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Jeff VanderMeer

ONE FOOT IN THE GRAVE – ‘The Return of the Speckled Band’ (1×06 – Series Retrospective #6)

30 years old in 2020, I’m going to look at David Renwick’s unique British sitcom One Foot in the Grave to celebrate the anniversary of one of the UK’s most innovative comedy series of all time…

We continue by looking at the sixth and final episode of the first series, The Return of the Speckled Band, which first aired on February 8th, 1990…

As befits the traditional sitcom format, particularly the British sitcom format, the final Series 1 episode of One Foot in the Grave comes with no great moment of cathartic realisation for Victor Meldrew. Life goes on.

Whether the series would go on at this point was an open question. Critics remained divided, as they had been all series, about whether One Foot would become a classic or be consigned to the far more cluttered wrecking yard of failed British sitcoms. This being the era before online discourse, it was down to the print newspaper and their in-house critics to gauge the pulse of comedy, and while papers such as the Daily Mirror, the now-defunct Today or the Daily Express were favourable come the end of Series 1, others such as the Independent or the Daily Telegraph were quite the opposite. Christopher Tookey in the latter remarked that he felt the series offered “in general, a distorted and depressingly old-fashioned view of old age”.

The irony is that The Return of the Speckled Band might actually be the funniest half hour of the series so far. While by no means vintage One Foot, it certainly feels like David Renwick manages to latch here onto several strong comedic threads and take them to some satisfying conclusions, in a manner the previous five scripts never quite managed to do. Two that stand out in particular are the recurring problem of the hat palmed off on Victor that he tries to rid himself of but keeps coming back to him, and Mrs Warboys with her chronic sickness which intertwines with what otherwise would have been an enormously random narrative of an escaped python quite brilliantly. We haven’t quite seen Renwick weave his plots this skilfully yet in One Foot, and it displays what the series is capable of.

The Return of the Speckled Band also, in a relatively quiet fashion, dovetails with the opening episode of the series in suggesting Victor is trapped in an existential spiral he can never quite escape.

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Annihilation (2018)

Amidst the online furore around the release of Annihilation, there’s a worry the film itself could well get lost in the haze, which would be unfortunate. Alex Garland once again, with this adaptation of Jeff VanderMeer’s novel, proves himself a growing allegorical auteur.

Garland first found fame of course as the scribe behind Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later, a stripped back, British take on the zombie genre popularised originally by George A. Romero. Garland has always been interested in dystopian surroundings, whether in a post-apocalyptic future where a deadly virus has ran amok, a corporation-fuelled, oily near future crime saga (in Dredd, which star Karl Urban just this week claimed Garland ghost-directed), or his previous, much-celebrated picture Ex Machina, which tackled the thorny subject of artificial intelligence and sexuality, helping to make stars of Oscar Isaac, Domnhall Gleeson and Alicia Vikander in the process. These are films using an often disturbing future-lens to reflect anxieties of our time. He’d be very at home in the company of Black Mirror.