as Victor if people kept leaving discarded chocolate packets in it. Oh, and not to mention that nowadays complaints departments exist solely to direct all criticism, constructive or no, to the circular filing cabinet.
And that's before you get me started about the daily nonsense I read in the papers.
Unfortunately the programme finished in 2000 after 6 serieses and 7 one-off specials. However it's still definitively worth watching. And to be fair, if more people were like Victor Meldrew and refused to put up with stupidity and officiousness and similar nonsense, life would probably be less shite. Just remember to let fly with a big, "I DO NOT BELIEVE IT!!!" when you do.