By BRUCE DENNILL
Mr Sloane / Directed by Robert B Weide / 13L
A six-part series (so far limited to just the one season), Mr Sloane follows the rather tragic adventures – if that is the right word – of Jeremy Sloane, played with doleful empathy by Nick Frost, who filters his usual onscreen likeability through a veil of despair, while still somehow managing to avoid depressing viewers.
The writing, mostly by director Bob Weide, is uniformly excellent, helping to to make it easy to keep feeling sympathetic towards Sloane even as he blunders into yet another situation in which an unhappy ending is telegraphed. Weide also worked on the Larry David show Curb Your Enthusiasm, so he’s well acquainted with using brittle, bitter humour to push a plot forward.
Jeremy Sloane is an ordinary middle-class bloke, working a decent job, married to a woman he doesn’t challenge in any way and spending a great deal of his free time drinking beer and talking about nothing of any consequence to the same group of mates in the same neighbourhood pub.
It’s not much, but it’s what Sloan is used to and to some degree the framework he uses to define himself, so when it crumbles – both his career and his marriage unexpectedly dissolve – he is ill-equipped to handle the fall-out.
The character’s apparent inability to step up and move out of his personal morass is frustrating, and yet it’s easy to identify with Sloane’s struggles: the vast majority of viewers will have had work, relationship or self-image problems of some sort at some point in their lives. As such, it’s difficult to remain disconnected from what’s unfolding onscreen.
Because of that bond, the regular twists and turns in the script – Sloane making an especially stupid decision, or being subject to a terribly cruel set of circumstances – hit home with more than usual intensity.
As Sloane’s wife Janet, Olivia Colman discards the sweet, funny nature she displays in interviews and embodies a woman who can be charming and attractive, but also superficial and spiteful and in his worst moments, Sloane can’t rely on his friends for meaningful support, as much because he hasn’t put enough effort into those relationships as because they are not the sort of men to stand in the gap for others.
As bleak as all of this is, there is a great deal of humour and warmth as well. Jeremy Sloane will never qualify as a hero, but as a representative of the sort of person all of us have or might one day be, if only for a short while, he is a heartbreakingly accurate distillation of life’s ups and downs.