24. "The Beast in the Cage," One Foot in the Grave (1992)
Welcome to the “100 Best Sitcom Episodes of All Time,” a countdown for 2012. Each episode will get a separate blog post, counting backward toward No. 1. A list of the programs revealed so far is here (and on Pinterest), and an introduction to the project is here.
As I've pointed out elsewhere on this list, the sitcom is generally an optimistic art form. It teaches that we can count on our family, that our co-workers can become our family, and that strangers usually turn out to be decent people once we've all sorted out our misunderstandings. But there is a sitcom subset that's all about the frustration we feel when our lives don't seem to be going anywhere. Some episodes, and the occasional entire series, have a "no exit" theme, in which hell means being stuck for eternity with people who bug you.
This theme usually shows up in little-watched American sitcoms (such as Curb Your Enthusiasm) and in very popular British sitcoms (such as One Foot in the Grave). In "The Beast in the Cage," hell is a long-weekend traffic jam that becomes a prison for Victor Meldrew and the two main women in his life.
Victor Meldrew: Mirror image of your life really, isn't it? Car journey on a bank holiday. First fifty-odd miles on the go all the way — a sense of direction — bowling along. Get past sixty, everything slows down to a sudden crawl, and you realize you're not going anywhere any more. All the things you thought you were going to do that never came to anything. And you can't turn the clock back. One-way traffic just gradually grinding to a complete halt.