Sunday, 26 December 2010

Wider Reading | Why Peep Show Needs To Die

Peep Show’s going the way of The Simpsons. Instead of great episodes, we’re getting great bits enlivening structureless episodes. And by the standards of this patchy, patchy series (I may just never get over the horror of the fourth episode’s premise ‘Mark and Jeremy get stuck in a corridor’. That’s not a Peep Show episode. That’s something out of Friends, and even while Joey and Chandler were stuck in the corridor, Phoebe would be serenading a man with an embarrassing hairdo, Ross would be mistakenly considered gay by an effete co-worker, and Monica and Rachael would be fighting over a half-price wedding dress), the Christmas episode wasn’t bad at all. The jokes were often pretty standard – oh, no, the turkey’s undercooked! – but Bain and Armstrong did manage to get quite a bit of good, if sometimes over-exaggerated comedy out of tweaking the heroes’ characters, turning Mark into a control-freak Christmas-host fascist and Jeremy into a wide-eyed, determinedly innocent child.

Anyone else want to see David Mitchell playing a detective on ITV?

The first problem came with Dobby, in a scene that reminded me of what I think I’ve always known at heart; Sam and Jesse can’t write women as much more than the butt of a joke or a plot device, and in a show as decidedly acerbic as Peep Show, this means that they end up being (respectively) either irritating or a nymphomaniac. Sophie, Mark’s beloved through most of the series, ended up being both. It’s easy to forget how little personality she’s had throughout those first three series, when almost all we saw of her was through Mark’s panicked, delusional consciousness, and Olivia Colman’s role was to look shocked whenever he said or did something terrible. Then she was forced to participate actively in the plot, and she turned into the shrewish catalyst for every episode, forcing Mark into various upsetting activities…and then eventually creating the big, unbelievable three-way ‘who’s the father of my baby?” moment.

Dobby, so far, (and full credit to Isy Suttie’s oddly deep-voiced, burbling, energetic performance) has appeared to have a bit more substance to her. She’s a sort of all-round anti-mainstream nerd; a geek who outgeeks Mark thanks to a well-developed sense of detached irony.

But then we had the scene in that Christmas episode where she tried to harass Mark into watching FlashForward with her, which led to an amusing rant from him about these overwrought American drama series we like to obsess over. Hang on…Dobby being a Prison Break fanatic who’d rather sit at home watching supermodel-filled, mainstream-approved TV than, I don’t know, going out and LARPing? If she was going to pick anything, surely it’d be Doctor Who.

Sadly, it’s a case of characters being dragged out of character in order to work in a certain routine, a problem that recurred when Mark’s sister Sarah turned up - having apparently forgotten all the horrible things Jeremy did to her last time round - and spent the entire episode trying to have sex with him for no reason whatsoever. We were probably fortunate to get away without an appearance by the weirdly asexual, pretentious thicky Zahra, whose only redeeming features so far have been that ‘a demain’ joke and the fact that she’s not Elena, Jeremy’s love interest from the last series, who I can never remember being anything more than a stretched-out version of those Polish café waitresses from the Harry Enfield sketch. (Although, to be fair, the problems the show’s having with minor characters aren’t restricted entirely to women. How many more times are we going to have to see a gruff, controlling father/father-in-law with a mousy, sweet wife, before the end?)

This was Google's first image result for 'Peep Show'. Now, I don't mean to quibble, but there's no partition with viewing window separating the pink rabbits from their customers, so this should really be properly defined as a standard 'strip joint'.

The second major issue was one of basic structure. Peep Show, recently, seems to have been trying to award its two heroes victories in small doses. So while the majority of this Xmas episode was, in its own way, based on the classic ‘Mark’ formula (he attempts to interact with society, doing so with varying degrees of success until all the little lies, humiliations and embarrassments build and build until eventually something inside him snaps and he does something bizarre in public – bowling fruit, pretending to have a brain tumour, getting a knife out, ranting obscenities at a young man with a limp, etc.), the second half also attempted a much older, much more well-worn comedy structure. One baddy character – in this case, Mark’s dad - makes everyone’s lives miserable, until at last the hero mans up and tells them where to go. Everyone cheers! Even Sarah, whose sub-plot with Jeremy was swept curiously to one side by her sudden desire to play Pictionary.

The transition from a ‘Mark becomes Fuhrer Christmas’ storyline to a ‘Mark achieves Oedipal catharsis’ storyline was uncertain and messy, leaving swathes of plot unresolved (Couldn’t Mark, with his newfound courage, call Dobby and ask her to come back? Actually, while we’re on the subject, wasn’t the whole ‘refusing to admit she’s my girlfriend’ thing contrived and out of character as well, from a previously married man, even one as messed up as Mark?)

The episode’s worst crime I save till last; it did absolutely nothing funny with Super Hans. Well…maybe the line about Ratatouille. But that’s not enough, goddammit.

Before I actually watched this episode, I was treated to a Channel 4 documentary about Peep Show, in which Bain and Armstrong said that they reckoned they’d probably end it slightly after they should have done so, and then joked that perhaps this point had already been passed. I think it probably happened around the end of Season 4, if anybody’s keeping count. And, actually, as a huge fan of this show, I think I quite want it to die now. Otherwise it’s a long trudge downwards towards – as Troy McClure puts it – magic powers! Wedding after wedding after wedding! And did someone say, ‘long-lost triplets’?

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