Send in the clowns

I still remember when I caught my first episode of Peep Show. The year was 2004 and whilst my peers were engaged in alcohol consumption and sessions of heavy petting, I was curled up on the sofa at home with a Domino’s pizza on my lap and the cold sting of loneliness in my heart. After gawping at Channel 4’s usual Friday night line-up of Friends and Father Ted, I was suddenly gripped by a frenzied panic as I realised I’d run out of T.V. Sweating profusely, I searched through all five terrestrial channels like a madman, attempting to make the impossible decision between BBC Weather with sign language or a British sitcom I’d never heard of called Peep Show. Eventually, I conquered my fear of the unknown and gave Peep Show a chance. I don’t think I’m exaggerating at all when I say this was probably the best decision I’ve ever made.

At the time, Peep Show was unique due to its use of point of view camera shots which allow us to see through the characters’ eyes. The viewer is also privy to the thoughts of the two main characters as their internal monologues act as voiceovers. But the style of the sitcom didn’t draw me in half as much as the hilarious script did. Week after week, I followed flatmates Mark and Jeremy (played by David Mitchell and Robert Webb respectively) as they simply lived their lives. Mark, a socially inept and cynical loan-manager, and Jeremy, an idealistic but selfish slacker, are so relatable we can’t help but see them in ourselves or our friends. Everyone knows a ‘Mark’ or a ‘Jez’ and, despite how much I love them both, it is never flattering to be told you’re similar to either. The situations these ‘El Dude Brothers’ find themselves in are usually funny simply due to the virtue that they are both different from each other. But it is the supporting characters who truly elevate Peep Show above other British sitcoms. Whether we’re laughing at the consistently absurd antics of Super Hans or at Mark’s confused feelings toward his suave boss Alan Johnson, there is always a reason to tune in. However, after being on air for seven years the guffaws have gradually seemed to turned into laughs which, in turn, have disintegrated into giggles. It gives me great pains to admit that Peep Show isn’t the comedy powerhouse it once was.

Some of the problems with Peep Show are those which we would usually expect from long running series. Now finishing its seventh season, Peep Show is the longest running sitcom broadcast by Channel 4. It is therefore understandable that it feels less fresh and exciting than it once did. Yet it is difficult not to be disappointed by how repetitive the new episodes are. In the latest season, Jez falls for a hot girl who, despite fancying him, is in a relationship she is reluctant to leave. In the preceding season, Jez falls for a hot girl who, despite fancying him, is in a relationship she is reluctant to leave. Regurgitated storylines like this make it seem as if Peep Show is spinning its wheels, with memorable episodes becoming a rarity. For instance, if I cast my mind back to the early seasons I can easily remember the episode where Mark goes to a gay club and pretends to take drugs, but it’s slightly harder to reminisce about a more recent episode where Mark fancies a girl and wants to be her boyfriend but another guy also wants to be her boyfriend and eventually Mark becomes her boyfriend. It seems to me that that the show’s writers (Jesse Armstrong and Sam Bain) are afraid to take risks. A recent storyline involved Mark having a baby with his ex-wife Sophie. This dramatic change to Mark’s life could have led to many new rib-tickling situations involving Mark trying to adjust to his new role as a father. Instead, the baby was largely ignored, only appearing in one or two episodes for a couple of minutes each time. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the strongest episode of this series revolved around Mark’s attempt to get to his baby’s christening. It succeeded because it dealt with this new development instead of relying on what’s worked for the show in the past.

The other problem which is becoming increasingly noticeable as the series progresses is that the writing seems to have lost its edge. The hilarity of Peep Show is most often due to the brilliant dialogue and internal monologues of Mark and Jeremy. Whether it’s Mark ranting about the ‘miracle of consumer capitalism’ or Jez failing to impress The Chemical Brothers with his musical expertise, the writing has always been witty and insightful. Now however, the writing feels more forced, failing to be as funny as the side-splitting dialogue of the early days despite desperately imitating it. Even worse, there were times this series where Mark and Jeremy acted bizarrely out of character only for the sake of a fairly limp joke. For instance, in the Christmas special, Mark’s embarrassingly over-the-top reaction to the news that Jeremy forgot the turkey was just plain trange.

I don’t mean to say that the show is not worth watching anymore, only that it is a shadow of its former self. Despite it decreasing in quality over the years, it is still good to watch for a chuckle or two. I still prefer to watch it over most of the stuff passing for comedy these days. I just find it a telling and sad fact that I still laugh more at a series one episode I’m watching for the fifteenth time than at a new episode.


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