Mr. Sloane (with an “e,” like the square) starts out with an oddly irreverent tone. We see the silhouette of a man clearly attempting to hang himself while you can hear Gilbert & Sullivan’s For he is an Englishman on the record player. A moment of the deepest kind of despair – of a man at his lowest point – being soundtracked to a comic opera classic, a song lampooning the most ridiculous and farcical aspects of the typical Englishman. American writer and director Robert B. Weide has made the perfect statement about the archetypal middle class Brit. No sooner does he cock up his own death by attaching his noose to a faulty pipe, he very Britishly answers the phone and promptly heads down the pub.
When we get there we’re greeted by a very laddy sounding Peter Serafinowicz as he tells us that the death of the 60’s will soon be upon us. And it all makes sense. This is a program about what the 60’s did to the British. How the sexual revolution transformed the country into a bohemia it was never prepared to be, and how that transformation almost destroyed it. Sloane himself seems to have been decimated by the decade. At the beginning of it he was married to Olivia Coleman, at the end he is unemployed, separated and tying a rope around his neck. This is what you get when you introduce the concept of free love to a civilisation based on sexual repression.
Any TV series that names itself after the lead character had better have a protagonist that the audience cannot keep their eyes off of. At first Sloane doesn’t seem to be that character. He’s mundane, shy, at times whimpering and a total doormat. Yes funny things keep happening to him, but its no good relying on action and circumstance to keep the reader interested. He would need to be compelling were all these things not happening to him. Mr. Sloane fails this test. If his circumstances were less destructive then he would simply be a bumbling, clumsy, bore; good for a few laughs but tiresome the rest of the time.
But so would Walter White. Sloane gets interesting when his world starts falling apart. A constant run of bad luck, being faced with his own stupidity, suffering the stupidity of others; slowly, subtley but very surely this mild mannered man is breaking apart. And the closer he gets to his frayed edges the better a performance Nick Frost gives.
Frost is one of the most naturally charismatic performers currently working in TV. His success is attributed to the careful way he picks his scripts; he always chooses something that already has enough of him in it, so his own personality (his greatest strength) always shines through. The more shit Sloane has to deal with, the more pissed off he gets and that’s where we see Frost come out to play. We wouldn’t care about the feisty Sloane if the pitiful one wasn’t sympathetic, but once Sloane’s despair subsides and his anger comes out to play, well, that Sloane is just more fun.
Watching Sloane confess his woes to a schoolboy or lose patience with his neighbour; these are the moments that bring out his playful side and this is where we see the potential for both his character and the series. It promises the best and biggest laughs. It gives him a spine making us like him better and making us ask the questions the series wants to answer. Why was he sacked? What was his relationship like just before his wife left him? Why did this man’s life fall apart so abruptly? Is Sloane being honest with us and himself? Or is he glossing over is more unsavoury side? Is he too to blame for his woes?
When a program makes you ask so many questions and makes you eager for answers, you know it has potential.