Sunday 22 September 2019

TV guide: A Final Peep

Always dark, often excruciating, cult comedy Peep Show marked a new era in confessional British comedy. Now it's coming to an end

Peep Show: Cambridge Footlights alumni David Mitchell and Robert Webb
Peep Show: Cambridge Footlights alumni David Mitchell and Robert Webb

Julia Molony

Sad news for those of us who have spent a good proportion of the last decade devoted to the always hapless, sometimes sociopathic adventures of Mark Corrigan and Jez Usbourne - two bachelors who measure out their days in maladroit sex and petty, beta-male posturing from a crappy flat in Croydon.

Yes, Peep Show is finally coming to an end. After 12 years, the cult show (currently Channel 4's longest running comedy) begins its last series this week, marking the end of an era of the pair's gloriously sad-sack anti-heroism. Snippets of the new series promise that it will follow the final journey of the "El Dude Brothers" as they "descend into the depths of depravity".

When Peep Show first appeared on screens in 2003, it was as ground-breaking as The Office. It used internal monologue and point-of-view camera shots to reveal the world as seen by two single men living in a flat-share in bleak suburbia and floundering around on the cusp of middle age.

These devices gave the audience a direct line to the characters' innermost thoughts. And what thoughts. We witnessed the full horror of all their self-delusion and grubby competitiveness, as well as the perverse passions and criminal urges they'd never express out loud. The unique filming and storytelling styles were often employed to especially grim effect during sex scenes, which were either tepid and awkwardly over-polite or disturbingly experimental and degenerate, depending on whether it was Mark (the former) or Jez (the latter) we happened to be following at the time.

From the first, it was clear that Peep Show was comedy at its finest - lo-fi, dark, crude and nihilistic. It looks like it was made with a camcorder and a budget of 300 quid - but that's the point. The Peep Show visual style makes artful use of Ikea furniture and cheap menswear. The backdrop is a series of poky former council flats and the chicken shops and convenience stores of your average charmless high street.

It was an instant critical hit, winning a devoted following. In 2004 the show picked up the Rose d'Or for best European sitcom. It has also won a clutch of BAFTAs.

Written by hit-making comedy duo Sam Bain and Jesse Armstrong, the show's success hinges on the sharp writing and the casting of the two male leads, played by Cambridge Footlights alumni David Mitchell and Robert Webb (pictured), now both successful comedy writers and media figures in their own right.

"There have been a couple of US attempts at Peep Show. When you see other perfectly good comedy actors trying to do something similar, you realise how alchemical their performances are," Armstrong recently said of the two.

In theory, a lot has happened since we first met the "El Dude brothers". Jeremy got married (for visa purposes) to Nancy, the hot American he met during a Rainbow Rhythms class. So did Mark, reluctantly, to his long-time object of desire Sophie, despite jumping in front of a moving car and then hiding in the church in a bid to get out of it. Needless to say, divorce followed swiftly after. Mark stumbled, pass- ively and helplessly into fatherhood. They've had new jobs and abortive partnerships. Mark even finally found "the one" in the shape of sharp-tongued IT geek Dobby.

Despite the many plot points, the point of Peep Show - and what makes it such brill-iant comedy - is that nothing changes. It punctures the illusion of progress in life - of development or redemption. Through endless failed love affairs and innumerable soured hopes and stale ambitions, this pair remain as hopelessly self-sabotaging, misguided and bitter as they've ever been.

Peep Show Series 9 begins on Wednesday on Channel 4.

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