Peep Show (UK, 2003-2015)

PeepShow

Created by: Andrew O’Connor, Jesse Armstrong, and Sam Bain. When I was first made aware of this amazing show back in 2013, and proceeded with wild abandon to devour every episode I could find, I decided that I wouldn’t bother writing any posts about it, for fear of obstructing my enjoyment of the series. And really, when it comes to comedy series (and arguably even dramatic series, from the looks of some of my posts), there’s not much point anyway, because my differentiation between one season and the next becomes hazy with my bad memory, and negligible unless some grievous creative catastrophe befalls one season or another. I saw this whole show up to season 8 by about 6 months into finding out about the show, and afterwards I had to wait the long slog for this final 9th season, which just wrapped up, so my memory on the particulars is not very sharp. (Going back and reading the plot summaries for everything is a pretty rewarding experience—this show is hilarious even in a cursory synopsis.) I seem to recall feeling that, after the amazing start, and some really great seasons, there were one or two seasons which just didn’t feel as satisfying as the first few, a feeling that this show might be just losing steam, that, like every show, 9 seasons is an awful lot to go on for any premise, much less a premise as simple as “two white guys are horrible in different and hilarious ways.” But already, two things jump out at me in retrospect: 1) one of the things I love about British shows is how much restraint they show, packing a ton of brilliance into a small amount of running time, which this show flagrantly violates. That being said, even in its “low” seasons, this show was infinitely funnier and more consistent than 99% of the garbage passing for sitcom comedy on American TV in any given year. And 2) the premise of the show was so spare that it allowed them to go in almost any direction. It was like Friends if that show was actually funny and relevant to anyone’s lives. Somehow, these two idiots and their awful, awful behaviour, and their awful, awful internal thoughts, really hit the head on the culture of that moment. There was plenty of Brit-centric stuff that didn’t translate that well, and even then, this show spoke to “my generation” (whatever that is) in a way that nothing else really has. Perhaps I should have prefaced this whole thing with the disclaimer that I actually really really really dislike the sitcom format. Sitcoms are inherently a stupid, pandering, infantile, lowest-common-denominator format. I speak as someone who used to watch every odd piece of crap that the networks would squeeze out, hoping for the next Cheers, every damn season, dozens of them a year. I watched Suddenly Susan for like 3 years—I know of what I speak. Sitcoms are like AA for me—that was a dark time in my past, but I’ve learned from it. So I basically avoid them like the plague, because, in general, sitcoms fucking suck. But this only makes it all the more satisfying when a really good one comes along. I like to laugh as much as the next person, and there’s nothing more satisfying than a short little, 20-30 minute show that you don’t have to think about, that you don’t really need to follow continuity on, that will just make you laugh based on the character traits of the individuals but also on universal humour characteristics, and on an ingenuous clockwork plot that makes sure that your characters, your clowns, always get the pie in the face.

