Sporadic incidents in the lives of two dysfunctional friends, filmed in a shaky POV fashion, accent with voiceovers of inner thoughts, relished with skint budget — sometimes the recipe for a cheap porn special, but the necessary ingredients for the longest running comedy on Britain’s Channel 4. Definitely not what I expected from Peep Show, a critically acclaimed cult favourite of British comedy, with its fair share of raving fans amongst my social circle.
It was never hard for me to admire British comedians after being introduced to comedy panel shows like QI, Would I Lie To You? and 8 Out of 10 Cats Does Countdown. On them, comebacks are cutting blows timed to comedic perfection, as comedians exchange brutal and side-splitting banter on screen. Regrettably, my preferences in comedy took a turn for the snobbish – I’d take a befitting retort of “bollocks” over slapstick, self-depreciating and overly crass humour.
I had to check Peep Show out for myself.
I’ll let the characters describe themselves with their very own lines.
“The truth is… The truth is, I suppose, I like you. Is that such a crime? Should I be hounded to the ends of the Earth just for liking you? I like you and if you can’t handle it, you can just… you know, fuck off.”
David Mitchell plays Mark Corrigan, one half of the El Dude Brothers. A calculative and cautious loan manager, his thought process demonstrates an impressive level of intellect and rationality, but it all goes to shit once he starts voicing them out. Seemingly a pushover to others’ whims and fancies, beneath he’s armed with a fiery temper fuelled by unadulterated cynicism at all things in this world.
“You know how weak my powers of self-control are. Normally I can’t wait 5 minutes before having a wank or a spliff or a chocolate biscuit.”
Think of the most unambitious low-life you know, continue digging lower and you’ll find Jeremy “Jez” Usbourne, the other half of this protagonist duo played by Robert Webb. With only primal needs as motivation, most things in his life are never constant; his job, his romantic partner, and even his sexuality.
Peep Show’s writing fit the nuances in characters and their circumstances to the T, a big reason for the show’s hilarity. And kudos to Jesse Armstrong and Sam Bain! Veteran creators in the British comedy sphere, for painting such pictures of vibrance with spot-on word play.
Here’s how an incident of mistrust played out:
Jez: “You promised not to tell.”
Mark: “Hitler promised not to invade Czechoslovakia, Jeremy. Welcome to the real world.”
Brilliant. Just brilliant.
Recall all poor choices and easy ways out we’ve indulged in while contemplating decisions of paramount importance. But eventually, some things get the better of us; a sense of fear, rationality or responsibility, or we do the proverbial right thing. Mark and Jez bring those to life for us on Peep Show, and since one bad decision often leads to many others, the outcomes are… extreme, to say the least. Although, undoubtedly, extremely hysterical.
Your only colleague who gets along with you in the workplace is a blatant racist? Stick with the friendship, don’t raise your concerns as a friend and partake in questionable activities together to get closer!
Having no feelings of romance for your girlfriend but marrying her comes with a posh bungalow to live in? Propose immediately, you could always bail later!
Accidentally ran over the much loved pet of a girl you’re trying to sleep with? Somehow, a barbecue grill would help in getting that coveted fling!
Scenarios like these are aplenty in every episode of every series. To be able to witness the chaos that unfolds from terrible decisions, without your self-worth and morality taking a hit? Yes please, sign me up. Literally, what could go wrong here?
The formula for character development in Peep Show is relatively straightforward – take an everyday character flaw, assign a different one to each persona, and blow it waaay out of proportions. Here’s where convincing acting is key in making our aversions believable and acceptable, and that is where the actors absolutely nail it.
“…these two brave individuals put it right out in the open, reminding us that we’re not alone with our blemished selves.”
Jez represents reckless ignorance of repercussions and maturity, and convinces others to jump onboard with “advice” readily dished out. His side smirk and slight drawl build a misguided front of false confidence in himself, with only slightly fleeting glimpses.
We mask our deepest insecurities to the world, but Mark unwittingly flaunts his instead. Every single time. His loose chin and piercing gaze (I genuinely don’t remember seeing him blink more than twenty times throughout all nine seasons) is an oil-painting of perpetual panic. When forced into a corner of his severely limited tolerance, watch his face visibly turn red and his forehead vein noticeably popping in one of Mark’s classic tirades.
In the real world, it’s baffling to imagine these two would be able to bridge the distance between their opposite ends of the personality spectrum to become friends. Together? Mark and Jez selflessly play out that socially suppressed inner voice, the deepest darkest self we hide. We feel ashamed to acknowledge it whilst inherently wishing we could embrace it. These two brave individuals (this could refer to performers Mitchell and Webb, or creative minds Armstrong and Bain) put it right out in the open, reminding us that we’re not alone with our blemished selves.
… Ahhh. I get the appeal now.