Saturday, May 3, 2008
Ever Decreasing Circles
Martin lives a busy, bustling life in the suburbs. He organizes everything and runs everything in his community - charity dances, sports teams, the Neighborhood Watch, the newsletter - and he's frequently too occupied with these to spend time with his wife. Sometimes she doesn't mind. Martin may be conscientious and hard-working, but he's also obsessive, neurotic and conservative to the point of stuffiness. Still, he's generally regarded as a leader in his community, and he's happy with his life.
Then Paul moves into the house next door to his. Paul is everything Martin isn't - easygoing, witty, sophisticated and popular. He's also effortlessly competent; Martin has to work to accomplish what Paul can do by making a few phone calls. And since Paul is single, he's free to flirt with Martin's wife.
The British comedy Ever Decreasing Circles handled this excellently, by making Martin rather than Paul the main character in the show. I like Paul, but it's much easier to sympathize with Martin. Most people know what it's like to try and try, only to watch someone else with more talent or charm easily supersede their efforts. I can't help feeling for the underdog, especially when Martin constantly attempts to keep his dignity while still dealing with the threat (real or perceived) to his position.
Paul remains likable despite being what Martin refers to as a "Golden Boy", since he's always friendly and doesn't actually act on his attraction to Martin's wife. For his part, Martin openly dislikes Paul's relaxed, liberal lifestyle while secretly envying him. On a few occasions, though, he has to reluctantly thank Paul for his help, though he still disapproves of Paul's many girlfriends and equally plentiful jokes.
(Martin walks out of his house, carrying a long flexible rod)
Paul : Hello, Martin. Going fishing?
Martin : I can't walk past you carrying anything, can I? If it's a board, it's, 'Hello, Martin. Going to a board meeting?' If it's a pole, it's, 'Hello, Martin. Where's the Pole from, Warsaw?'"
Paul : And if you were carrying a whale, I'd say, 'Hello, Martin. Are you having a whale of a time?'"
Martin : Yes, you would. And as usual, you've gone straight down Silly Avenue! Where would I get a whale from?
Paul : Wales?
The title refers to Martin's usual runaround as he tries to take care of all his responsibilities. He reminds me of Max Fischer in Rushmore that way - he could be good at something if he wasn't trying so hard to do everything. The show is subtle, character-driven, and one of my favorite comedies.
Here's another review of the show, with spoilers for some episodes.