Intensities in Ten Suburbs

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Time of the Season: S1-S4 of Peep Show (’03-’07)

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on July 6, 2007

“So finally justice is served. Well, not actual justice, just what I wanted. Which is basically the same thing.”

Maybe great art is supposed to be absolutely terrifying. I’ve long argued that some shows and movies–Curb Your Enthusiasm, The Office, any movie involving Ben Stiller or Jason Biggs–should be rated at least NC-17, for unberably socially awkward situations, which I think are far more damaging to impressionable psyches than any amount of gore, foul language or sexually explicit content could possibly be. By that logic, Peep Show should be rated XXX and should probably be illegal in certain countries. It lives up to its name in possibly the truest way possible–not only are you a voyeur to the most private moments of UK roommates Mark (David Mitchell) and Jeremy (Robert Webb), you also get to hear their most private of thoughts, as the characters’ inner monologue is vocalized–making the horrifically embarrassing situations they get themselves into twice as uncomfortable.

It’s a good thing Peep Show is funny–very funny–then, because without the humor, the show would be about as unwatchable as a Drew Carey and Mimi sex tape. As it is, though, the cringeworthy moments are almost always matched with moments of utter hilarity, making the show just palatable enough to make you keep watching. And since this is a British show, there’s regrettably little to plow through–four seasons (or “series,” as the Brits call it) may sound like a lot, but at six eps a series, it’s actually just an episode longer than a full 23-episode US season.

In some respects, though, that’s not such a bad thing. With just six episodes to work with, each series works through a specific arc, mostly involving the relationship of the extremely jittery and neurotic Mark and his co-worker Sophie (Olivia Colman), who he spends most of the first two series pursuing, eventually getting her (largely despite himself), and then spending most of the next two series trying to get rid of her. The lazier but less socially anxious Jeremy’s arcs are usually less solidified by series, though his relationships with various girlfriends (neighbor Toni, hippie Nancy and posh girl Big Sooze) are often subjects of focus as well.

Really though, the best parts of Peep Show come in the relationship between the two roommates (fine, flatmates), which is dysfunctional at best, and often downright adversarial, as when Jeremy nearly poisons a sick Mark and then locks him in his room to prevent him from ruining his mushroom party. Still, their friendship gets them into some of the funniest situations I’ve ever seen in TV, like when the two try their hands at Strangers on a Train-like pranking of the others’ current enemies and end up getting shot with an air gun and pepper sprayed, respectively. And it’s even oddly touching at times–despite the fact that Mark and Jeremy spend 95% of the show yelling at each other, they always end up back with the other at the end of the day, the sign of a truly great TV couple.

But it’s not the humor, or even the awkwardness, that made such an impression on me about Peep Show. It’s the suggestion that the social anxieties and difficulties you have growing up (your fears, your insecurities, your doubts) never really go away, and that essentially, you can never really turn your brain off–it’ll always be there, hen-pecking at every decision you make, over-analyzing everything after the fact and generally just fucking you up at every possible turn. The show affected me so much that afterwards, when I got into Mark and Jeremy-esque situations in real life, I could actually hear myself thinking in their voices. Some spooky shit for certain, but like I said, that’s great art for you.

The biggest problem with Peep Show? It’s not available in the US–only series one is out on Region 1 DVD, and the rest you’re on your own to locate. But believe me, with a fifth series having been commissioned (and supposedly a US version on its way), if you’ve never seen this show before, you don’t want to wait too much longer to discover it.


2 Responses to “Time of the Season: S1-S4 of Peep Show (’03-’07)”

  1. Mitchell Stirling said

    Am I going to do a pooh Jez?

  2. […] a la Mark and Jez, and I got instant flashbacks to the couple of weeks I spent this summer watching the first four seasons, where afterwards, the sound of my brain was unavoidable, nagging me, vocalizing all my worst fears […]

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