Jeremy Sloane may follow in the footsteps of bumbling British characters that came before him, like David Brent of the original version of “The Office” and Basil Fawlty from “Fawlty Towers.”
But the inspiration for the buttoned-up accountant with a black cloud over his head, and star of the upcoming KCET series “Mr. Sloane,” came from this side of the pond. More specifically, it was somewhere along the 57 Freeway that the idea for this hapless numbers-cruncher hit Robert Weide, show creator, writer and director.
On a drive from Los Angeles to visit his mother in Orange County a few years back, Weide noticed a fellow motorist because “he looked like Nick Frost in the ‘Mad Men’ era, with the retro glasses and the tie and the crew cut,” said Weide, an Emmy winner for his work on “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” Fascinated by this man seemingly from another time, Weide said, “I just let my imagination run with it.”
The scenario he concocted in his head, and quickly recorded on his iPhone, turned out to be the skeleton of “Mr. Sloane,” a seven-part dramedy that does, in fact, star Nick Frost (“Shaun of the Dead,” “The World’s End”).
The series revolves around Sloane, a straight-laced corporate lackey whose world is rocked by a series of unfortunate events -- he loses his job and his wife leaves him on the same day. He sinks into depression, and his situation seems so dire that he tries to kill himself. But he can’t get that right, either.
So, how is this a comedy?
It’s a dark one, Weide admits, but there’s a hint even from the beginning that laughs are coming. After his unsuccessful attempt to hang himself in his living room, for instance, Sloane puts on his chipper telephone voice to answer a call, dusts himself off and goes to meet his friends at the pub. That hole in the ceiling, along with the gaping wound on his psyche and the rope burn on his neck, can wait until later for attention.
Frost’s Sloane always seems to say the wrong thing at the wrong time, making awkward situations nearly unbearable, and can’t catch a break in the life he mistakenly thought was ordered and perfectly planned. No doubt there are shades of “Curb’s” Larry David, but Sloane is less antagonistic and more loveable.
“It’s a fun device to have a character that keeps slipping on a banana peel,” Weide said. “But we do see him get his strength back. There has to be a ray of hope.”
Weide wrote the part for Frost, an actor probably best known in the United States as Simon Pegg’s sidekick in cult favorite films “Hot Fuzz” and “Paul.” They had all worked together on Weide’s feature directorial debut, “How to Lose Friends and Alienate People,” and stayed in touch.
There was no other actor but Frost for the role of Jeremy Sloane, Weide said, as a man living on the outskirts of swinging London in 1969 but so stuck in his provincial ways that he’s not even hip to the Beatles or Pink Floyd. He prefers Gilbert and Sullivan records instead. He doesn’t notice that his discontented wife, played by “Broadchurch” star Olivia Colman, is slipping away from him. When she leaves -- she tells him she needs to “find herself” -- he pretends she’s coming back.
Frost, whose career started on television in the United Kingdom, said there was an obvious appeal to taking a role that had been hand-crafted for him. And he liked the underdog story, which he dubbed “funny and tragic and happy and beautiful,” that would give him a chance to flex his dramatic and comedic muscles.
“You can go on this character’s journey and pump the air and celebrate with Jeremy Sloane as he rises from the ashes,” Frost said during a break from filming the “Snow White” sequel, “The Huntsman” with Chris Hemsworth, Emily Blunt and Charlize Theron. “We all know how that man feels and that makes it very easy to root for him.”
But if viewers think the limited-run series will end with Sloane riding off into the sunset with his stunning new American girlfriend, they’d be mistaken, Frost said.
“His victories are little,” Frost said. “He pulls up his bootstraps and gets on with it.”
“Mr. Sloane,” shot on location outside London, uses the fertile year 1969 as its backdrop. There are significant cultural shifts taking place just as Sloane needs a fresh start, and a free-spirited young woman (played by Ophelia Lovibond, “Elementary”) gives him a much-needed energy infusion. He may even have a new career brewing.
Over the course of the show, there are ups and downs for Sloane, who tries pot brownies for the first time (with disastrous consequences) and dances in the street (endearing himself to his potential love interest). He learns, ultimately, to stand up for himself and stop being a doormat.
The setting lends itself to plenty of groovy, mod outfits and seminal ‘60s music from the likes of the Yardbirds and the Who. The ironic theme song, “A Well-Respected Man,” is a classic from the Kinks.
Weide, who’s finishing his long-gestating documentary of Kurt Vonnegut as one of his next projects, often wonders about the driver who launched “Mr. Sloane.”
“Where is that guy now?” Weide said. “He has no idea there’s a TV show based on him.”
KCETLink Media Group, formed by the merger between KCET and Link Media, acquired “Mr. Sloane” after its successful run in the United Kingdom last year. The show will premiere with two back-to-back episodes on Thursday on KCET’s broadcast channel in Southern California, with streaming on digital platforms KCET.org and LinkTV.org. A marathon of all seven episodes on Link TV (DirecTV and Dish Network) will air May 17.