The tabloid press mistakenly outing you as a paedo? Doing propulsive endless pooing in front of your boss? Unexpectedly making a new friend who turns out to be a massive racist? After eight series, the Peep Show catalogue of humiliations is a mass of contemporary personal disasters that can only have been concocted by the devil himself.
For the uninitiated, Peep Show’s core is the battlefield of a friendship between two contrasting characters. The failure of Mark’s life despite adhering to ultra-conservative, do-it-by-the book rules has resulted in a whirlpool of self-loathing. By contrast, his flatmate Jeremy lives as if consequences are an abstract concept with a delusional over-estimation of his own potential as a musician.
The cliche that you can pick your friends but not your family is a misnomer. It’s a connection that often bypasses sheer logic. It’s like that too for the El Dude brothers: they’re together forever, for no apparent reason beyond historical circumstance.
Peep Show’s most famous moments come with daunting designs of dishonour. Let’s face it, the average person isn’t likely to fake imminent death to escape an unprepared presentation, or eat a dog to attempt to salvage a seduction, or be caught fully blacked up post-coitus. Yet most people will have an inconspicuous horror that’s lurks in the back of their mind: a dumb comment (“And then I go and spoil it all by saying something stupid like I like you”); a drunk revelation that in the cold light of soberness is idiotic; the slow motion truth that if something is too good to be true, then it surely is.
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Like any great comedy, Peep Show’s supporting cast are almost as memorable as the leads. They act as conduits for Mark and Jeremy’s disasters. Their friends Super Hans and Johnson are amplified versions of themselves, an ideal to strive for until the realisation that they’re almost equally pathetic. Their girlfriends magnify the sexual oddities which reflect the many shortcomings of their personalities. Mark’s premature ejaculation and employment of a dildo named Kenneth are a microcosmic representation of his flood of anxieties, while Jeremy’s lack of restraint is the trait that poisons every other aspect of his existence.
And that tally of torment extends beyond the odd couple. Mark’s enemy Jeff sporadically suffers karmic retribution for his arrogant, bullying nature, Mark’s on/off girlfriend Dobbie often suffers from his misguided friendly fire, and the surface-level cool of both Johnson and Super Hans is often undermined by being almost entirely oblivious to their own failings.
It’s a fate that even doesn’t even respect death. Gerard, notable only for the omnipresent tube up his nose, dies alone after Dobbie opts to watch The Apprentice rather than visit him. The cause of his decline (flu) is routinely mocked. Johnson and Mark’s words of remembrance are respectively brutally honest and completely half-arsed. Even his wake brings a final ignominy when the cake instead honours Steven Gerrard.
On occasion, the grind is punctuated by an unexpected triumph but even then lingers the ominous awareness that it’s a consolation prize. As Mark himself notes when buying coloured condoms for Jeff: “I win... In the most minor way possible.” It’s a world in which any victory has an significant opportunity cost and any dream is stomped upon forever. Mark’s few consequence-free successes are so minor that they do little more than accentuate his own petty and vindictive excesses, such as his cauliflower-based Christmas battle with his father.
Any show that continues over a twelve-year period is inevitably going to waver in terms of quality. Somehow Peep Show survived against the pitfalls of long-running sitcoms despite often falling perilously close to doing so. Mark’s fatherhood didn’t undermine his dynamic with Jeremy in the way that softened Only Fools and Horses. Aside from the hapless duo’s involuntary incarceration before Mark’s son’s christening, it hasn’t fallen for novelty plots or mawkish displays of emotion over humour. It hasn’t even really suffered too much with repetition - the deja vu of Jeremy’s relationships with Big Suze, Nancy, Elena and Zahra being a notable exception.
Maybe the future of the London housing market will mean that everyone from number-crunching drones to second rate Bezs will be forced to flat-share in Croydon well into middle-age in some form of Oyster Card purgatory. For now, though, post-student life for two men in their forties isn’t a particularly convincing narrative for a comedy. But how can it end?
It would be contrary to the mean-spirited nature of Peep Show for Mark and Jeremy to end on a feelgood high. Mark marries Dobbie, becomes a big shot in business and buys a cottage in the countryside? Jeremy becomes the third Chemical Brother? Nah, not gonna happen. At the other end of the spectrum, it’s hard to see Peep Show meeting an eternal ending that kills off one of the two leads. Most likely, they’ll go their separate ways as suggested at the end of series seven, when it appeared that Mark was ready to start afresh just as Jeremy’s idiotic spontaneity had apparently ruined whatever was left of his.
Regardless, that familiar gut punch of pain and loneliness will surely plague the El Dude brothers long into the future.
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Words: Ben Hopkins