Over the last few months, I’ve been rewatching (for the umpteenth time) the fantastic sitcom Peep Show, written by Sam Bain and Jesse Armstrong. I’ve been a huge fan of this show for years now, but have only recently started to examine just why it works so well and has such relevance to me (and many others).
In case you’re unfamiliar, Peep Show follows the exploits of Mark (David Mitchell) and Jeremy (Robert Webb), two young-ish adults who share a flat despite having seemingly the exact opposite personalities. Mark is an uptight, unfashionable, cynical office drone with an obsession with history; Jeremy is an immature waster with no self-control and delusions of musical genius. While the “odd couple” setup has been used in comedy since the dawn of time, Peep Show has a trick up its sleeve that sets it apart: the viewers get to hear Mark and Jeremy’s most private thoughts via voiceovers.
When I first started watching Peep Show in my early teens, I was hooked by the gross-out shock humour and ridiculousness of the situations that the characters find themselves in (such as wetting themselves in a church, trying to get each other sectioned, and eating the half-cooked remains of a dead dog). However, unlike other shows, the huge number of endlessly quotable observations (both inside and outside of their heads) make the more mundane moments of their daily lives equally entertaining.
Aside from Mark and Jeremy, the show boasts an array of eccentric and memorable side-characters, including Super Hans “the crack-addled maniac”, egomaniacal boss Alan Johnson, compulsive liar Elena, and a multitude of love interests for Mark and Jez to pursue pathetically and relentlessly, however flawed their personalities or entirely incompatible they are.
I have now seen most episodes of this show several times over, and despite knowing almost all of the lines off by heart, I return time and time again because of how well-written the characters are. I’ve essentially grown up watching it, and I get something new out of it with each viewing, as scenes that were simply hilarious on first viewing are now familiar and relevant to my own life experiences. In fact, my own internal monologue is occasionally the voice of David Mitchell or Robert Webb, which should probably be a cause for concern. When a painfully awkward situation rears its ugly head (whether or not it’s of my own making) I think to myself: “this would make a great scene in Peep Show”. It helps me find comfort and humour in failure, and that’s really what I think the show is about.
Besides being one of the funniest, Peep Show is also one of the most uncomfortable sitcoms out there. No other comedy has refused so much to shy away from the dark side of everyday life. Mark and Jez, while mismatched in so many ways, are ultimately both as emotionally stunted and selfish as each other. Every moment of opportunity that they have, they inevitably sabotage with some hare-brained scheme which could have almost always been avoided by simply being honest with themselves and with others. Yet somehow, despite (or because of?) their serious personality flaws, we root for them because they remind us of ourselves.
We watch them through our fingers as they fail over and over again, the solutions often seeming so obvious to us as outsiders, and we question whether people would view our ownlives in the same way. We hear their darkest thoughts and they remind us of the ones that pop into our heads sometimes and make us wonder if we’re the only one. Peep Show, more than any other sitcom on television, shows us the workings of the human mind in a way that is both painful and relatable. Mark and Jeremy’s idiocies and insecurities may be exaggerated, but if we spend time “looking in the mirror” (in the words of Super Hans), we’ll see a little of Mark and Jez in all of us.