For Seinfeld, that meant the whole gang going to prison. For Curb, it meant Larry getting kicked out of New York. I’m still in the middle of Philadelphia, and I never bothered to finish Arrested Development. The curious exception is The Office (the BBC of course—the American one, I’m sorry, fits all of my griping points about sitcoms above) which ended on a really sentimental happy note, where the clown gets his redemption, etc. Although I loved it at the time, it doesn’t age well in the way that Peep Show I believe definitely will. The thing about Peep Show is that it sits very comfortably in the modern milieu’s discomfort with sincerity and emotion in television, and definitely in comedy television. This show and its creators—David Mitchell, Robert Webb, Sam Bain, Jesse Armstrong, and a ton of others—were smart enough (or cynical enough, not touching that right now) to understand that when 21st century people want to laugh, they don’t want to cry. It seems straightforward, and it’s a lesson everyone in my generation learned from The Simpsons, which jettisoned its sappy family-lesson shtick pretty early on for straight-up irreverence. This is why, to me, Seinfeld was an immeasurably funnier show than Friends, and why, when it comes down to it, Peep Show is an immeasurably funnier show than The Office. Now, there’s the whole debate about “greater” and “funnier”, but to me, a comedy show that is funnier is inherently greater. Friends had human drama that Seinfeld didn’t, but to me a sitcom trying to weave complex human drama is like an action movie trying to weave complex human drama—why would you do that? Notable exception, of course, is The Office, which created a unique little context in which everything it was doing worked for some reason (and this magic, let’s face it, probably owed more to Martin Freeman than to Gervais and Merchant, the strongest argument for which being Extras). This show was just a comedy show, and it was a great comedy show. Everything you wanted from it, you got, and with no extra fat to trim. And without resorting to sentimentality, the show was able to convey characters that feel real, they feel like dysfunctional friends you’re going to miss. Olivia Coleman as Sophie was totally amazing, and seeing her (hearing her) in a dramatic performance in Locke last year was all the more impressive because she’s Sophie! She’s a great actor with great comic timing, and she deserves to get a ton of great roles, in whatever genre. Isy Suttie as Dobby was, again, perfectly cast, nobody else could have made it believable that another person would fall for a fucking weirdo like Mark. All of these lead women—Sophie, Dobby, and in the last season April (again, amazingly performed by Catherine Shepherd), do a great job of conveying someone “normal” and “functional” enough to make for a humourous foil to Mark and Jeremy, but “weird” and flawed enough to be believable human beings. And from my (male) view, this show did a good job of never making the women seem like saintly, hallowed objects, nor like braindead doormats serving the function of “woman”. They were just women, hoping for the best with their partner, but slowly and hilariously realizing that Mark and Jeremy are actually fucking crazy and terrible. Jeremy’s exes—from Big Suze to the American Nancy—are a bit on the crazy, cartoonish side, but then again, there’s that whole aspect to the show as well. This show was never hung up on “believability”, because they weren’t afraid to push the boundaries of rational representation and show us some people who were totally fucking crazy—because they were funny. What would this show be without Nancy and Big Suze? Or without Jarrod (Gerrard?) and his hilariously sad chronic illness? (The fact that his death provided one of the biggest laughs to the series is kind of all you need to know.) And of course, where would the show be without Johnson (Paterson Joseph), whose exaggerated mixture of absurdity and authority, although a well-worn trope, is so satisfyingly specific that that actor and that character absolutely fucking own it? And of course of course, where would the show be without Super Hans (Matt King), who I always thought was Super Hands? I could go on all day about this show, and I just might do a nerdy thing and buy the DVD set when it comes out, because it’s so re-watchable and so satisfying. These two guys have the same insecurities and weaknesses and awful parts of their personality that we all have, but they’re willing to express it in a way that most of us don’t or can’t. (And if we could, we wouldn’t express it nearly as smartly and hilariously as these guys.) I think that this show is going to be rightly considered one of the great British comedies, and I hope it reaches across the waves and gets its due as one of the great shows. One area where my Anglophilia becomes arrogant anti-Americanism is in the realm of TV comedies, and I’m fairly sure that the majority of American culture won’t bat an eye over Peep Show because it’s too busy fawning over 30 Rock and Big Bang Theory (both of which I’m sure are completely smart and fantastic and subversive, but which I’ll just have to take your word for). This show’s ending was a touch unsatisfying, until I realized that endings themselves are pretty shit, and the best thing a show can do is just end as if it’s not ending, which is exactly what they did. So, good job, people! Keep up the good work on whatever it is you do next. In the meantime, Youtube has a shit ton of clips from Mitchell and Web’s various sketch shows.

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2 responses to “Peep Show (UK, 2003-2015)

  1. Pingback: List of Judgements, Anno Domini 2015 | Offhand Reviews·

  2. Pingback: Game of Thrones, Season 6 (USA, 2016) | Offhand Reviews·

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