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The Greatness of Peep Show

September 24, 2010

Several months ago, I posted a three-fourths-baked piece about Party Down and Peep Show, two of the best reasons to either own or steal a television. Since that day, Party Down transformed from a ridiculously-hilarious scripted program to an unintentional documentary. Adam Scott (“Henry”) will be having fun (yet) on Parks and Recreation; Ryan Hansen (“Kyle”) will bring his power-emo to NBC’s Friends with Benefits; and Jane Lynch (“Constance”) traded her pink bow-tie for a whistle to star on Glee. But as Def Leppard once eloquently screamed, it’s better to burn out than to fade away. Like a great band that breaks up before reaching their peak (or being viewed as “stale” by an increasingly fickle public), Party Down left before we had a chance to say goodbye.

Luckily, Peep Show will not follow into that drizzly, frigid, hung-parliament night, as the production team and main actors have signed on for Season Seven – making it the longest-running sitcom in BBC4 history. While the basic setting is nothing out of the ordinary – two blokes in their late-twenties share a flat in the eclectic London neighbourhood of Croydon – the brilliance of the writing and the on-point casting keep the show fresh and vital. Unlike North American television programs, British shows are here and gone in less than ten episodes (in the case of Peep Show, there are only six eppies per season).  This reduces the need for the annoying phenomenon known as padding out the series, or as I call it, “Let’s devote an entire episode to AJ Soprano.” If you have never seen the show, here’s a brief dissection:

David Michell (“Mark”), a relatively straight-laced salaryman, rents a room in his flat to his mate Richard Webb (“Jeremy”), an aspiring musician with a lifestyle that even slackers would respond with “Hey, why don’t you do something?” Over the course of the first few seasons, we learn about Mark’s obsession with World War II, which almost rivals his wish to land the girl of his dreams. As if they were responding to the Dave Attell joke about how there’s a multitude of songs about falling in love, or when they don’t love you back, but you never hear any song about the middle times (who can ever forget that great song, “Whaddya mean, ya kinda sorta fcuked ‘im?”), Peep Show spares no shame in bringing the discomfort of those moments when one knows things are well past their prime, but getting out is just not an option. In addition, the depiction of Jeremy’s failures with a seemingly-never-ending string of manic-pixie-dream-girlfriends (©Nathan Rabin) does not end tidily in 90 romantically-comedic minutes. We get to see those middle times, which might not be romantic, but damn are they funny.

Over the course of the show, Mark and Jez (a la Bez of the Happy Mondays, which is absolutely acknowledged) encounter a cavalcade of interesting personalities, including Super Hans, an uber-Jeremy with a more wizened outlook on life. Another awesome feature of the show – if a character has a nickname, everyone refers to them as such (including Big Suze). In the Season Six debut, Jez whines to Mark upon his inability to find jobs, while Super Hans (who write bass loops so great, you can’t physically turn them off) intrudes to offer a fail-safe solution.

“You should get a van, Jez. With a van, it’s like you’ve got an MBA…(tone gets serious)…but you’ve also got a fcuking van.

You’re not just a man anymore – you’re a man with a van. You get a van, Jez, and we could be men with ven.”

OK – here’s where the generalities leave us, and spoilers begin.

Jeremy: Right well, let’s crack on.
Super Hans: Don’t. Say. Crack, Jez. Yeah? Please. Not now. ‘Cause you saying crack makes me think about crack and I love crack. SO CAN YOU NOT SAY CRACK?

Spoilers away!

One of those great “middle times” referenced above was explored in the debut of Season Four. The awesome Sophie (Olivia Colman) eventually relegates herself to Mark, despite his way-past-Jerry Springer antics (breaking into her e-mail, ambushing her bowling date with hilariously-devilish scouser Jeff (Neil Fitzmaurice), and spending an entire bus ride with his hand under her arse, for starters). As the unhappy couple wanders a department store for items to place on the gift registry, Sophie picks out some rather-odd clothing for Mark. After he resists her choices (two shirts, one with some random insignia, and another with Mao Zedong), we get to hear Mark’s inner thoughts:

“She’s good for me, Jez. She’s dragging me into the twenty-first century with its meaningless logos and ironic veneration of tyrants.”

Later, in the same episode, Sophie asks Mark to join her family for a holiday in the woods. When Mark meets her brother, who does not live quite so relentlessly in the real world, Mark adds:

“He doesn’t have anyone to talk to. He spends all day with the trees and animals. This is what happens when you live too far away from franchised coffee outlets.”

Alan Johnson (Paterson Joseph): When he isn’t offering a trademark taboo-busting, semi-incomprehensible pep talk, he craftily steals Big Suze from Jez, and presides over the death of JLB London, just before a clean getaway. In episode four of Season One, Johnson asks Mark to aid him in a role-play for a seminar…or so we find out, after hearing this:

“So Mr Corrigan, we’ve examined your loan application and I just have one question for you. Are you a pathetic, worthless punk?…

Then I’m going to make you feel like you’re a turkey fcucker. Why? Because I’m the big man and you’re a shitheel, right?”

By season Six, Johnson has lost it, and in a premonition to “Duck” in season four of Mad Men, he tries to woo away his favorite grunt to a shady, self-run operation. Mark protests, by mentioning that he has no consultancy experience. That’s no match for Johnson:

“In.

Fire 30% of the workforce, new logo, boom!

Out.

You are now a fully trained management consultant!”

OK, enough of me telling you about it – check it out for yourself. All six seasons are on Hulu.com! (insert shot of Super Hans puffing his crack-pipe here)

Just remember that when all else fails…

“Mmmmm, warm copies will make it better”.

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2 Comments
  1. December 6, 2010 9:16 pm

    Fun post about an awesome show. Season seven is supposed to begin soon, I think — or has it begun already? Anyway, can’t wait! (And if you haven’t already, you should definitely check out “That Mitchell and Webb Look,” a sketch show written by and starring the main two dudes.)

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