100 Years, 50 Losers: #5. Mark Corrigan
Posted by Andrew Unterberger on December 21, 2008
“Life’s all pain. Pain, gloom and misery… Hey, 33% extra free. I am doing excellent shopping. My depressed state of mind means being even more frugal than usual.”
Mark Corrigan, Peep Show
Played By: David Mitchell
Born to Lose: Shut up, brain, or I’ll stab you with a Q-Tip. There are losers, and then there are losers, and then there are characters that hit so close to home that you can’t even force yourself to watch through the fifth season. Mark Corrigan lands squarely in the latter category–not just because of what he says or what he does, because of what he thinks. Most TV shows are kind enough not to let you hear the depraved and miserable thoughts of their most depraved and miserable characters, but Peep Show performs no such niceties with its two principal characters, Mark and Jeremy. Now, Jeremy is a loser too, no doubt–he can’t keep a job for more than an episode, his experimentation with drugs and sex always leads to disaster, and his constant desire to seem cool to everyone leads to such hilarious moments as a wasted Jez, trying to look like a badass by drinking beer at the grocery store, attempting to hit on the cashier: “Hold your horses, honey–I’ve got coupons for the Pringles.” Nonetheless, Jeremy is good-looking and successful with women (and occasionally dudes) enough that he is clearly the lesser of two losers here.
Mark, on the other hand, is a complete mess. He has a decent job (though I couldn’t possibly tell you what he does, besides occasionally fuck up presentations, piss in his supervisor’s office and try to hack his crush of a co-worker’s e-mail account), but his life is utterly dominated by his constant anxieties–about his job, looks, sexuality, testicles, stage of life, co-workers, and for a couple seasons, his girlfriend. We know this, of course, because all of these anxieties are vocalized as Mark narrataes his own thought processes, allowing us to share his endless supply of mini-crises as he frets about whether current crushes are “the one” and contemplates what various WWII-era leaders would do were they in his situation. Mark is a character who reminds us that whenever we are happy or content with a particular aspect of our existence, there’s probably still something there to be panicked about, and even if not, all the other aspects of your life are probably fucked up enough that you shouldn’t dwell on the positives of this one for too long. And yes, by the way, this show is a comedy.
Mark’s loser credentials peak for me in the fourth season (excuse me, series), as his wedding date with accidental-fiancee Sophie (he planned to propose to her, decided that he didn’t like her that much, she found the ring, he was too embarrassed and entranced with her summer estate to explain the mix-up) approaches. With echoes of another legendary TV loser, he spends the season trying to find excuses to weasel out of it, but can’t get anything to stick, until the wedding day actually comes, and he tries to hide with Jez ifrom his bride ndefinitely in the church rafters. Except Jez has to take a piss, but since he can’t go to the bathroom without giving away his and Mark’s location, he pisses in the rafters, and as it drips down onto the attendees underneath, Mark has no choice but to announce his location, playing it off like a joke. Despite giving his game away completely, he still can’t get up the nerve to cancel the ceremony, and they actually get married, until a tearful Sophie runs away from their honeymoon vehicle, exclaiming “HE’S HORRIBLE!” Mark, of course, is endlessly relieved. It’s pathetic, it’s despicable, and it’s borderline unwatchable. It’s also, of course, the way I would be very likely to behave were I in the same situation. Hey, there’s a reason I can’t get through that new season.
The moments like this abound in the show–cringe-worthy scenes of Mark, about to seal the deal with Sophie for the first time, instead telling her off for some mildly irksome thing she did earlier in the episode, or him testing his sexuality with rented gay porn after worrying about crushing on his male boss, or him escaping out the window of a big meeting due to being completely unprepared for it, only to return the same way after realizing what a big mistake he made, despite still having absolutely nothing to present. Moments that defy easy explanation–despite the fact that Mark’s brain is pretty much explaining his motivations every step of the way—moments which are depressing and pitiable and often a little unnverving, but still manage to be just funny enough in their realism that they’re somehow still watchable. Mark makes Larry David look like Steve Sanders, and we should be grateful to him for giving the rest of the world–or the UK, at least–insight into our disturbing mental condition.
Moment of Triumph: There are two that stand out, one of which comes courtesy one of my and Mark’s most-shared anxieties–the belief and fear that everyone younger than us is secretly (or, rather, completely not-secretly) plotting against us–when he gets his phone and wallen stolen by a bunch of teenage hoods with knives. He sees one in the movie theater on a date with Sophie, and uses his flood of anxiety to give him enough of an adrenaline rush so that he pops the little pissant in his mouth–turning on Sophie to no end, and permitting Mark to get hard again in her presence for the first time in weeks (the triumph of this is quickly undone when Sophie discovers the knife Mark now carries for protection and thinks him a psycho). But for my money, Mark’s ultimate moment of triumph comes when he fakes doing Ecstasy with a now drug-dependent Sophie and her idiot raver friends, advised by Jez that all people do when they’re on E is dance, touch each other and talk about how the world would be better without all of its systems. At the end of the evening, with Sophie and her friends now back at his place, Mark eventually gets fed up, breaks the ruse, kicks everyone out, and offers Sophie’s very disappointed friends the following words of wisdom:
“While we’re at it, there are systems for a reason in this world, economic stability, interest rates, growth. It’s not all a conspiracy to keep you in little boxes, alright? It’s only the miracle of consumer capitalism that means you’re not lying in your own shit, dying at 43 with rotten teeth and a little pill with a chicken on it is not going to change that. Now come on, fuck off.”
Personal Loser Bond (NOT FOR THE FAINT OF HEART):
Once, the morning after drinking heavily on my roommate’s birthday party, he and his girlfriend were in the shower when I realized I had to take a shit worse than I ever had before in my life. I tried to mind-over-matter it for about ten minutes until I realized that I had the choice of either introducing myself to my neighbors via a huge dump in their toilet, interrupting my roommate and his gf and politely asking them to clear out, or going somewhere in our apartment. My mind immediately flashed to Mark in a season three episode, getting locked in his room by Jeremy while he’s ill so he doesn’t disrupt Jez’s mushroom party, and having a similar dilemma, with the following thought process while contemplating shitting in his room:
“If I do this, well… even if I end up marrying Sophie and we live in a detached house in Surrey and buy a holiday home in Umbria, our children will always look up at the face of a man who once crapped in a takeaway bag. Plus I’d have to hide it here somewhere in my room next to one of my things…Well I could throw it out the window…NO! That’s what they want you to do–thats where society’s headed! People shitting in bags and throwing them out the window–well I’m not going to be the first! NOT IN MY NAME!!!”
Unfortuantely, I lacked Mark’s discipline, and ended up going in one of my trashbaskets, locking myself in my room until my roommate and his girlfriend left, then septuple-bagging the trash bag and taking it outside.