The ever-popular show about two unpopular men

When it debuted on Channel 4 in 2003, the urban point-of-view sitcom Peep Show barely made a ripple across the television ocean. Not that it was poorly received, but rather that very few contemporary viewers even noticed that the bright-eyed stars of obscure sketch vehicles Bruiser and The Mitchell And Webb Situation now had their own sitcom about a pair of twentysomethings. mismatched sharing a flat in Crodon.

Why would they? MM. Mitchell and Webb were little known when Peep Show first aired, nor were principal writers and collaborators Jesse Armstrong and Sam Bain, the former of whom would later go on to create HBO’s wildly popular dynastic drama Succession. The fledgling project came into the world not with fanfare, but with a quiet, unobtrusive cough from somewhere in the corner of TV schedules.

The first season was not a tour de force either. It’s a solid start for a show that remains an acquired taste at the best of times, but sometimes things are so grim and surreal that it’s less like watching an accessible sitcom and more like living through someone’s personal nightmare. . Yet while the quality improved after a tough opening salvo, the viewing figures did not. Throughout its mammoth run on the UK airwaves, Peep Show never achieved the mainstream success it so deserved, barely exceeding two million viewers in the UK.

What he has achieved, however, is a certified cult status among comedy lovers and sitcom lovers mainly in Britain, but sometimes all over the world, a sort of secret sitcom handshake that self-proclaimed geeks can use to identify themselves at weddings, parties, and other social events they’re occasionally invited to. Tossing a line from the excruciatingly superb Christmas special or quoting the bashing of “people like Coldplay and voted for Nazis” from Super Hans is a pheromone meant to attract nerds, eccentrics and cheerful misfits.

Why does Peep Show continue to hold such high cultural status when it never really penetrated mainstream consciousness in the same way as, say, Call My Agent! achieved among the French or Mrs. Brown’s Boys succeeded among the stupid? Part of the answer, of course, lies in its intrinsic strengths. The writing is consistently superb, the characters are endlessly likable and despicable in equal measure, and every plot straddles the line between relatable misanthropy and heightened farce. At the risk of sounding reductive, Peep Show is just good here. It’s really very good.

peep show

I wouldn’t earn my fee, however, if I left the critical analysis there. Peep Show’s lasting legacy has been secured through its relentless pessimistic tone and the obsessive, even forensic detail it gives to the minutiae of modern social interaction. For the socially conscious sons and daughters of these anxious ages, the themes of despair, social rejection and self-loathing ring out like a well-struck comic gong. At a time when we’ve become less comfortable with social interactions, seeing such anxieties magnified on the small screen is an oddly relatable tonic.

Mark is primarily the lens through which we experience this intense anxiety about all things social, a walking aquatic torture device whose self-destructive, incessant inner monologue (still audible for the audience’s enjoyment) forever hampers his own success. , happiness and spiritual satisfaction. Mark embodies the post-Radiohead, post-internet generation of anxious young men desperately trying to find a place in the world they perceive to have little love for them, even though much of that paranoia is brewed. in their own relentless self-critical spirit. No wonder the “How do I feel?” Empty? Check. Scared? Check. Only? Check” has become one of most recognized and best quoted aphorisms.

Modern society has always been characterized by fear and loneliness, but ours is a generation particularly prone to Mark’s very relatable brand of self-loathing mixed with intense self-pity. We are the generation too sensitive to the ills of the world thanks to round-the-clock access to information and the democratization of digital media, too helpless or too inert to do anything about it. Either way, we all go back to Mark’s way of thinking that everything is useless and we all have to content ourselves with our respective lots, like feudal villains looking for the last cabbage while our indifferent overlord lords dine on venison in their lofty, well-lit halls.

