‘very British and highly entertaining’
Stressed Eric review by Brian Slade
Eric Feeble lies in bed pleading for night not to turn into day...but it’s inevitable that shortly the alarm clock will taunt him as his day begins – a day just like any other day – a stressful one. So we were introduced to Stressed Eric in 1998, that rarest of things – an adult English animation that was genuinely funny, with some surprisingly well known vocal talents behind the collection of characters, most of whom were there to torture Eric throughout his day.
Eric’s challenges begin immediately upon awakening. He has custody of his two children – his wife has gone off to find herself, or as she calls it, gone for a swim in the lake of me. Holding down a steady job is an impossible task for Eric, so he has employed an au pair, Maria. Unfortunately, Maria’s talents do not lie in childcare – far from it. In fact, her main focus in life is self-pleasure, be it through drinking, drugs or rampant sex. Her room at Eric’s home is somewhat of a den of iniquity, meaning she is of no use to him whatsoever.
To make matters worse, Eric’s two children are in desperate need of more supervision than most. Daughter Claire has no particular behavioural problems…indeed she is probably the most normal person in Eric’s life, except for being allergic to almost everything. Her ‘special’ variations on foods are to keep her from swelling up in all manner of ways. The problem is that it is so bland that as she is rarely getting anybody’s attention, she regularly sneaks the food she shouldn’t have and swells up like a puffer fish.
While Claire, when not reacting to anything, can lead a comparatively regular life, albeit with little to no supervision, Eric’s son Brian is an entirely different story. He offers effectively zero in terms of speech, mainly because of his insistence on eating anything and everything, with the possible exception of food. If Eric has lost keys, wallet, papers, the first place to look is to see if it’s in Brian’s mouth.
Eric is invariably running late, whether in getting the kids to school, getting to work or getting from work to wherever he is supposed to be afterwards. As such, he is invariably forgetting things or losing things. Life for him is based on fear. To rub salt in the wounds, his neighbours are the Perfect family, both in name and nature. Ray Perfect is the ultimate success story, working as he does at the same company as Eric, but revered as the ultimate employee. Everything he does is done better, faster, funnier, smarter…always an improvement on Eric. Sharing the Perfect’s home is wife Sue, and daughter Heather, who excels at everything at school of course and loves to remind people of it. Whenever Eric’s failures are at their most public, the Perfects are on hand to witness them, and to make matters worse, they speak in almost Shakespearean tongue, including Sue’s constant ‘How art thou, Eric?’
Once at work, Eric fares no better. His militant boss, PP, is intolerant of Eric’s failings, but has stuck by him as he has fallen down the pecking order because of what PP terms ‘stress related whatsits’ – through his rash in sales and then when his back went in personnel. Eric’s office is of course immediately next to the gents. His computer is held together with masking tape, and he is stuck with a dreadful assistant, Alison, who is the cartoon precursor to Vicky Pollard. Her life at work is permanently spent gossiping on the phone to her friends, only ever breaking to inform Eric when questioned that she cannot help because she is getting a coffee or having her nails done. Between them, Eric’s career is doomed. He says there’s no point being competitive because he’s already lost, while PP is busy praising Perfect and yelling arseburger at Eric.
The events to stress Eric out are the simplest of things, but all amass as one to torture him, be it in the kids’ school, his own failed attempts at a love life, or the bizarre antics of his ex. The start of the episodes see him already stressed and by the end of each episode, he has been rendered motionless on the floor through what his doctor calls a stress induced total body spasm brought on by extreme tension – visibly demonstrated by the throbbing vein in his temple breaking loose and strangling him to the floor.
Stressed Eric is great fun for anybody who knows what it’s like to have one of those days – it just happens that Eric’s whole life is one of those days. The animation is clever…it carries a gloomy, grey nature to it, all the better to demonstrate the Perfects, whose home, hair and teeth gleam like a new car fresh from the showroom. Eric’s panicked journeys are punctuated by Mrs Wilson, an elderly neighbour whose day’s task is always to amble to the post box with the help of her walking frame, a task never completed, usually because of a clash with the onrushing Eric.
Among the cast are Alexander Armstrong, Alison Steadman and Geoffrey McGivern, but heading the list with his fantastically frantic manner as Eric is Mark Heap, known to most as neighbour Jim from Friday Night Dinner. Stressed Eric only lasted two series, but in a genre dominated by the American imports The Simpsons and Family Guy, it’s a very British and highly entertaining intrusion into that closed circle that deserved a lot more credit than it received…if for no other reason than there’s a little of Stressed Eric in all of us!
Published on June 2nd, 2022. Written by Brian Slade for Television Heaven.