It’s either that or become a Jeremy, a waster who deludes himself in the hope that the success we believe we deserve is imminent. At a time when spiritually itinerant young men desperately sought direction in the form of self-proclaimed internet messiahs, gurus and pseudo-intellectuals, Jeremy’s indolence born of a complete lack of direction resonates just as strongly as the desperate march of Mark through the ruthless corporate meat. grinder. When the facade cracks after a semi-ironic visit to a local wellness cult, it doesn’t take long for Jeremy to tearfully admitting to a complete stranger the truth about his existential situation“I thought I knew what I was doing with my life, but I have no fucking idea.”

Had he been born ten years later, Jez probably would have been hopelessly addicted to scrolling through YouTube videos that promise to make you a paleo-alpha male millionaire by the likes of Andrew Tate. In their absence, he slips back into a fantasy world of arrested development, drug use and meaningless relationships, dodging work in the mistaken belief that he is the next great unknown musician despite his age, idleness and lack of total real talent.

This is the great trick of the Peep Show. Each of his characters represents a facet of our own angsty psyches that we find cathartic whenever rendered in their most grotesque form on screen. Other characters from the mundane and often actively cruel world of south London represent either the people we wish we were, or those we fear, envy or quietly despise. Mark develops a confused quasi-sexual crush on dynamic (if eccentric) boss Alan Johnson because he’s a repository of kinetic buzzwords and boardroom bullshit trying to keep up with his tai chi routine. in record time and makes the passengers of his car change gears. for him. Johnson’s facade is a scam, but it’s a scam Mark is so desperate to buy into. One more promotion, raise or flat-screen TV and he’ll be happy, he thinks.

If Johnson is everything Mark aspires to in the business world, Super Hans is everything Jez aspires to in the loose world. He may be a junkie waster with a penchant for crack and a menagerie of venomous snakes, but Hans’ bravado gets him where Jeremy’s clumsy delusion can’t. Out of the pair, it’s Hans who usually lands on his feet, not Jeremy. Hans eventually gets married (for a while), half-satisfied and often finds that his more significant character flaws are rarely punished for any substantial time, eventually drifting to Macedonia to set up a moped rental business. Jeremy ends the whole show as he started it, with only Mark for company. Neither is happy. Both are content with each other.

All of this relentless narcissistic introspection only compounds the couple’s ongoing miseries. Most sitcoms accept the idea that the constant misfortunes of their respective protagonists, whether Terry Scott or Basil Fawlty, are at least somewhat undeserved. “Fortune vomits into my kettle, once again”, as Edmund Blackadder laments. In Peep Show, the overarching message is that if Mark and Jez were able to overcome their internalized fears and social anxieties, most of their dire situations would simply fade into the fog.

Mark ends up committing arson and hiding from his fiancée Sophie on his wedding day because he can’t bite the bullet and reveal he doesn’t love her, even getting an innocent personal trainer fired over it. of paranoid delusions, he could reveal Mark’s terrible secret. Jeremy’s motives are, admittedly, much more overtly selfish – he nearly murdered a Polish girl by trapping her in a floatation tank so he could flirt with an ex, trapping a man in order to get her room in the apartment and, at a particularly low point, eats a burnt dog rather than admitting that he was implicit in his accidental murder. Either way, his transgressions all stem from the same pathetic fear, cowardice, or self-centeredness.

And in the end, nothing changes. The final scene of Peep Show sees the action return to the living room of the apartment, with Mark and Jez sitting staring at each other, one lying on the sofa complaining that he is tired, the other sitting upright in his favorite chair worrying about the return of wolves and smallpox. There’s no glamor in the finale, no happy resolution or joyous moment of revelation that in fact Mark’s insecurities are the root of his many bullshit or that Jeremy’s lack of direction is at the origin of his incessant and delirious laziness. We go back to the beginning, twelve years later, with no big narrative or purpose and hardly any character development. Because, terrifying is often what life is all about. This is not a story arc. It’s just a thing that keeps happening, and unless we face our flaws and our fears, we will never, ever change.

READ MORE: Where to watch Peep Show

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Javier E. Swan